The Value of Creative Partnerships in the MENA Region

It is internationally acknowledged that participation and engagement in the arts can play an integral role in the preservation of humanity in the 21st Century.

The arts can support the evolution of educational systems around the globe and can contribute to youth empowerment, and in the long term, impact on economic growth.

International research reveals that creative partnerships enrich students’ appetite for arts and concurrently enhance their critical thinking skills and activate language development. (NACCCE 1999: 142) Equally, art organisations have observed that their practitioners acquire new perspectives and facilitation skills during the collaborative process and creative exchange. (Ibid)


Access to the Creative Industries

So what recent examples illustrate that the tide is turning in favour of building sustainable creative partnerships between schools and the creative industries in Oman?

— Sarah Nunn, Founder Creative Elements


Providing access to the creative industries can open up new pathways for young people, art professionals and teachers alike, resulting in the acquisition of life skills and the activation of fresh ways of thinking and perceiving the world around us.

Creative partnerships in the UAE between Universities and arts organisations has been growing significantly for some time.

Educational Reform in the Sultanate of Oman

The Ministry of Education in the Sultanate of Oman is undertaking a rigorous programme of educational reform, which is part of a wider commitment to diversify the country’s economy.

The innovative establishment of the Specialised Centre for the Professional Training of Teachers is one step towards investing in the next generation’s capacity to acquire transferable skills that will safeguard the country’s future as the natural resources begin to wane.

The Centre has dedicated resources to empower an exclusive group of approximately 50 specialist trainers. They have access to some of the best international practice in pedagogy and leadership that they, in turn, disseminate to the national workforce of Omani leaders, supervisors and teachers.


Opportunities for Young Women

Over 80% of the New Teachers on the one year programme are women under 25.  

The journalist Leila Hatoum’s Newsweek Middle East report on Shamma Al Mazrui, the UAE Youth Minister highlighted,

Unquestionably, the Centre is an inspirational hub, committed to motivating new teachers and especially providing opportunities for young women to engage creatively with the teaching profession, enabling them to reach their potential and in turn, incite Oman’s youth to achieve their dreams. 

“unemployment among females in the Arab world is a staggering 43.4% when compared with 12.7% globally.”

Establishing Creative Partnerships in Oman

At the end of 2015, I initiated a new project  ‘Building Creative Partnerships in Oman’ on behalf of the Ministry of Education (MOE). 

Drawing on my experience as a Learning Consultant and MA Course Director at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre,coupled with five years experience in the Middle East in diverse roles such as an ADEC Inspector, Researcher and Senior Manager in the Arts, I identified an opening that could significantly change the perception of school engagement with cultural organisations across the Sultanate of Oman and lead the development of a bespoke cultural approach to learning in a museum setting.

The following prestigious organisations in Muscat were identified for the pilot creative partnerships programme: Bait Al Zubair MuseumThe Royal Opera House Muscat (images below) and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

Bait Al Zubair Museum and Royal Opera House Muscat


Why was the Pilot Programme a Success? 

It was clear from the outset, the creative partnerships concept, tried and tested internationally, could only prosper in Oman if the following elements in the development stages of the programme were observed, respected and encouraged: openness, exploration and acceptance of different perspectives, dialogue, flexible thinking and trust. 

The in-depth consultations and practical sessions with the trainers at the Centre and in the museum, led to the development of new approaches relevant to Oman and a methodology that resonated with the country’s oral heritage that relishes storytelling and discourse.

It was a privilege to guide this dedicated team of trainers through the collaborative process and together create a unique fusion of facilitation strategies that embraced different perspectives to engagement with the arts and simultaneously respected the Omani culture and educational context.
— Sarah Nunn, Lead Consultant

Sustainability of the Creative Partnerships

The pilot creative partnership programme for the MOE engaged over 250 new teachers specialising in Art, Islamic Studies, Music and Social Studies.

In 2016, the Centre has requested to extend the partnerships into the science and technology sectors. There is the potential of reaching over 900 new teachers. The expansion of the concept illustrates the MOE’s commitment to providing young people in Oman with 21st century skills and real life experiences that they may not necessarily have access to or even considered as places of work in their future.

Images courtesy of Bait Al Zubair and CEC

A Partnership Approach to ‘Ways of Looking’ at Visual Arts in Oman

“...inspired our new teachers to invigorate their teaching practice and develop captivating learning experiences for our students that will raise their academic achievement, heighten their enjoyment of school and raise their aspirations.”
— Dr. Badriya Al Nadabi, Assistant Director

An article exploring the creative partnership with Bait Al Zubair Museum, who welcomed over 120 new art teachers in a 3 month period, is published in the inaugural Multaqa Journal for Gulf Museum Educators.

In equal measure, the article outlines the impact of the partnership on the museum staff during and after the engagement.

Dr. Badriya Al Nadabi, Assistant Director at the Centre states in the Multaqa article that the creative partnerships have enriched the programme and,

120 New Art Teachers participated in 'Ways of Looking' 1 day workshop and 40 New Social Studies teachers experienced active approaches workshop at Bait Al Zubair Museum, 40 New Islamic Studies Teachers visited Sultan Qaboos Mosque and 40 New Music teachers participated in a workshop and tour at the Royal Opera House, Muscat.


Final Reflection

“Tolerance, intercultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.”
— Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

On a final note, I believe a true partnership between cultures requires dedication, integration of different perspectives and a commitment to change, even if the journey may take longer, I believe the programme is more likely to be sustainable.


Further Reading

                            Multaqa Journal for Museum Educators                            'Ways of Looking' at Visual Art in Oman

Post written by Sarah Nunn, Founder and Creative Producer of Creative Elements Collective 

Images courtesy of Bait Al Zubair and Creative Elements.

Creative Elements Collective commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Sultanate of Oman