The old Doha Fire Station is set to become a new creative space dedicated to supporting emerging artists. Thomas Spink speaks to Hala Al Khalifa, QMA’s head of artists in residence programme, to find out how this will encourage the burgeoning arts community in Qatar.
The final fire engine departed the Civil Defence headquarters in December 2012 and since then the building has fallen into disrepair. That is, until now, as Qatar Museums Authority is currently busy with a renovation project that aims to transform the unused yet iconic structure into a thriving artists’ hub which will usher in a new era for the local art community.
Hala Al Khalifa, who is spearheading the development, speaks to us about her hopes for what promises to be a refreshing renaissance for Qatar’s arts scene.
What’s involved in this project?
The Doha Fire Station is going to be transformed into an artist-in residence programme called Fire Station: Artists in Residence. It will present the opportunity for exchange between local artists, the academia, the community and the flourishing art scene in Qatar. The building will provide 24 studios and a gallery space for exhibition and community interaction.
How does it feel to be leading the whole project?
It’s a very exciting project to be involved with. Not only is it breathing new life into an important building in Doha’s history, but it’s also creating a space that will support artists living in Qatar and provide a platform for creative exchange.
What will you be offering the artistic community?
Fire Station: Artists in Residence will house a rolling nine-month Artist in Residency programme. It will first be open to local Qatari artists and residents of Qatar, and then regional artists.
In addition to esteemed artist weekly mentoring programmes, artists in residence will have access to QMA museums, special exhibitions, lectures and the opportunity to interact with museum curators.
What will the end result be?
The artist-in-residence programme will culminate in an exhibition in the ‘Garage Gallery’ to showcase participants’ works. In addition, [to this programme] there will be a public programme that is currently in development.
The building is of great architectural beauty. How was it secured?
The Civil Defence left the building in December 2012 as it had opened a new state-of-the-art headquarters in Wadi Al Sail.
Due to its historical significance, the building was then handed over to QMA for preservation and conservation reasons.
Who will be able to occupy the studios at the Fire Station?
The selection process for those wanting to be part of the Artists in Residence programme will be through an application found on our website. An independent jury will then assess these applications.
What response have you had so far to the project?
It’s a hugely exciting project, and from initial reactions, one we believe the community will be behind.
Are there similar projects to this anywhere else?
There are many artists in residence programmes across the world, but this is a unique one. Not only does it provide production facilities alongside the support of QMA, but, its focus is on supporting the local arts community of Qatar.
What will the artists and participants get out of the residency programme?
Artists who join will not obtain a degree, instead, our residency will offer them an opportunity to develop their artistic language and skill. This will be achieved with the guidance of artists, curators, and professionals in the art field. In addition to periodical lectures and seminars, the nine months spent at the Fire Station will strengthen the artists’ techniques, allowing them to gain knowledge, and further the development of their artistic practice.
What other facilities will the space have?
The original building will retain many existing features and will house a café, restaurant, bookshop, art supply shop and cinema.
Will it be open to the public?
People are welcome to visit the gallery to view the works created by the visiting artists throughout the residency programme.
The opening is planned for November 2014. Visit www.qma.com.qa.