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The boom and bust of Qatar's art scene


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At the website Quartz, Mikolai Napieralski writes about his surreal three years working for Qatar Museums, the organization charged with transforming Qatar from a small, conservative Middle-Eastern nation into an art-world powerhouse. As Napieralski writes, the staggering boom of Qatar’s art scene was fueled by a parallel boom in oil revenue. But as the price of oil declined, so did the ambitions of Qatar Museums. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Qatar’s rapid ascension from regional backwater to international art dealer was built on the back of huge oil and natural gas reserves. These provided Qatar with 70% of its revenue and made the tiny Gulf state the richest country in the world. But it also meant the economy was extremely susceptible to the looming oil price crash.

At the start of 2014, crude oil was a hovering around $110 a barrel, a ballpark figure it had maintained for several years. By the end of the year it had fallen to $50, and by the time it bottomed out in late 2015, the price was just $28 a barrel. This dive was caused by a sluggish international growth and a massive upswing in oil production from US fracking.

For Qatar Museums, this meant the party was over. Faced with huge revenue shortfalls and public pressure to reign in the organization’s more outlandish projects, the government decided to act. QM’s 2014/2015 budget was halved. This had a knock-on effect that saw exhibitions canceled, several new museums placed on “indefinite hold,” and the various perks enjoyed by Western expats coming to an abrupt halt. With nothing to do, and no money to do it, a trickle of resignations soon became a flood. Museum directors walked away, chief officers were told to find Qatari replacements for their positions, and the rank and file simply went to the airport and caught a flight home.