Art & Culture

Katara: Foundation, Institution, and Force for Positive Change

Katara – The Cultural Village Foundation, is more than just another tourist attraction.  It is the location of some of Qatar’s finest theaters, halls and conference centers, and it is chartered with a mission to promote culture, support aspiring artists and to celebrate diversity.  Considerable time and resources were expended constructing the Village’s many venues and first-rate facilities that represent classical Arabic style.  As a result of its superb planning, Katara is on the precipice of establishing itself as an institution focused on delivering enriching cultural programs to not only Qataris, but also people of all nationalities who visit or reside in Qatar.  In an effort to keep pace with Qatar’s other long-term investments in energy, education, health and medicine, Katara’s General Manager, Marcio Barbosa, exclaims, “It is now time for culture!”  
 
Barbosa arrived at Katara 15 months ago after working with UNESCO in Paris for the previous 10 years.  He recently sat down with Today’s Outlook to outline the vision behind Qatar’s new cultural hub.  
 
The name Katara utilizes the historical name of Qatar to emphasize its strong appreciation for the values and traditions of the past, while also projecting a focus on the future.  “We don’t just want to be a place to show things, we want to be a place that will create the conditions to improve and put on display the culture of Qatar,” says Barbosa.  “Katara is not simply an exhibition center or a theater offering entertainment to people, or a place to serve solely as a host to display the talents of others. We have a core mission to accomplish and a unique role to play.”  Katara aims to establish real connections between culture and other sectors present in Qatar.  “You can’t treat culture and the arts as an isolated segment of society,” Barbosa explains.  “Culture permeates education, research, sports, the arts and a range of other areas.”  At Katara, the programs are concentrated on addressing specific elements of culture that should be further developed in Qatar.  These initiatives include capacity building within society itself, greater appreciation and support of creative and culturally-based industries, and the pursuit of cultural diversity. 
 
Capacity building is, in its simplest form, the process of strengthening Qatari institutions.  In the past, Katara did this by supporting the establishment of the Doha Film Institute (DFI).  Merely one year ago, this was just an idea; an unrealized dream.  Today, the capacity building program pursued by Katara has transformed DFI into a first-rate production entity that has received international attention and accolades through its promotion and development of up-and-coming artists, directors, actors, filmmakers and an array of other specialty professions associated with the film industry.   It is the end-product of an enormous effort to strengthen local cultural institutions.  
 
Katara’s focus is not only to support institutions.  It also nurtures individuals, which is really at the core of the Creative and Cultural Industries program.  Historically, Qatar did not invest heavily in the arts and cultural development programs, which resulted in the widespread notion that creativity is a hobby, not a livelihood.  This was contributing to the demise of cultural values, skills and artistic competence, as there was no perceived incentive for artists to pursue their talents and creative inclinations.  According to Barbosa, “we need to protect this segment of society to ensure that existing talent is nurtured, encouraged and has a space to create, not as a hobby, but as a form of expression that materially contributes to society; and to live from these activities.  We must ensure that artists have the opportunity to contribute to their country, not just as engineers or lawyers, but as artists.”  Katara aims to do this by providing opportunities, establishing connections with more developed and experienced partners across the globe and, perhaps most importantly, by creating conditions in Qatar for artists to understand the commercial potential of their work.
 
Still in its early stages, this initiative has been given a great deal of attention by the Cultural Village Foundation.  It began with a humble demonstration in a souq.  The idea was to identify local artists and tell them to reach out to the Foundation and outline their situation so that Katara could identify a way to help and support them to develop their talent and advance their dreams.  The Arts Center, which houses several shops and showrooms, has been set up to accommodate newly identified talent and to showcase their creations.  This opportunity is available for anyone residing in Qatar.  However, priority is given to Qatari nationals since they are considered to be most in need as many expatriates and foreign nationals are believed to already have confidence in the cultural sector’s ability to support career development.  Therefore, the Foundation hopes to assure Qataris of the world of possibilities open to them as they aspire to become professional artists on the global stage.   
 
Katara’s initiatives also project widely into the peace and development domain, which is at the heart of its cultural diversity program.  The cultural diversity initiative is relatively new, dating back less than ten years, when Barbosa himself was involved in a UNESCO-led international convention aimed at promoting the view of cultural diversity as an asset for global prosperity, rather than a disadvantage.  Using examples, action and even national legislation, the convention stressed the value of appreciating diversity within a particular country or culture.  “The beauty of humanity lies in its diversity,” says Barbosa, “if everyone had the same face, the same look, the same language, the same way of life; then that would probably be a bit boring.”  
 
Barbosa explains that lack of understanding and appreciation of cultural differences has often led to economic and social problems, sometimes on a massive scale, leading to major conflicts among nations.  Katara hopes to minimize the potential for conflict by fostering an environment of increased cultural awareness and by promoting intercultural dialogue.  Barbosa argues that more than two-thirds of the world’s current conflicts are in large part due to a lack of understanding of differences.  He notes that this is a trend that has been evident throughout history. Notably, the conflict in the Balkans was based largely on deeply entrenched differences in the understanding of religion on the part of the opposing sides.  This is also evident in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where cultural impressions often play a significant role in shaping public opinion and political decisions.  Katara hopes to minimize conflict by breaking down the walls of prejudice, misunderstanding and negative stereotyping while encouraging greater dialogue, cooperation and respect for differences.
 
A key component to achieving this noteworthy goal is to showcase worldwide diversity, which Katara aims to do at its upcoming cultural festival on October 6 - 15, bringing over 240 artists from nine Latin American countries.  Katara will also be part of the UN Alliance of Civilizations forum, hosted by Qatar in December 2011.  The forum will include representatives from over 100 countries, including more than a dozen head of state delegations, who will focus on political debate and agenda building around the issue of intercultural dialogue and understanding. The event will take place at the new Qatar National Convention Center, but a number of activities supporting the forum will be held at Katara.  This event will be a great opportunity for Qataris to see first-hand their country’s participation in the Alliance of Civilizations, and to be actively involved in showcasing cultural diversity to achieve peaceful coexistence between people of different backgrounds. 
 
“If we use culture as an opportunity, a medium, for dialogue,” explains Barbosa, “maybe we will start to see less conflict based on misunderstanding among countries and people.  Maybe some conflicts will endure, but they will be based more on the availability of water, and access to food or other scarce resources, rather than on ethnic, religious or cultural differences.”
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