DUBAI—The United Arab Emirates has long been making strides as the Gulf’s cultural hub, with performing arts becoming a key part of the country’s tourism offerings, but one thing has been missing or in short supply: local talent and local education.
A new addition, the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, is helping to fill that gap.
When it opened last year, the academy had just eight students. Now it’s about to start its second year, and enrollment is already over 50. That’s an exponential leap in a region where many leave for other countries to pursue such arts education and others see it as a culturally inappropriate path to follow, or a dead-end career.
A curriculum based on local culture is a key part of the ethos behind the new Sharjah academy, which offers bachelor’s-degree programs in acting, musical theater, and production arts.
“It is not about picking up a Western model and just dropping it in the Middle East,” says Jacqui George, leader of the production arts program. “That is so far removed from what we’re about.”
And despite Sharjah’s being considered the most conservative of the seven emirates, where girls and boys commonly study separately, the new academy follows a co-educational model.
An Opportunity to Study Locally
Ayesha Al Hammadi, 20, is one of the academy’s first students and is proud to be breaking the norm.
Al Hammadi, who’s from a small town on Sharjah’s coast, Khorfakkan, has loved singing and performing since childhood. “When I was 5 years old. I started singing at school, dancing,” she says. “Until now, there was never anywhere to study this here and take it to a professional level, so I’m really happy we have this.”