Culture club - The Entrepreneurs 7 - Magazine | Monocle

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There’s something symbiotic about the crisp lines of Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal’s white kandura (robe) and the minimalist architecture of Concrete, a high-ceilinged warehouse designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA that occupies a central space in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue. Concrete is one of a series of warehouses – some original, some built later – in this former industrial complex that has become a beacon for the creative industries in the UAE, spearheaded by its founder. But Alserkal, who has an infectious laugh that echoes around Concrete’s interior, is quick to credit his staff. “We share the same spirit,” he says. “These are not my team; they are my family. We are creative, we think outside the box and we might be slightly on the crazy side.”

Alserkal says that his earliest memories were of escaping into different worlds as he leafed through the pages of books filled with paintings by the Old Masters. A combination of passion and opportunity led the arts patron and businessman to open Alserkal Avenue in 2008. Located on the site of an old marble factory in the Al Quoz neighbourhood, it’s flanked by dusty streets populated by a network of workshops, garages and poorly signposted businesses. Alserkal set about transforming the area, welcoming galleries, institutions and foundations. Nowadays the Avenue is often buzzing with festivals, music performances or outdoor film screenings in the winter months when temperatures allow.

The space continues to evolve as businesses, from architecture firms to cafés, move in. The family also established the philanthropic Alserkal Arts Foundation in 2019. But Alserkal is once again keen to point out that nothing would have been possible without the effort of his international team, who hail from everywhere from Egypt to Lithuania. “There was an opportunity to fill a gap,” he says of the Avenue’s beginnings. “But it was the team who shaped the vision and made it what it is today.” 

From left to right in the above image:

1. Vilma Jurkute
executive director, alserkal initiatives 
“The driving force behind Alserkal’s evolution and our unconventional approach for 12 years.”


2. Saadia Zahid
project director
“She keeps us all on time and within budget. Not all heroes wear capes.”


3. Gilda Gilantash
director of events, programming and partnerships
“With 17 years of experience, our events are iconic because of her.” 


4. Nada Raza
director, alserkal arts foundation
“An alternative-learning advocate and defender of the artists’ perspective.”


5. Sandy Zavzavadjian
head of brand and design
“A creative force: from redefining our brand to designing her own jewellery.”

6. Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal
founder, alserkal initiatives
Bin Eisa Alserkal founded Alserkal Initiatives in 2007, a year before the Avenue opened, and he has been helping transform the cultural landscape of the UAE ever since. “To have the opportunity to be part of the cultural legacy of my home city is a blessing,” he says.

7. Caroline White
executive assistant 
“All activities coming from the executive office start with Caroline.” 


8. Uzma Irtiza
director, finance and operations
“A full-time financial guru. She’s always the first to arrive and the last to leave.”


9. Fiza Akram
director, alserkal advisory
“Leading the Alserkal cultural agenda beyond the avenue.”


10. Basmah El Bittar
director, community relations
“Makes our community what it is today.”


11. Kevin Jones
director of strategy
“He has been instrumental in defining our brand, ethos and direction.” 


+ Reshma Mehra (not pictured)
deputy director, alserkal initiatives
“She keeps our creative energy high and our engine running day in, day out.”

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