On February 9, 2021, the Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC) hosted it’s inaugural The Art of Athletics Festival, a virtual event celebrating the intersection of creativity and athleticism with a focus to highlight the launch of the Arab Film House program and awards, a joint initiative between QAIC and the Doha Film Institute (DFI). The Art of the Athletics was a unique collaborative effort between QAIC and partners from both Qatar and the United States, such as the Doha Film Institute, international composer Dana Al-Fardan, ConocoPhillips, America SCORES, and the Washington Spirit team.
The Art of Athletics Festival aimed to provide a platform where creatives and athletes could explore and discuss the important role of sports in shaping culture and building community and the infusion of arts and creativity within sports itself as an essential means for holistic development, self-expression, cultural exchange, and social impact. ”Soccer and poetry share a lot in common,” remarked America SCORES’ Bethany Henderson. “Both are fluid, creative, and expressive endeavors, and neither require expensive equipment or facilities, making them universally accessible.”
The festival announced the launch of the Arab Film House Awards, a joint award program between QAIC and DFI with the support of QAIC sponsor ConocoPhillips. This initiative recognizes Arab filmmakers on their ability to highlight the crucial role that cinema and film play in defining various cultures while serving as a bridge between them. “At the heart of our work at [DFI] is culture, community, and education, so it brings us great pleasure to collaborate with the Qatar America Institute for Culture’s Arab Film House,” remarked DFI’s CEO, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi. “The Arab Film House will serve as an important platform for the exchange of diverse cultural perspectives and provide us with an opportunity to connect with global communities and promote underrepresented voices.” This year, QAIC and DFI have partnered to offer the annual Arab Film House Award to three selected films by Arab or Arab-American filmmakers based on their films’ exploration of the 2021 theme of sport and society.
To further explore the link between art and sports, the event also hosted a panel discussion featuring guests Michael Holstein, director of the America SCORES’s documentary Our Words Our Cities; Shanell Sharpe, America SCORES poetry coach, and teaching artist; and players and coaching staff from The Washington Spirit Team, Aubrey Bledsoe, Dorian Bailey, Paige Nielsen, Samantha Staab, and Tori Huster. The panel was moderated by Qatari music artist, Dana Al-Fardan, who was inspired by the Washington Spirit’s most recent visit to Doha to create “Rising,” a collaborative song with the U.S. Air Force Band based in Doha to promote inclusion and connectivity. “When it comes to sports, music, and art in general there is no language barrier and that is what this song is intended to demonstrate,” stated Al-Fardan. “That we may be geographically worlds apart but, in our core, and in our hearts, we are all made of the same building blocks. And when we communicate from that place, everything is within our reach.”
Event attendees were also shown clips from the Our Words Our Cities documentary. The film provides an intimate account of a nationwide youth poetry slam series run by the non-profit and the participating young poet-athletes faced with the struggles brought on by elevating racial injustice and violence in America during a global pandemic. “America SCORES programming has the unique ability to unite sport and self-expression in a way that brings the community together while highlighting the experience of the individual,” said America SCORES coach Shanell Sharpe. “To have access to a safe space where our young people are able to exist as their truest selves is so vital to their development as teammates and leaders on the field, in the classroom, and within their communities.” The film will be available to stream on Amazon Prime later this month.
The event concluded with remarks from the participating Washington Spirit team members on their time in Qatar working with youth groups and their own personal creative sides, who themselves agreed on the importance of combining the arts with sports. “From my first day with the Spirit, I have believed there is a great intersection between the arts and sports, as well as the power of both to bring people together,” said Steve Baldwin, owner of the Washington Spirit team. “This past year, we have had the privilege of partnering with our Qatari friends on several initiatives where we have used our sporting platform for sharing and exchanging cultural perspectives.”
Following the conclusion of this event, QAIC wishes to continue to explore new ways in which art and athletics can collaborate and form new bonds and communities. For more information about the Qatar America Institute for Culture or the Arab Film House Awards, visit www.qataramerica.org.