Image by Emily Broad

Curated Education: The NYUAD Art Gallery

Exploring NYUAD Art Gallery’s efforts to increase Engagement and Visibility.

Oct 5, 2019

Facing the road away from the university, a large colorful sign advertises NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Speculative Landscapes, as students walk by or run to catch a shuttle or taxi.
One would be forgiven for assuming that the gallery was located in or associated with the NYUAD Arts Center. The NYUAD Art Gallery is in the East Administration Building, facing the road, next to the Reading Room, which is itself also a part of the gallery. In addition to exhibitions, the gallery hosts workshops that are open to the public. Maya Allison, founding director and chief curator of the gallery, stated that one of the objectives of the gallery is to engage students, but visibility is one of their main challenges.
“The challenge we face is that because our entrance face is the road, most students never see us … unless we grab them by the class and pull them in,” she said.
The gallery sets out to proactively engage classes and facilitate the exploration of academic subjects through art. A key strategy is integrating visits to the gallery in course syllabi. Allison often reaches out to professors to pitch gallery visits based on the course’s syllabus. The gallery has provided tours for physics, law and psychology classes, as well as art courses and individual tours.
“The way that you learn is not only by reading books and discussing them in class,” explained Allison. “Part of how you learn is by applying that discussion in the world and taking in the world.”
The Legal Studies Core Class, Accidental Equality, visited the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery to examine the implied power of relationships between the viewer, the artwork and the power relationships between the viewers of the artwork: who is an expert and who is not, and what does that do to one’s sense of equality.
However, class trips are not the only way students are engaging with NYUAD’s Art Gallery. When commenting on her interactions with the gallery, Dana Ashmawy, Class of 2021, shared that she found out about the exhibition through her friends’ social media posts. Previously as well, she had attended exhibitions that she became aware of through social media. However, despite her multiple visits to the gallery, Ashmawy was unaware that it has an Instagram page, a Facebook page and a website.
This difficulty in communication and visibility is not exclusive to non-art students. Sondos Eatamadi, Class of 2022, minors in Visual Arts and is more integrated in the arts community. However, she was also unaware of the gallery’s social media accounts and website. She had confused posters advertising the gallery’s exhibits around campus for Student Interest Group posters, hinting at a missing link between information provided and the physical space of the gallery.
“You can advertise but there's only so much you can do; people need to notice. I know they had an opening night but I had no idea. I might have gone but I didn't know,” commented Eatamadi on the gallery's outreach strategy.
In face of such difficulties, the Art Gallery has taken proactive steps to improve its outreach. NYUAD Class of 2018 alumnus, Sebastian Grube, who majored in Theatre and Music, has recently been hired as the community engagement and marketing officer for the gallery. Grube is responsible for reaching out to students in a more active way; his duties include communicating with SIGs about utilizing the gallery space and looking for better ways to engage with the student body. When asked about how he plans to integrate the student body, Grube emphasized his mission to provide students with opportunities and cater to their needs.
“I do not want to create something that is not beneficial to the community,” Grube stated referring to his role. “I want to work backwards with conversations that lead to programs and opportunities to engage rather than put something out there that's not going to be beneficial.”
The NYUAD Art Gallery’s Reading Room is a bookable space that has housed events like talks, poetry readings and open houses for SIGs. The Arab Crossroads Department, for example, will host an open house in this space on Oct. 8. SIGs and individual students can reach out to Grube through email to book the Reading Room. Spaces inside the gallery and the exhibitions themselves can be booked as well. Examples of events that can be hosted with the current exhibition include a poetry workshop in Raja’a Khalid’s meditation space and a meditation session in Ayman Zedani’s calming room.
Students can also visit the gallery and ask at the front desk for a tour of the space in order to receive insights into the exhibition before or after enjoying the space themselves.
“Students can feel free to reach out to me at any point if they want to organize something or if they have an idea for an event,” said Grube, welcoming students to engage more, so as to break down confusions associated with the gallery space.
The Art Gallery is a resource freely available on campus, and while the gallery itself maintains efforts to engage the student body, students can visit the gallery and learn for themselves the value of such a space.
Visit the gallery website for more information. You can also follow them on social media @nyuadartgallery on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The current exhibition, Speculative Landscapes, runs from Sept. 16 to Dec. 7, and the gallery’s operating hours are from 12 to 8 p.m. Monday to Sunday.
Jude Al Qubaisi is a staff writer. Email her at
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