c(ART)ture Shocks – Bringing People Together Through Collaboration

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation in the lead up to our Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here, Mai Al-Athel describes her approach as an observer, who looks to understand cultural contexts as a way to be more critical and in turn, innovative.

Cultures are like fingerprints, not any two are the same.


My interest in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi lay intrinsically in the fact that it is an amalgamation of East and West. I can relate from my experience as a Middle Eastern student who has spent most of her life abroad. The different pulls that have impacted my life, relating to my roots and understanding other cultures, underscore my interest in this multicultural city. I wanted to understand how Middle Eastern cultures, which view art as a foreign concept only appreciated when travelling abroad, can foster innovative frameworks that lead to the sustainability of developing cultural institutions, such as museums.


Through socio-semiotic ethnography during my time at New York University Abu Dhabi, I came to the realisation that the island of Abu Dhabi is indeed a collaborative city. With that in mind, I looked at several organisations that use some form of collaboration to leave a mark on the island’s cultural landscape. I then looked at how cultural institutions, such as museums, use collaboration as a form of engagement; it was then that a linkage was formed. Museum institutions use crowdsourcing as a form of collaboration in order to increase engagement and attract many different visitors, not only those interested in art. This innovation opportunity is needed in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as the majority of people living there are seldom interested in art. Such frameworks can open up the eyes of many.


I wanted to reach a deeper understanding of why museum institutions use crowdsourcing as a form of collaboration, and if it in fact engages people. Therefore, I looked at a few examples of successful crowdsourcing initiatives, namely the Brooklyn Museum’s Click! exhibition and the RCA’s Ryder Ripps Red Rope Network (R.R.N.). R.R.N. utilised collaboration in order to create a work of art and Click! used it in order to engage people interested in curation who have not studied it. By building on the aforementioned examples I understood that the frameworks used can be implemented in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s arts and culture sector.


Crowdsourcing as a form of collaboration is deemed successful in our information age, with the spread of the Internet and the rise of social media. Crowdsourcing unleashes creative thinking in authentic ways. With the arts and culture sector expanding in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, crowdsourcing is an innovative framework that can get different people with varying interests to contribute to a cultural landscape that enhances engagement and inevitably allows people to appreciate art, leading to the sustainability of many multi-million dollar cultural institutions.


My advice to businesses is start small and build on your successes. Red tape and censorship are inevitable in conservative countries and one must take that into consideration when attempting new ways of doing things.


To learn more about crowdsourcing, and Mai’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from 18-22 June.