Mona Ahmad Hussain is the Deputy CEO of Operations, Director of Legal affairs at Qatar Museums
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector in Qatar?
Sadly, the cultural sector has been severely impacted, in much the same way as other industries have across the globe, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, with an industry very much constructed around a physical space, we have had to consider, like other industries, how we can adapt and transform our offerings to really meet the needs of our audiences. If there is a silver lining for the cultural sector, I would suggest it has been our willingness to adapt and seek out new ways of expression and communication in our outreach. We have accelerated our digital offerings and in many ways are now trying to bring a cultural experience to people instead of asking them to experience it with us on-site. We remain optimistic though – we know the transformative impact art can have in the most dire of situations. During the moments where we have been able to have audiences on-site at our exhibitions, festivals and workshops have been well attended. There will, as always, be work for us to do to encourage participation but overall, we expect on-site numbers to rapidly recover once the pandemic is over.
Do you think the pandemic has affected career opportunities for females? If yes, how?
It’s well documented that career breaks can have an impact on career progression for women and I feel that, in a global context, we are seeing a similar impact occurring due to COVID-19. Although in some ways, I think the role of a care giver is being more widely shared as when a family is locked down together, there’s no real choice but to share the load. It is clear though that there is a trend that indicates a disproportionate effect on women and that is clearly going to be something institutions need to consider as they plan their recovery.
How do you promote gender diversity and equality in your organization?
We aim to be at the forefront of gender diversity and equality. Art and culture need to be accessible to everyone and we need to live those values. Without this, we lose perspective and what we are trying to do won’t resonate. In a program specific context, the work some of our institutions are doing in this area really does deserve recognition. Mathaf and our public art programme are great examples of how Qatar Museums promotes equal representation and supports artists from diverse backgrounds.
How has technology helped your industry sector in the last year? The accelerated digitalization that followed the pandemic is thought to be conducive for women’s empowerment and may potentially become a catalyst for gender diversity in the workplace. What’s your view on that? And does this apply to women in Qatar?
The impact of the pandemic has really forced us to challenge the notion and construct of a workplace and really assess and understand how we work and understand not only the positives but also the limitations of remote working. In a sense this has meant we’re less focused on location. We have had to work with staff who have needed to travel for care reasons or have not been able to re-enter Qatar due to illness and that has meant being far more flexible in how we approach our work. Longer term, I think this could potentially open up more flexible ways of working for the industry as a whole, but that is something we will need to observe over time. I think I can safely speak for most people when I say that I miss being in an environment where I am with people, how we balance and potentially plan for the absence of that in the longer term will have an impact on many things including diversity, empowerment and gender.
Do you think the recovery from COVID-19 will happen in the next 1-2 years or will it take longer?
I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the front-line medical workers and scientists who have worked tirelessly to provide care to all of us over the course of the pandemic. My hope is that we will see some respite soon as vaccination rates increase. For us it has always been about how we build our audience and reputation, so in many ways we don’t speak of a recovery but test how our existing plans are performing. Qatar is fortunate that we have a series of events over the next two years that will help us promote the country and all it has to offer, but we are also focused on building out our local programs. In many ways for us, it’s about ensuring the people that are here can take advantage of our acquisitions and magnificent cultural spaces. Our plan has always been to capitalize on organic growth and that hasn’t changed.