University Communications

President Schenck an Honored Guest Speaker for the Abu Dhabi Festival Debate Series

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On March 8th, International Women’s Day, President Celeste Schenck was honored as a global cultural leader participating in the Abu Dhabi Festival Debate Series. The series this year explored the creative and cultural industries of the United Arab Emirates through a diverse program of talks and discussions by cultural leaders from around the world. President Schenck spoke amongst other leaders of educational and cultural institutions, alongside Mauro Bucarelli, the Artistic Manager of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

The President marked the occasion of International Women’s Day by exploring “Women's Leadership for the 21st Century” in the presence of students from Zayed University and the University of Paris I-Sorbonne, Abu Dhabi. President Schenck noted that this was the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day which was being celebrated in 100 countries around the globe. She discussed with students the critical need for leadership in contemporary society and its distinct suitedness to the kinds of leadership women practice, whether by nature or nurture. A new model of leadership is emerging worldwide – transformative, horizontal, emotionally intelligent and based powerfully in strong communication – that plays to women's skills and requires their participation. Experiments in women's leadership from all over the world have had sufficient outcomes and traction now for us to begin measuring their impact. Women's leadership begins as early as college, when women's education, empowerment, experience of mentoring and capacity for envisioning future goals must be fostered. Developing this leadership that the world needs now should inform the mission of all universities and be foremost amongst the responsibilities of its administrators and faculty.

“We’re involved in an international celebration in a very important year where tremendous gains and strides have been made,” the President said. “Maybe one day we won’t need an International Women’s Day at all.”

Celebrating its 15th year, the Festival enthralled audiences with an exceptional program of musical concerts, dance, theater, art exhibitions and other cultural events, which included a Bollywood presentation from India, the Country of Honor for 2018. The month-long festival is the UAE’s leading celebration of arts and culture and the largest such event in the region. It is particularly noteworthy for its vast educational program which reaches out into schools and universities across all seven Emirates. The Festival’s partners include the Institut du Monde Arabe, l’Institute Français, Edinburgh International Festival, the Royal Opera House and Carnegie Hall. The Festival is organized by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF), one of the oldest non-profit cultural organizations in the Arabian Gulf.

Her Excellency Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo ’83, Founder of ADMAF and Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival, describes her mission thus: “Each year, we aim to engage the youth of our country in debate and discussion with leading cultural figures to allow them to develop their intellect and capabilities, qualities which will support them as they become the nation’s next generation of leaders. This year students are being given an invaluable opportunity to build upon their cultural knowledge and take advantage of the wealth of experience that these speakers have to offer. It is through long-term initiatives, such as Riwaq Al Fikr, that we can create the fertile ground that allows the seeds of creativity to take root and flourish.”

Riwaq Al Fikr is part of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2018 Youth Platforms and Community Programs, offering insightful dialogue on popular cultural topics. Since 2010, the program has held 24 sessions, hosted 107 panelists, welcomed over 2,700 audience members and has provided more than 40 hours of stimulating intellectual discourse to students and the general public. This year, AUP alumnus Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi ’98 and founder of the Barjeel Foundation, one of the largest private collections of modern and contemporary Arab art in the world, participated in a debate on public vs private collecting.

Like many AUP alumni, Alkhamis-Kanoo is from a culturally diverse background: her mother was Syrian and her father was a pioneering businessman from Saudi Arabia; she herself was born in Beirut, Lebanon and she’s married to a Bahraini businessman Mohammed Kanoo. She read French Literature and Art History at AUP (The American College of Paris at the time). Alkhamis-Kanoo is an institution builder and a philanthropist who has dedicated her life to inspiring artists to create, generations to innovate and communities to unite and prosper. She founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) in 1996 and is also the Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Festival, which she established in 2004. She has received numerous awards and commendations including The Abu Dhabi Award and Abu Dhabi Medal, The Medal of Civil Merit of Spain, the Bundesverdienstkreuz of Germany, Commendatore dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà of Italy, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, the Belgian Officer of the Order of the Crown, The Gloria Artis Medal of Poland and the Order of the British Empire. In 2011, she received the Aspen Institute Emerging Voice Award for Cultural Stewardship in recognition of her role in fostering the arts in the Middle East. With pride in claiming her as one of its own, AUP awarded Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo an honorary degree at Commencement 2017 for her life’s work as an educator, a champion of women and a cultural diplomat.