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Grand designs

Concierge meets Rawan Kashkoush, creative director of Dubai Design Week, to chat about the upcoming festival. The arrival of autumn signals a shift in Dubai’s creative calendar. The emirate begins to buzz with new exhibitions, gallery openings, art events and more – and the biggest of them all is the annual Dubai Design WeekThis year’s edition, which takes place from November 12 to 17, will be the biggest ever, with more than 120 institutions set to participate in around 230 events taking place at Dubai Design District (d3) and various locations across the city. Given that the 2017 edition saw more than 60,000 visitors descend on d3 alone, you can expect a creative celebration quite unlike any other.

Rawan Kashkoush, creative director of Dubai Design Week: “It’s all about learning what it means to be a designer by way of being human”

The week will feature a packed schedule of exhibitions, commissioned installations, talks, tours and workshops. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, never fear – 2018 will also see the launch of the first-ever Dubai Design Week app, created to help visitors navigate their way around, personalise their schedules and even receive notifications for hot new launches and events that they won’t want to miss. And it’s set to be a festival full of firsts. The same week will see the long-anticipated opening of Jameel Arts Centre, the first contemporary arts museum in Dubai, as well as the inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial in Sharjah, the first event of its kind in the region. 

For Rawan Kashkoush, creative director of Dubai Design Week, the event is an opportunity to showcase not just the emirate but also the surrounding region to the rest of the world. “Here in Dubai, we are privileged to have governmental and commercial support for our creative endeavours, which a lot of our neighbours in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa don’t have. So it’s great that we can provide a platform for these areas and function as a gateway to the rest of the world.”

Kashkoush has been with Dubai Design Week since its inception in 2015, and her enthusiasm for the event is palpable. “One of the things I find so exciting about Dubai is that there is this freedom to experiment, because the leader of the emirate, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is so supportive of innovation. I think designers can feel confident, particularly those in a niche industry, that Dubai is a good place to begin their careers, fine-tune their skills and develop creatively.”

Downtown Design, a key aspect of Dubai Design Week, is one example of how creatives in the city are being supported. From November 13 to 16, you can browse more than 175 local and international premium design brands at the limited edition collection design fair, which functions as the retail platform of the show. “It puts money in the pockets of designers – at the end of the day, we are trying to build creative careers and really give them legitimacy,” notes Kashkoush.

As well as supporting creative careers, Dubai Design Week also looks to the future with its Global Grad Show, the world’s largest exhibition of graduate design projects from universities across the globe. “It’s a must-see exhibition that asks the question, ‘what are our problems and what are the designers of the future trying to respond to, today?’ It brings together the culmination of 12 months of research and dedication.”

Sustainability is a key theme throughout the festival and the popular main stage talks in Dubai Design District will include a variety of keynote speeches and panels on how to future-proof the cities of the region and preserve not only resources but also their culture. For those who feel inspired to embrace their own creativity, the week will feature a series of theoretical and practical workshops. “We have something called The Making Space and it’s a place to get really hands-on and tactile with your creativity. We have sessions for both adults and children.” 

Kashkoush believes that this, the fourth edition of Dubai Design Week, may be the best one yet in terms of regional talent. She is excited for this year’s regional design showcase Abwab, which means ‘doorway’ in Arabic. “It’s an annual exploration of different themes through design. This year, we are exploring the theme of storytelling and how design can be a vehicle for cultural exchange and communicating particular messages and ideas, through physical experiences and interactive exhibitions. “We’ve challenged five design teams  to collaborate for the first time on a particular topic or idea. It’s an exciting way to push people to be themselves but also learn to work together.”

For those visiting Dubai Design Week for the first time, Kashkoush recommends starting and ending in d3. “Don’t forget to explore ‘vertically’ – there are so many studios and galleries in the upper floors of d3’s buildings with lots of free talks and workshops on offer. “And don’t miss our series of architectural tours, a brand new event for 2018, taking place across the city. One of these is a tour of the brand new Jameel Arts Centre, led by the architect who designed it, Christopher Lee of London-based Serie Architects. “Finally, I would also love it if everyone checked out ‘Ways We Eat’ our specially designed walking food tour of Karama with Frying Pan Adventures on November 13. You’ll learn how food culture affects the cutlery you use, the way you sit and more. It’s all about learning what it means to be a designer by way of being human.”

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