Interview: Hala Mohammed Al Khalifa

Where did the initial inspiration for such a venture as The Fire Station come from?

HALA MOHOMMED AL KHALIFA: The inspiration came from Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, when she learned the Civil Defence was relocating to another site. Her immediate response was to use the existing space to host an artists residency programme. Today, with her guidance and vision, we have managed to repurpose the building, saving its unique exterior and architectural elements to present to Doha a historically iconic building, which will serve a new purpose moving forward. The building itself carries an abundance of nostalgia. The number of oral accounts, dating back to the 1980s, from visitors reliving their experiences with The Fire Station truly helps to keep its spirit alive, but in a new way. It is really remarkable to trace the history of the space through individuals’ stories and connections.

How does this project tie in with Qatar Museums’ existing network and programmes?

AL KHALIFA: The Fire Station – Artists in Residence is an important addition to the family of projects and museums already hosted by Qatar Museums. It has an important dual message. The first is the concept to use an existing space and repurpose it to serve another function. Secondly, this initiative is tailored to all forms of creative languages, with a mission to support and nourish grassroots projects and creative talents. Qatar Museums has made a huge mark on the artistic landscape not only in Doha but the entire region, and the residency project shows the importance of allocating a space and programmes for young talent to grow.

What is the desired effect of this project on developing local artistic talent in the long term?

AL KHALIFA: We would like to create a multi-disciplinary space, in which new ideas can be discussed and eventually executed. There is a great demand throughout the region for an artistic hub to support all forms of art. We aim to achieve this through an extensive curatorial-based residency. Artists are expected to be involved in giving presentations, workshops and collaborating with others in the residency. We also respect that artists will need time to reflect and investigate their own practice. We welcome the opportunity for them to be involved in and initiate community projects. All these elements will come together at the end of a nine-month residency in a group show at our Garage Gallery, which was previously the garage for fire trucks.

How is the residency programme organised in order to help artists develop their talent?

AL KHALIFA: The Fire Station – Artists in Residence will host 20 artists every year for a nine-month residency programme that will result in a group exhibition finale at The Garage Gallery. Each artist will have an individual studio space open 24 hours a day. Visiting artists and lecturers will be invited to offer seminars and art critiques, both in-group and in individual settings in order to aid artists’ personal and professional development.

The Artists in Residence programme offers an online application, while a number of artists may be invited to use reserved studios. The first intake for the programme will start in September 2015, and we are currently assessing applications for our first group.

How do you gauge the success Doha has achieved in developing itself as a regional art centre?

AL KHALIFA: Doha has definitely had a recognisable impact on the artistic scene in the region. Dedicated museums, institutions and networks have managed to raise awareness among all audiences. The importance of showcasing all forms of art has made its mark on the state’s cultural agenda. People now travel from one city to another in the region to attend special exhibitions and openings. Children of all ages are also regular visitors, and, in my opinion, they are some of our most engaging visitors, not to mention the future custodians of the landscape we are currently cultivating.