How well developed is the design industry in Qatar?
VANSTONE: The design industry is developing. More international firms are looking toward Qatar with getting the World Cup. The World Cup is bringing a lot of international attention to the country at this time. There will be a lot of work to be done, from all levels of communications and interior design. When people talk about fashion design, it’s not just high-fashion design; it’s the uniforms, the supply materials, everything that goes into putting on a world event. Design is core to that. On the cultural side, world events also bring forward the culture of the country that is hosting the event. With the development of the various museums in the country from the Qatar Museums Authority, there are many more museums online to be opened up over the next few years. There is such a deep need for educated people in the realm of all the arts to be entering into those museums in various positions. The eyes of the world are looking toward Qatar, to what is being developed. To have our graduates as core participants in that, from a local and regional perspective on the design work that will be done, will be vital for the country to have a voice coming from within Qatar looking and sharing outward to the world. That’s what we’re looking at. Those are the undercurrent changes that are happening looking towards the future.
The physical changes in Qatar are happening daily and anyone who drives around the city and experiences it from one visit to the next can see all the changes happening in the country, which means there are other businesses opening and a lot of new opportunities for graduates. Al Jazeera is another significant entity in the country, again with an international perspective and voice. We had one alumni working with us internally in our communications area doing amazing design work in communications and promotions. When things were starting to shift in the region and she was seeing Al Jazeera’s role in that, she definitely wanted to move into Al Jazeera and start using her design abilities in that situation because her passion was there. We see that our students have this interest, flexibility, and desire to join groups in the country that are really going to give value to Qatar in the region and allow them to bring their ideas forward to fit with the companies.
What employment opportunities exist for art and design graduates in Qatar? How are you working to promote entrepreneurship among students and alumni?
VANSTONE: Virginia Commonwealth University is the only art and design school in Qatar. Last year was our 10th year of graduates. In those 10 years, we've graduated 320 students. Last year was our very first graduation of men because four years previous to that we started accepting young men into our program. So now we have 6 male graduates and 300-something female graduates out there in the country and in the region working as designers. They’re working in private industry, private practice. They’re also working in the new developments of the various museums in the country, which are the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. They’re also starting to develop their work as entrepreneurs. We have an area in our school where we have a Director of Design Entrepreneurship. He works with our senior students and our alumni in helping them develop entrepreneurial projects. So they have businesses such as fashion boutiques.
One of our alumni in fact has started a fashion boutique where she then brings in our other fashion alumni, some of their collections, to be sold and distributed through her company. She does that in conjunction with bringing in brands from all over the world so the students work is being presented among high fashion, which is fantastic for our alumni. We help in those types of projects. We had another alumnus in our graphic design program who was hired into a major architectural development company and who was asked to be the liaison for external design companies from around the world to come in and do the design work. At the time that happened, she said, “I’m a designer; I want to do the design work”. So it’s just shifting and supporting the development of a local, indigenous, design industry. At that point they gave her the opportunity to do that and she ended up hiring 14 or 15 of our alumni into this in-house design group with a development company. So those types of things are happening in the country that we’re very proud of. We’re really proud of our alumni who are out there working in the design fields but also in the various government and non-governmental groups because having an undergraduate education you do learn a profession and a direction to work but you also have all the other skill, abilities, and knowledge to go into many different types of professions and supporting business endeavors. We have our students working across the board.
What are the key benefits of being located in an education cluster, such as Education City?
VANSTONE: Education City is a unique environment because of all the American universities that are situated in Education City, and now there is a French university and a university from England. We’re all bringing our top ranked programs within our own discipline area to the mix. The best thinkers in the world from the various universities are here working together. Our students have the opportunity to cross-register in courses. We’re all on the same academic calendar and the students are moving back and forth for elective classes and different types of general education classes. Beyond that, our students and our faculty work together on research projects. We have a significant research mission within Education City. We’re working collaboratively on applying for research grants and working on research projects and it’s among all the universities. If you look deeply into the Qatar National Research Fund and what’s been funded through their National Research Priority Project, NPRP, you see the range of projects that people are working on.
What is the nature of the relationship between VCUQatar and Bloomsbury?
VANSTONE: Bloomsbury joined with Qatar Foundation to start two entities, one publishes and the other one is a journal. We've been very fortunate in our work in the university to match up with Bloomsbury. We've started the first design journal in the region with Bloomsbury. It’s an online journal and it’s available for any international submission of design articles. The great part of an online journal, and the experiment with this one, is that it doesn't just have to be text. It can be any type of submission, a photographic journal, a video log, anything that anyone would like to present to that journal to develop design research in the region but from an international perspective. So that’s one part that we've done with Bloomsbury which has been outstanding.
The design industry is developing. More international firms are looking toward Qatar with getting the World Cup. The World Cup is bringing a lot of international attention to the country at this time. There will be a lot of work to be done, from all levels of communications and interior design. When people talk about fashion design, it’s not just high-fashion design; it’s the uniforms, the supply materials, everything that goes into putting on a world event. Design is core to that.
Where are the majority of your students coming from?
VANSTONE: 55% of our students are Qatari. The rest of our students are non-Qatari. About 35% of our students are from regional countries so they have a variety of nationalities from around the region. The rest, are international students from outside the region. We have 238 students in our four undergraduate and our one graduate program. They are from approximately 40 nationalities. Our faculty and staff for those programs are from about 25 countries. So it’s a very diverse, international, culture within the school. We work on lots of levels of communication, negotiation, mediation, presenting ideas across different cultural understandings and that’s very important in communication in design, and culture.
How much demand is there locally for art and design programs? What are your biggest challenges in the recruitment of students?
VANSTONE: There is a huge demand in the country and the region from students who’d like to come into the school and into our programs. We have a difficult application process with all the variety of regular application material that students would use for any university but we also require a portfolio. All of the applicants are reviewed without any identifying information. We have three sets of faculty review every single application and portfolio. Everyone gives their scores. Those are all then added and divided and then we have a ranking from the top down. We take the top 60 students into the programs. So it’s challenging for students to go through that process but it’s significant and it’s important for students who enter the school to know exactly what they’re stepping into.
The difficulty of our programs; people always talk about art and design as really fun, and it is. If you’re into design and you’re into visual arts, it’s an amazing time. It’s great to be in the studio environment. Yet our studio classes are 5-6 hours studio intensive for a course, where many students come from the experience where they spend 40 minutes to an hour in a class, at the longest. So we have a large transitional feeling and work that’s done in our first year program to help students enter into a studio based environment and course work. Submitting a portfolio is the beginning of that. We do a lot of community classes to help people understand and have preparation in art and design, the whole range of art and design type projects. We also have pre-portfolio classes to help applicants develop their portfolios to enter the university. With that type of support, any applicant who is interested in making their way into this university in Qatar has a great opportunity to do that. We give a full support system to do that. Even though it’s challenging, they can achieve acceptance. We do have some students who try 3 or 4 times and then when they’re accepted, they excel in our program.