Where Art Meets Business
In conversation with Rachel Rekkab
Abu Dhabi is set to become the next epicentre of art and culture. After 10 years in the making, the much-anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi was revealed to the public on the 11 November 2017, alongside the remarkable Saadiyat Cultural District. Once again, all eyes turn to the Middle East with the inaugural edition of UNFOLD Art XChange, a multicultural art exchange that hopes to fuse the art industry with the corporate world in one dynamic business union.
UNFOLD is the brain-child of Rachel Rekkab, whose experience extends over 12 years in the real estate, events and exhibitions industry. Rachel Rekkab established Artem Holdings, the company behind UNFOLD, over a year ago. Artem Holdings is an independent, privately funded global events, conferences and consulting company in the art industry, that aims to create the largest multicultural art exchange to explore the global art landscape and share diverse concepts and practices. Rekkab’s vast corporate knowledge ultimately led to the inception of UNFOLD – Art Beyond the BRICS. The event promises to be an unparalleled art programme that sees global governments, real-estate developers, hospitality leaders, spatial designers and finance moguls under one roof – collaborating and exchanging ideas through a series of panel discussions. As most corporate-minded individuals have come to recognise, the significance of art lies in creating a strong brand identity, driving positive bottom-line economic impact and art as an asset class. Rekkab has positioned the focus of the event on the emerging economies expressed by the BRICS acronym – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
COLLECTOR spoke to Rachel Rekkab about the relationship between art, architecture, culture and finance, and how UNFOLD aims to deconstruct emerging art scenes from fast developing countries outside the global hegemonic centres.
Louvre Abu Dhabiís exterior. © Mohamed Somji. Courtesy of Louvre Abu Dhabi.
COLLECTOR: UNFOLD marries the world of art, architecture, real estate, hospitality and finance, all areas in which you have extensive experience. What reasons inspired you to create an event that brought all of these industries together?
Rachel Rekkab: I wanted to foster a stronger arts education on the impact of art in our contemporary society. I wanted to present the valuable marketing opportunity that art offers, for both governments and private developers, beyond its aesthetic beauty, cultural interpretation and general improvement of the urban environment. I wanted to reiterate the importance of art in architecture for real estate and hospitality developments, and the high financial returns and revenue growth it can offer through maximising property values, increasing occupancy rates and attracting tourism to stimulate a country’s economy.
UNFOLD focuses on the BRICS regions (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Why choose Abu Dhabi to host the event and not one of the BRICS partner countries?
Abu Dhabi was chosen as a location because we wanted to showcase the world’s most anticipated cultural attraction, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which will be part of our site tour at the end of Day 1. We also hope this will attract and bring people together from across the globe for this inaugural edition.
Having conceived this event, what opportunities and outcomes do you see emerging from a gathering of this kind?
I hope this event with help support our mission of encouraging greater support of the arts from government authorities, promote the importance of corporate art collecting to businesses and corporations, as well as help foster knowledge and understanding of art as a growing asset class.
There are huge language barriers between these various regions. How are these challenges dealt with and will government, business and civil society representatives from the various BRICS regions be participating in the event?
Yes, I agree that there are huge language barriers between the various regions of the BRICS but, fortunately, all our speakers are fluent in English, so no translations will be required for the panel discussions.
With regard to representations from the BRICS countries, we would include Museum Inhotim from Brazil. We have representatives from Gazprombank from Russia, who will be joining our Corporate Art Collection Panel on our ‘Art Talks II: Evolving Cultures, Developing Collections’. We have the most powerful woman in the travel industry from India, Jyoti Narang, who used to be the CMO for Taj Hotels, speaking on how she developed their art programme. We also have the MD of the US affiliate of the largest residential developer in China, Vanke, as well as the biggest property developer and owner from China, the Wanda Group, who will be featuring Shanghai’s first ‘seven-star’ hotel, Wanda Reign, with an art collection of over 2 000 works. Lastly, we are proud to announce representations from established names in the art world from South Africa, like Mark Coetzee, the Executive Director and Chief Curator of Zeitz MOCAA, Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator, Paul Bruce-Band, GM of Ellerman House, as well as prominent art patrons such as Swaady Martin and Pulane Kingston.
