Abu Dhabi: A simple encounter with a student outside a concert hall over 20 years ago sparked the beginning of one of the UAE’s most celebrated arts and culture festivals, according to its founder.
As final preparations are on for the 2017 Abu Dhabi Festival, which is set to present one of its most gripping programmes in its 14-year history beginning March 1, Gulf News sat with Huda Al Khamis Kanoo, founder of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), organisers of the festival, to see how and why it all began.
“The heart of the story is always the same … to make a difference, to build a generation who can express themselves, think for themselves and lead us to a better future,” said Kanoo.
“It is for the betterment of humanity — that is why I founded ADMAF. How did I do it? The same way we are sitting here together [and talking]. We were sitting together talking about issues that mattered to us — in the fields of music, art, culture ... that’s how it started,” added Kanoo.
As Kanoo speaks, her intense love for the subject of arts and culture is evident. She recounts the incident of 20 years ago — that prompted her to start ADMAF — as if it happened just yesterday.
“We were going to a concert and I saw a young Emirati man outside the concert hall; he was not coming in. So I said to him, ‘Why don’t you come in?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, I think it is by invitation only’. So I said to him ‘Come with me’,” Kanoo recalls.
A gathering with the young man and her family after the concert led to discussions on arts.
The young man told her about his love for music. “So I said to him, ‘Do you want to know more about music?” and he said yes. Next I asked him if he had friends who are also interested [in music] and he said yes. He said ‘I have one friend’.”
According to Kanoo, she held her first meeting with the young man, who was a student at the Higher Colleges of Technology, and his friend, and some faculty members, discussing mostly classical music.
“This is how it started. Then I met with students from Zayed University (in Abu Dhabi), maybe five or six students, and then it snowballed.”
Kanoo said she knew from early on the importance of education in developing home-grown arts and culture programmes.
She decided that she would start working with young people on their premises, in their universities and schools. “‘Let me go and talk to them and hear their thoughts’ she said to herself. Makrobet ‘What do they like to do? How do they see the future?’,” she said.
“We started with the history of classical music, because they loved it and [the discussion] happened naturally. We talked about music, we talked about Beethoven and what was happening at that time in the Arab world. It was dynamic. It was all about talking, understanding, appreciating, music and what it was all about.”
Kanoo said it was important to develop arts and culture programmes because it “broadens your thinking, creativity and understanding”.
What started as a conversation with a young man developed into setting up plans for scholarships abroad and, finally, to ownership and became the festival that we see today, said Kanoo.
ADMAF was founded in 1996 and Abu Dhabi Festival was launched in 2004.
The 2017 Abu Dhabi Festival, which will begin on March 1 and run for a month, will include the creativity of 160 Emiratis alongside 200 international artists. It will be spread over 30 venues, with 16 productions and will host over 70 events.
The festival’s theme will be Culture and Tolerance, a topic that Kanoo said was selected due to the current unsettling global environment.
What does she hope people will take away from the festival?
“Love, compassion and an understanding of others. Try, try and let go. Life is too short.”
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