VCUarts Qatar Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

September 27, 2023
Amir Berbic, Carmenita Higginbotham and Dimitri Yuri taking part in the panel discussion at the gala

University marks the occasion with a special event at QNCC

VCUarts Qatar held a Gala event at QNCC to celebrate its 25th anniversary on September 26. The distinguished gathering included dignitaries from various ministries, senior leadership from Qatar Foundation, Qatar Museums, government and private organizations, ambassadors and diplomats from various embassies and missions, media representatives and renowned artists and designers from Qatar and abroad

Doha, Qatar: “First batch graduates tomorrow”, read a headline in a local newspaper in 2002.

The short feature referred to the first cohort of 21 students to graduate from VCUarts Qatar, set up in 1998 through a partnership between Qatar Foundation (QF) and Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, US.

More than two decades – and 1000 graduates – later, QF’s first partner university, and the nation’s only institute for higher education devoted to fine art, design and art history, celebrated its 25th anniversary.

The gala event, held at the Al Mayassa Theatre in Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) on September 26, 2023, was attended by Her Excellency Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, Vice Chairperson and CEO of Qatar Foundation.

In a message shared prior to the event, Her Excellency Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani said, “This event marks the culmination of a 25 year story – a journey that has unfolded with grace, nurturing talent and creativity.  As we celebrate this milestone, I am proud to witness the countless stories of the alumni and emerging talents that have been born from this journey.

“Through its dedication, the VCUarts Qatar community has consistently carved an enduring legacy onto the world’s artistic landscape. Today, we come together not only to celebrate our achievements, but also to look ahead with anticipation and excitement as we continue to inspire and ignite the creative spirits of generations to come.”

The distinguished gathering included dignitaries from various ministries, senior leadership from Qatar Foundation, Qatar Museums, government and private organizations, ambassadors and diplomats from various embassies and missions, media representatives and renowned artists and designers from Qatar and abroad.

Past and present leadership, faculty and staff from VCUarts Qatar, VCU, and VCU’s School of the Arts in Richmond – some of whom were part of the first group of people who helped set up the University in 1998 – were also in attendance.

Dr. Michael Rao, President, VCU; Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham, Dean, VCU School of the

Arts, and Dr. Fotis Sotiropoulos, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, VCU, were among those who traveled from the home campus in Richmond, for the celebration.

The event opened with a short film titled “Imagination and Impact – VCUarts Qatar at 25”, following which Amir Berbić, Dean, VCUarts Qatar, welcomed the gathering and delivered the opening remarks.

He said, “VCUarts Qatar is a remarkable community that has been inspiring artists, designers and scholars in Qatar and beyond since 1998.  We have, over these years, been committed to staying at the forefront of art and design education by engaging in new conversations and initiating new collaborations, in Qatar and across the globe.

“This is especially relevant, given that the country has a lot to demonstrate—from incredible cultural institutions, such as the stunning Museum of Islamic Art, the National Museum, and many more driven by Qatar Museums and the Qatar Foundation. Today, I’m proud to say that our dynamic school of the arts—whose 25-year impact we are celebrating this evening— is part of this impressive lineup, helping develop and advance the country’s reputation as a regional leader in the creative industries.”

Dr. Rao also addressed the audience. He said, “We are grateful for Her Highness Sheikha Moza’s extraordinary vision and drive to create a knowledge-based society here in Qatar, and her work to make that vision a reality. It is an honor for VCU to be a part of achieving and accomplishing that vision for the past 25 years.

“VCU is honored that it was the first university to join Education City as a partner with Qatar Foundation. We’re proud that we could help create a partnership model that has lasted a quarter of a century, continuously building on our tremendously positive and strong partnership and friendship.”

Dr. Rao also talked about the relevance of VCUarts Qatar’s curriculum in today’s world. “When we say that VCUarts Qatar teaches design, we’re really saying that we teach communication – the ways we make ourselves understood, and the ways we connect to meaning and to each other across the entire spectrum of human beings throughout the world. (…)That kind of communication is critical in our global world today, where we are communicating with everyone everywhere constantly, thanks to rapid changes in technology.”

Francisco Marmolejo, President of Higher Education at Qatar Foundation, also delivered a congratulatory message on behalf of Qatar Foundation leadership.   

Sheikha Reem Al Thani, Acting Deputy CEO of Exhibitions and Marketing, Director of Central Exhibitions, Qatar Museums, and VCUarts Qatar Alumna, Class of 2010, was invited to speak on behalf of all those who graduated from the University.

Recalling her undergraduate days at the University, she said, “I first set foot into VCUarts Qatar when I was only 16 years old and I could not have imagined being where I am today. Throughout my journey, I encountered challenges that played a vital role in shaping my destiny, ultimately leading to the person you see before you. During my time at VCUarts Qatar, I discovered my passion for design and pursued a double major in Interior and Fashion Design.

“Witnessing VCUarts Qatar graduates thrive in their careers at Qatar Museums has been particularly fulfilling. In my role as the Deputy CEO and Director of Exhibitions at Qatar Museums, I’ve gained invaluable insights into their skills and witnessed the profound impact of locally trained designers across diverse fields. (…)Congratulations to my Alma Mater on this profound achievement, and here’s to another 25 years and beyond.”

The event also featured a discussion titled “In Conversation with the Deans” between Dean Berbić and Dean Higginbotham. Dimitri Yuri, a Director at The Film House, and a Class of 2018 alumnus moderated the conversation.

The function drew to a close with the screening of a film directed by Dimitri Yuri and created in collaboration with the University’s alumni. The two-minute video, with a forward-looking script brought to life by the University’s alumni and students, proved to be a fitting finale that bridged the past 25 years of VCUarts Qatar, with the next.

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