Louvre Abu Dhabiís ërain of lightí. © Mohamed Somji. Courtesy of Louvre Abu Dhabi.
It is quite clear from your selection of panellists that the United States is very established in this space and a lot of the best practice will be presented by these participants. In the emerging economies, there are huge challenges from budgetary constraints, political will, and a general lack of knowledge around contemporary design and art. How do you see these huge differences between developed world economies and the emerging ones being addressed, and ultimately actioned?
I think a lot can be learnt from the ‘Percent for Art’ programme in the US, which is often a city ordinance, where a fee, usually some percentage of the project cost (between 0.5% and 2%) is placed on large-scale development projects to fund and install public art. As a result, a dedicated panel has been created on our ‘Art Talks I: Art, Real Estate and the Built Environment’ at UNFOLD on the ‘Percent for Art Program: The Role of Public Art’ in enhancing the environment, increasing civic pride and promoting economic development, where we will hear from the different city and state art programmes, represented by the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Boston Arts Commission, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Minnesota State Arts Board.
You obviously understand how the power of design and art in public spaces can inspire, educate and uplift communities. From your experience, what are some of the best examples of this that will be discussed or presented at UNFOLD?
To give you a taste of some of the top highlights that will be discussed on our ‘Art Talks I: Art, Real Estate and the Built Environment’ at UNFOLD:
The CEO of Futurecity Ltd in London, Mark Davy, will speak on the collaboration between Futurecity, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and The Boston Foundation with the aim of integrating arts and culture into all aspects of civic life through the development of a new ‘Avenue of the Arts’ creative district programme, as well as a state-wide programme, which will see 15 cultural cities announced by 2022.
The Director of Public Trust and Special Initiatives, San Francisco Arts Commission, Jill Manton, will speak on the Treasure Island Project in San Francisco – a multi-billion-dollar development plan that includes 8 000 units of housing, 300 acres of parks, a ferry terminal and one of the world’s largest investments in public art.
The Executive Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston, Jesse Brackenbury, will speak on the Rose Kennedy Greenway contemporary public art park in the heart of Boston. It aims to bring innovative and contemporary art to Boston by giving artists unique opportunities to exhibit bold, new work that considers the possibilities of 21st-century Boston through free, temporary exhibitions, engaging people in meaningful experiences, interactions and dialogue with art and one another.
The Executive Director of the UrbanArt Commission in Memphis, Lauren Kennedy, will speak on how the UrbanArt Commission works with various partners to commission artists of all media to create meaningful public art that transforms urban spaces and environments across the city of Memphis.
Louvre Abu Dhabiís exterior with Abu Dhabiís skyline (night) © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji.
The Founder and Creative Director of UAP in Brisbane, Australia, Daniel Tobin, will speak on the firm’s involvement in the art strategy, design and fabrication of Abu Dhabi’s Wahat Al Karama. UAP collaborated with British artist, Idris Khan, to realise a monument as the centrepiece of the new United Arab Emirates (UAE) Memorial Park, ‘Wahat Al Karama’. Commissioned by His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to honour members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives in support of their country’s sovereignty, dignity and freedom. Wahat Al Karama is one of the winners of the 2017 American Architecture Prize for Culture Projects and has been shortlisted at the 2017 world architecture festival for Civic and Community Projects.
The Founder and Director of Creative Consulting from Forecast Public Art, Minnesota, Jack Becker, will explore the trends and examine the critical issues facing artists, public art agencies, programme managers, city planners, educators, developers and others, who comprise the constellation of public art stakeholders in our contemporary society. Forecast Public Art is one of the first non-profit organisations dedicated to advancing the field of public art through their award-winning magazine, Public Art Review.