Muscat: Bait Muzna Gallery's new director, Christine O'Donnell, arrived in Muscat two months ago from Washington DC, bringing a creative spirit and a love of the Arab world, which she hopes will complement Oman's growing arts scene.
Christine's career began with a 12-year stint on Wall Street in New York City, but her real passion was for the arts and culture, not business and banking. A self-described "creative geek" who grew up in Boston visiting museums and galleries, she took a job working in a bead museum in Washington DC, which not only fulfilled her desire to work in a more "artsy" environment, it also led to her interest in the Arab world.
"We had an exhibition on Middle Eastern jewellery. I just fell in love with it and learned so much. Through that, I became entrenched in the Arab scene in Washington DC, with the embassies and non-profits," she explains.
This was not long after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, so the Arab world was very relevant. Christine was intrigued by the political dynamics and the culture, and soon enrolled in classes about the Middle East and travelled to this part of the world, visiting the GCC and Yemen.
Eventually, this led to her decision to move to the Middle East.
She brings with her experience from the Middle Eastern Museum in Washington DC, the Foundy Gallery, where she focused on curating exhibitions by Middle Eastern artists, and the Jerusalem Fund Gallery. She has also worked with the Embassy of Saudi Arabia's Cultural Mission in the USA, the National Council on US-Arab Relations, and an organisation called Friends of Saudi Arabia.
She describes her move to Bait Muzna Gallery as serendipitous, since she had been curious about moving to Oman, a country she had never visited, but which she had heard many wonderful things, and Susan Al Said, the gallery's owner, who happened to be looking for a new director around the time Christine was looking at possible job options in Muscat.
Christine bubbles with enthusiasm about her new position and has many ideas to promote young Omani artists, collaborate with galleries in neighbouring countries, and host workshops with international artists.
"I think we're going to do a combination to start. Beginning in October, we're going to bring in some artists from a gallery in Dubai," she explains.
In the two months since she arrived in Muscat, Christine has also been busy meeting with local artists and critiquing their art. She hopes she can look at the work with a fresh perspective and encourage artists to push their limits and strengthen their skills. "...Artists who are intrigued by my comments, and I'm pushing them, those are the artists we want. We're not taking them if they don't push," Christine says.
She says there is a lot of local talent in Oman, and there is an environment that supports the arts. With economic growth, more tourism, and other developments happening, there is more corporate support for artists and new venues, including the Royal Opera House Muscat and several new private galleries.
There is also much pre-existing culture and heritage. All of this made her think Muscat would be the perfect place for herself.
"It had to have an arts scene and it had to be somewhere where I felt comfortable in my skin as a creative human being. Is there a creative pulse? And is there history and culture and heritage? I love that it comes together in Oman," she adds.
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