QAIC Reimagines Cultural Exchange for the Coronavirus Era

Washington, DC. — December 21, 2020 — In 2020, The Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC), a DC-based nonprofit established in 2017, underwent a rebranding and a relocation to pursue its new mandate to cultivate and amplify the prominence of all forms of art and culture in society from the United States, Qatar, and the larger Arab and Islamic worlds. Even with this year’s challenges, QAIC is committed to finding innovative means to provide an inclusive space for cultural dialogue and exchange in 2021 and beyond.

To deliver on this vision, QAIC relocated to a historic building situated in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. With three stories of programming space available, this accessible location provides the perfect venue to deliver on the organization’s newly reimagined mission and programs. “Our new space will be a unique destination in the nation’s capital, evoking history, curiosity, beauty, and serenity while providing ample space for artists, creatives, designers, and storytellers to both create and showcase their work,” said Fatima Al-Dosari, QAIC’s Executive Director.

However, just as QAIC reinvents itself, it faces the immense challenge confronting many other venue-based organizations: how to deliver quality programming with social distancing restrictions in place? The cultural and creative sectors are among those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and many organizations are struggling to find their bearings in today’s already saturated digital world. “In addition to cementing our new role and finding our voice as an organization among more established players, we must now rethink our approach on how to continue doing that in a socially distant way,” continued Al-Dosari.

Forced to postpone its in-person activities, QAIC swiftly repackaged other programs into virtual formats, like its Expressions Art & Culture Talks, a recurring series of public conversations with creatives who have lived or worked in the Arab and Islamic worlds and whose works were inspired and influenced by these cultures and people. “Rethinking Expressions as a virtual series presented new challenges, primarily how to garner interest in a crowded space amid digital fatigue,’” remarked Al-Dosari. “However, we approached it with the optimistic take that going virtual would further expand our reach across the globe to those who wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise. Our programs, like Expressions, are now bringing leaders and creatives from the U.S., Qatar, and the Arab and Islamic worlds to our audience’s homes, providing a rare opportunity to connect with people from a region that seems even farther out of reach due to the pandemic.”

Recent virtual Expressions Talks featured guest speakers such as Dr. Julia Gonnella, Director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, master calligrapher and sculptor Sabah Arbilli; and Dr. J.R. Osborn, Assistant Professor of Communication, Culture & Technology at Georgetown University.

QAIC recently announced the opening of its first exhibition at its new location, “Transcendent Text: Exploring Universal Values Through Islamic Calligraphy,” a production in partnership with the National Human Rights Committee in Qatar. To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, this 20-piece exhibit featuring the work of Sabah Arbilli will be viewable either by private appointment or through a soon-to-be-launched online gallery. The in-person exhibition will run through May 2021.

“Despite the financial and operational difficulties posed by the pandemic, bringing these voices and stories from Qatar and the Arab world is important to our organization given how isolated and divided the world feels,” remarked Al-Dosari. “We aim to continue reimagining and delivering on that human experience – whether in person or virtually – by adopting the lessons learned this year. We’re also looking forward to more exciting opportunities for the 2021 Qatar-USA Year of Culture, led by Qatar Museums.”

Qatar Museums’ “Years of Culture” program is an annual series of cultural exchange initiatives with a partner country. Through a variety of exhibitions, festivals, art competitions, and cultural events, the programs promote mutual understanding, recognition, and appreciation between countries, and provide an opportunity for people to explore their cultural similarities as well as their differences. QAIC is proud to join as a partner of the Qatar-USA 2021Year of Culture program, engaging communities through interactive activities and initiatives such as film screenings, musical performances, art exhibitions, and culinary experiences. Through a mix of digital and socially distanced in-person art and culture programming, QAIC intends on continuing to promote the artistic and cultural ties between the two nations in 2021 and for years to come.