Museums News Qatar

Qatar museums shake-up

As its Damien Hirst retrospective opens this week in Doha, organisation behind show rejects criticism

Takashi Murakami and Sheikha Al Mayassa

The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), the body that oversees the present and future museums in the tiny, energy-rich Gulf state of Qatar, is completing a transition into a “private entity for public good”, including new policies that will impact on finance, human resources and tendering.

“It is a major change,” Ed Dolman, the chief executive of the authority, tells The Art Newspaper. “This is a commonly used structure in Qatar, where so many projects are funded by the government. It means that the QMA will generate its own revenues, for example through sponsorship, but will still have government support and will still be approved and audited.”

Dolman says that the change was needed because a cultural organisation like the QMA is complex, and that “it is difficult to put the museum category into the classic civil-service rankings. We have written our own policies and procedures, and we are waiting for final approval, but the new structure is likely to be in place within two months.”

Rash of rumours

Preparations for the transition apparently started before Qatar’s change of ruler; Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani became Emir after the abdication of his father, Sheikh Hamad, in June. The arrival of the new leader was rapidly followed by a rash of rumours that dramatic changes were afoot in the authority: that it might be absorbed into the ministry of culture, and that its chairwoman, the Emir’s sister Sheikha Al Mayassa, had been removed from her position.

The tension was heightened by an incendiary piece published in Arabic, in the daily Al Arab newspaper, by Faisal Al Marzoqi. The controversial columnist, who is known for his anti-foreigner stance, accused several top officials at the authority of abusing their power and foreigners of “dominating” the organisation. He called for many positions to be limited to Qatari nationals, and lashed out at the QMA for, he said, “granting a marriage allowance to a gay executive, hiring a yoga instructor to manage the Cultural Relations Department and frequent ‘drinking and shamelessness’”.

“False accusations”

The authority threatened legal action—which has so far not been followed up—but Sheikha Al Mayassa sent a letter to employees rebutting the charges, saying that she remained in place and was disappointed by the “false accusations”. She also referred to the transition, saying that it would mean “more individual accountability and will also mean that new contracts… will be drawn up, setting clear individual goals”.

The QMA currently oversees two art museums that are up and running—the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. It also oversees the Orientalist Museum, which has a collection but no building yet, and the National Museum, which is due to be completed late next year.

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