Aug. 24, 2015

Manal Ataya

UAE, Sharjah

Manal Ataya

Director General, Sharjah Museums Department

TBY talks to Manal Ataya, Director General of the Sharjah Museums Department, on culture and heritage in the Emirate and new museum projects in the pipeline.


Manal Ataya is the Director General of the Sharjah Museums Department, which manages 16 museums in the Emirate of Sharjah. She holds a BA in Studio Art and Communication Studies from Hamilton College, NY and an MA in Museum Studies from Harvard University. She was most recently an international fellowship recipient for the “CLORE” cultural leadership program in the UK. She currently serves on the board of the College of Fine Arts, University of Sharjah, and for ICCROM-ATHAR, the regional center for cultural heritage preservation in the Arab region.

How would you describe the pivotal role that cultural heritage and arts play in Sharjah and the development of its citizens, and through which strategies does the Department aim to reinforce this role?

Sharjah has been known as the cultural Emirate for many years now, and it has won a plethora of accolades since the 1980s. In 2014, Sharjah was the Capital of Islamic Culture, and most recently it has been named the Capital of Arab Tourism for 2015. His Highness believes that culture is integral to bettering people, and he has been a huge advocate of education. Museums are vital in this regard, as they offer culture, as well as an environment for educating people. We have a special focus on educating children, since they are the next generation, and it is vital that they understand the importance of arts and that they will be engaged in culture for the rest of their lives. The Sharjah Museums Department manages 16 museums covering a wide range of disciplines from Islamic arts to archaeology to science and maritime heritage. It is important to offer a wide variety of disciplines, and it also important to cooperate with other departments to engage people in intangible heritage.

How does the Department work toward enhancing Sharjah's cultural identity internationally and attract visitors to the Emirate's museums?

We promote Sharjah mainly through exhibitions and partnerships with international organizations. We work with stakeholders in Asia, America, and Europe to host different exhibitions in Sharjah, and hopefully we will be hosting exhibitions abroad as well. These exhibitions show what we have to offer and allow us to learn from other cultures. We also have MoUs with organizations from other countries. Sharjah is doing tremendous work for museums and heritage on a global scale, and we are putting a lot of effort into restoring or reconstructing antiquities that have been lost in the Arab world. We believe that we are custodians no matter where we are or where these antiquities are, and to lose them would be a loss for everyone.

How are museums changing as a result of technological advances in today's globalized world, and how is the Department adapting to this?

We are always looking at ways to update our projects with technology, but it is important that our museums retain their human approach to visitors. Technology, if used well, can benefit a project. We are working to integrate technology into our current museums, as we did recently in Al Hisn Fort Museum, which has interactive screens to allow visitors to have better access to historical documents, enabling them to browse thousands of items in depth and with ease. We are looking for our future museums to many more of these kinds of innovations.

Which of these new museum projects will have the most impact going forward?

Currently we have a number of museum projects under way, as some venues need to be completely renovated and restored. We have totally redesigned and renovated the Bait Al Naboodah museum for example. We will reinterpret the entire museum, redisplay it, and add technological features to it. Also, the Science and Technology gallery of the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization will be redone to include more technology and interactive displays as per the directives of His Highness. Moreover, we will be renovating the Aviation Museum in the near future. The biggest project, however, is the Science Museum, which will morph into a science park with state-of-the-art facilities for science geared toward helping children discover science and learn more about it. It will hopefully become an important educational venue that will cover all the different disciplines of science, particularly from an Islamic point of view, but of course always within the context of universal science. Meanwhile, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) is currently constructing a state-of-the-art Technology and Science park, which is also planned to include a museum of technology. Within the context of this project, we are looking at possible opportunities for cooperation between our science museum and the new AUS technology museum.