We shine a spotlight on Professor David Darts, the associate dean of arts at NYU Abu Dhabi, while he shares his experience in Abu Dhabi with us, focusing on how it has influenced his teaching and what he sees as the future of the arts on campus.
What brought you to Abu Dhabi? What kinds of creative challenges or opportunities have you found here?
Professor David Darts: Originally, NYU Abu Dhabi invited me to help set up programs and facilities for the arts on campus. So far, the experience has been filled with pleasant surprises. We have truly extraordinary students and colleagues here. We attract passionate doers and makers from over 100 countries—institution builders who happily roll up their sleeves and get things done. And I love getting things done.
One of my favorite discoveries at NYU Abu Dhabi is that, as artists, we actually have space to work. In New York City, space is very precious; I’m always confronted with the limitations of what I can build and where I can place and store it there. But here, in Abu Dhabi, we have an entire campus, including large studios and workshops, to make and place work. This allows me to work at an unparalleled scale.
Many of your recent courses emphasize the history of nomads and woodworking. What made you turn to these subjects, and how does Abu Dhabi’s history and geography tie into your teaching?
Professor Darts: I’ve always been interested in the topic of mobile living. I even spent a couple of years “overlanding” across the United States and Mexico in a VW camper van when I was younger. This introduced me to many types of contemporary “nomads,” inspired me to develop several artistic experiments in mobile architecture and public space art, and ultimately led me to develop my course, Nomads.
In the course, we use the lenses of philosophy, art, and design to examine all kinds of nomadic dwellings and Bedouin traditions. We study all aspects of mobile dwellings, from familiar models like tents and huts to developments in humanitarian design and contemporary art. Then, I present the students with a series of design challenges and ask them to solve problems by creating new designs and prototypes, many of which you can see placed around campus!
You’ve been deeply involved with shaping the programs at the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, especially Open Studios. What’s your vision for the arts on campus overall?
Professor Darts: My vision for the Arts Center is to have it serve as a model for interdisciplinary arts practice at the University. We foster creative scholarship and house diverse academic programs like Film and New Media, Theatre, Visual Arts, Art History, Interactive Media, and Music. That’s unique for NYU. Here, all the arts coexist within one large facility. In addition, we provide a wealth of resources, from workshops to open studio hours, for everyone regardless of their major. If a student shows up with an idea for a sculpture, performance, film, or interactive artwork, our faculty and technical teachers will provide mentoring, training, equipment, materials, and space to help transform their idea into reality.
Last but not least, tell us some of your favorite things about living and working in Abu Dhabi.
Professor Darts: During the cooler winter months, I love “dune bashing” (driving 4×4 vehicles through the sand dunes) and camping out in the desert. Sitting around an open fire, telling stories, laughing, gazing at the stars, and eating Lebanese-style food with good friends is a special experience. And of course, Abu Dhabi has amazing culinary offerings from around the world, including some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had!