What I like about Alserkal Avenue

AlSerkal Avenue is an arts district in Dubai. 

Here is what I like about it: 

  • The district covers a large city block, housing more than 60 creative venues, including art, design and performance spaces in nearly 40 warehouse spaces. 

  • It is located next to an industrial zone in Dubai, where, logically, people make things. These environs, which can be quite busy, presents a refreshing milieu for art. The area reminds you that art can stand side by side with other physical work. They re not pretentious about it. It’s like they say, “this is where we have our space. Come and enjoy.” 

  • Alserkal avenue also feels like a place where people work. They just seem to be working on creative pursuits

  • The buildings were designed as warehouse spaces, which is both good and bad for exhibiting art. The good is the spaces are quite large with clean with well defined walls. The bad is they waste a lot of vertical space. Some galleries have tried to establish a second story in their space, but none seem to work all that well. Either the floors shake or the stairwells wobble. 

  • As I’ve visited a number of times, I’ve noticed the district is becoming more and more self contained. Lots of coffee shops have opened, although they seem quite similar, and a restaurant or two launched. A great chocolate shop is housed there, along with a chocolate factory. I’ve noticed a Gym. Even a record shop (go when a dj is spinning). 

  • Functionality and art sometimes don’t go hand in hand. In this place it works.  

  • They seem to be letting fewer cars inside the compound, which means walking is easier. Maybe this is a weekend occurrence. All the streets are one way, but it’s easy to forget it, which means it was somewhat hazardous to drive in there. I did it once, and I’ll never do it again. I’ve also seen tour busses trying to get around. The parking lot just outside makes life easier.  We can’t forget, though, that abutting one side of the compound is an auto repair shop. 

  • The galleries in Alserkal concentrate on contemporary art from around the Arab world. Each gallery has its own personality, so the work is eclectic in themes and general disposition. On the other hand, Sharjah’s museums are known for presenting retrospectives of big-name artists. Alserkal, in general, shows big artists, but much earlier in their career. It is great to see what an artists was doing in the 1990s, which is what a Sharjah museum would show. But it’s fascinating to see what an artist is thinking about this year, last year, 2015. 

So, what’s the conflict here: 

  • I wish it were closer. It’s a long drive from Sharjah to Alserkal 

  • I wish they were open on Fridays. Some places are open, but they are mostly cafes. Many of the galleries are closed on Fridays. This may be a good thing for the families. I was just there on a Friday and a women working in one of the gallery had her six year old son in there (probably due to lack of child care). While she was with a potential client, he was following her asking over and over, “mommy, how many more games do you have on your phone.” It was quite a scene.