“Our Students Help Usher in a Cultural Awakening in the Country”

Amir BERBIĆ, Dean of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) talks about the new programmes planned for the University and its role in the cultural development of Qatar.

“The students of Qatar can lookout for a new programme in the coming year from VCUarts Qatar that sits on the intersection of art, design, and technology,” says Amir Berbic, Dean of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), as he plans for an engaged campus and in-person instruction after a year of remote learning.

SCALE sits down with Berbić for a conversation to understand the recent challenges, the importance of design pedagogy, and the particular role VCUarts Qatar has played in shaping the cultural development of the country.

Lammeh seating area, Saffron Hall, Tasmeem Doha 2019, March 14th, Spring 2019. The Biennial Art & Design conference ran from March 13th – March 15th, Spring 2019, with the theme ‘Hekayat’. Pic Courtesy: Raviv Cohen


SCALE: What are the emerging technologies that VCUQ is investing in? What more can we look forward to?

DEAN: Emerging technology has always been of interest to our students and faculty. Formalising this interest and responding to this need of students has resulted in a new undergraduate programme that might come into practice in the near future.

We are currently focused on developing a new degree programme that sits on the intersection of arts, design, and technology – Emerging Media Arts is our working title, as of now. It is a process that will take some time but it will be a great extension to our current undergraduate degrees that will integrate a number of emerging practices related to interaction, VR, AR, game design, sound, and motion.

We have a collaboration with HEC Paris in Qatar, a partner university under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation, for a certificate course in entrepreneurship for creatives. That allows our students to expand their knowledge in the realm of entrepreneurship and business practices for designers. We have a strong group of students enrolled in the program as part of a ‘pilot’ offering.

We are also collaborating with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in supporting their efforts to organise a certificate programme in art education which will help train future art teachers in K12 schools. We are aware that some of our graduates are interested in these courses. It is in our efforts to encourage more such career opportunities for our graduates.

And, we have a minor programme in film and design which we are looking to initiate in partnership with Northwestern University in Qatar and with support from the Doha Film Institute.

SCALE: Did the Eco Lux Lab programmes that VCUarts Qatar initiated have the necessary impact on students? Will it be continued and will it be made available to the community as well?

DEAN: VCUarts Qatar’s community classes are an excellent way to deepen existing skills, develop new abilities, or discover hidden talents. We intend for our programmes to provide educational, cultural, art, and design opportunities to a wide range of communities in Qatar.

The Eco Lux Lab is a pioneering initiative launched by the Fashion Design department in response to the growing realisation that current and future generations of designers need to be taught the importance of sustainable fashion.

With its emphasis on community engagement, VCUarts Qatar offered Eco Lux Lab to both its own students as well as the general public. Public response was enthusiastic with most of these online classes getting filled up as soon as registration began. The engagement has been high for these classes with many students completing projects on their own following the procedures shown by the luxury master craftsmen.

SCALE: How do you think the country has benefited from the university’s presence?

DEAN: Cultural development is an integral aspect of societal development. Designers, artists are cultural producers. VCUarts Qatar has played an integral role in the cultural development of Qatar. The cultural development that has happened in the last 20 years since VCUarts Qatar’s launch has been remarkable. The rise of the cultural institutions, the way that dialogues in art have enfolded, community engagement and public art projects; a cultural awakening of the country has happened in these years and VCUarts Qatar students have played a fundamental role in this renaissance.