Zeina Arida

Zeina Arida. Director, Mathaf (Arab Museum of Modern Art), Doha, Qatar

Zeina Arida. Director, Mathaf (Arab Museum of Modern Art), Doha, Qatar

Years professionally involved in the contemporary art museum field: 25 years

Have you served on another board or organization similar to CIMAM? Yes

If so, where and how long have you served? ICOM, 3 years

Short bio. Describe also your involvement with CIMAM and the museum community:

A cultural activist in the Arab world, addressing photography, archives, and modern and contemporary art, Zeina Arida is the director of Mathaf, Arab Modern Art Museum in Doha, Qatar, since November 2021. Before joining Mathaf, she was appointed Director of the Sursock Museum two years prior to its reopening in October 2015, following a seven-year renovation and expansion project.

Working in a city with very little cultural infrastructure, she had the opportunity to revive the mission and vision of the museum while building on the institution’s collection and fifty-five-year legacy. She designed a new development strategy and had the opportunity of rethinking all aspects of the Museum’s operations and programs. She contributed to significantly expanding the collection, produced more than ten exhibitions a year, set up a lively public program including educational and family activities, nurtured relationships with an ecosystem of artists, collectors, scholars, donors, cultural organizations and fellow museums, locally and internationally — turning the Museum into a prominent cultural landmark and a main actor on the local and international art scenes. Following the damage caused by the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020, she raised 2.5 million dollars for the reconstruction of the building and the restoration of the artwork.

From 1997 to 2014, she was the director of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), which she led and developed, contributing to building this unique photographic collection, and initiating a number of artistic and photographic preservation projects, among them the MEPPI, a strategic multi-year program designed to train photographic collection professionals from the Arab world, North Africa and the GCC, and to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the region’s photographic heritage.

Arida also provides expertise to international private and public institutions as well as consultation to arts and culture organizations, artists, and projects. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of MUCEM, Marseille; a member of the Advisory Board of Darat al Funun, Amman, a member of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut, and a member of the Scientific Committee of the future art mill Museum in Doha.

I joined CIMAM in 2011 when I was running the Arab Image Foundation, and helped organize the CIMAM 2012 post-conference in Lebanon. I was invited as a speaker at the 2014 CIMAM conference held in Doha and received a grant for my participation in the 2015 annual conference in Tokyo. As an active member of the ICOM-Lebanon committee from 2017 to 2020, in a time of profound financial and political challenges in Lebanon, I was privileged to experience and address the challenges facing museums and cultural institutions and their ecosystem within the local museum community.

Motivation Statement: How can you contribute to CIMAM's mission and strategic goals by being a Member of the Board? (i.e strategy, membership, fundraising, governance, network in strategic regions, availability, knowledge or skills in a specific area):

My 25 years of practice in cultural management and direction, in Lebanon and the Middle East, a politically unstable country and region, gave me the aptitude to adapt to rapidly changing situations and to inscribe my actions in a local context, driven by the responsibility towards the cultural ecosystem, while keeping in mind the global challenges faced by museums and art initiatives worldwide. In a context where funding for cultural institutions is almost inexistent, I had to develop creative fundraising and programming schemes and formats, with little funding, keeping in mind the role of museums and institutions in supporting artists, non-profit organizations, and the artistic community at large.

Additionally, my involvement in different Arab and international museums and institutions as a Board member, juror, and advisor, engaging with a wide community of like-minded individuals and institutions, enabled me to build a good understanding of a changing and complex Arab world context and history, and a strong knowledge of its cultural and artistic communities and institutions. My recent involvement in Qatar as the director of Mathaf, Arab Modern Art museum, happens at a crucial time when the country is expanding its cultural and museum sectors, investing in the creative economy to drive the next phase of development of Qatar as art and cultural hub. I believe the Arab region and the GCC are under-represented in CIMAM and my voice could contribute to enlarging CIMAM’s members’ appreciation of a rapidly expanding museum sector and the many opportunities and challenges it meets.

Describe briefly the expectations of your involvement as a CIMAM Board member and how you envision CIMAM's priorities in the next years:

Having been increasingly interested in the way mission driven organizations can remain relevant to the present time by addressing change in social, economic, political, and environmental issues while preserving their very essence, I am interested in contributing to conversations with museum directors and curators and the community at large, tackling decisive topics and issues that we currently face, and opening up perspectives that go beyond the museum’s interrogations.

The impact and consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on our societies have shown that the unthinkable can happen, that the world can slow down, if not stop. The economic and social crisis is also an opportunity to rethink our ways of doing and acting in a world that is increasingly polarized on the social, economic, political and cultural levels — and museums are no exception. In a challenging global context that is questioning the sustainability and existing model of museums, there is an opportunity to transform the future of arts. CIMAM is a platform that can help us raise these questions, and think together about the role and responsibilities museums have towards society, reflecting collectively on what a new, innovative and human institution the museum can be.

The opportunity to join a leading organization that celebrates and question museum and institutional practices is both inspiring and motivating in such times of change.