Interview: Aisha Deemas

What do you see as the role of museums within Sharjah’s tourism and cultural economy?

AISHA DEEMAS: We view museums as educational platforms, sources of entertainment and leisure, and a means to foster connection. These institutions offer diverse experiences to tourists and locals alike, and anyone visiting Sharjah will likely include at least one museum, if not several, in their itinerary. Museums have both educational and economic importance, as tourists financially support the museums and have enriching cultural experiences. Additionally, museums in Sharjah serve as important sites for multi-generational family outings, granting these institutions an important societal role. Family-centric engagement with museums benefits the local economy and fosters social bonding, communication and knowledge transfer.

How would you measure the long-term economic benefits of cultural education initiatives?

DEEMAS: The educational activities of museums yield a range of socio-economic benefits, predominantly manifesting in the medium to long term, as educational investment seldom yields instant results. Children, students and adults carry the knowledge and experiences they gain by engaging with museums throughout their lives. Eventually, this learning materialises in their careers and influences their contributions to society.

Museums serve as platforms for collaborative efforts. They do not operate in isolation, but rather partner with educational institutions, schools, universities, the Ministry of Education, and various government and non-government cultural and academic entities. By doing so, museums facilitate connections between these institutions and a broader audience. This cooperative approach enhances the educational landscape and further contributes to societal well-being.

Additionally, museums have evolved to support emerging entrepreneurs, a trend that has gained momentum in recent years. Museums offer an avenue for these businesses to provide services, receive support or retail their merchandise. Collaborations between museums and young entrepreneurs enable mutual growth, making museums multifaceted contributors to a society’s economic and cultural development. For example, a local business introduced an augmented reality experience in one of Sharjah’s museums through the Access Sharjah Programme, a partnership that showcases the potential of working with local businesses. Furthermore, this approach supports education by involving universities and providing opportunities for recent graduates, combining innovation and entrepreneurship with cultural preservation.

To what extent is the adoption of technology transforming the cultural heritage experience in Sharjah?

DEEMAS: Technology is infiltrating every facet of life, and the cultural sector is no exception. However, this process is not without its complexities. There are ongoing discussions regarding technology’s role in museum operations, which is essential because it is not merely a question of creating and deploying technology, but of how it complements the physical venue.

Technology evolves rapidly, and a specific technology has often already changed by the time we establish a rapport with it. The pace of development is a key challenge, as the incorporation of new technologies is a long-term commitment. Augmented reality and other emerging fields are altering the museum experience, but the extent and nature of these changes are not always immediately evident. One strategy is to employ technology to complement, not replace, the core museum experience, preserving the fundamental essence of museums while enhancing access. For example, virtual exhibitions, online collections and virtual educational programmes offered new avenues to engage audiences during lockdowns. This shift has prompted us to adopt a hybrid format, combining physical and virtual offerings to reach a broader audience.