Saudi Arabia’s narrative is continually shifting gears towards new refreshing horizons. In particular, the creative scene is ever-growing and molding a discrete identity. A dire need for a creative haven in the metropolitan capital inspired Noura Al Saud and Ala’a Ghanimah to conceptualize Al Mashtal Creative Space. 

Al Saud returned to Riyadh after completing her Masters in Contemporary Design in London to be greeted with a myriad of frustrating obstacles. Her specialty had no real roots in the Saudi market and there was a prevailing unawareness of the nature of her work. Technical difficulties included obtaining raw materials and design execution. That led her in turn to developing Rukun Creative Exchange, her own studio and gallery. She met her partner Ala’a in Amsterdam at a creative leadership course they both attended at the time. Ghanimah specializes in Communications and Strategy and works directly with small and medium-sized businesses on the regular. 

Al Mashtal Blueprints

Witnessing first-hand the twists and turns of arts entrepreneurship while finding relatability and solace in connecting and conversing with peers, the partners were propelled into action by a shared sense of purpose. They decided that a stimulating co-creating space would offer great value and support. Al Mashtal was then conceived with the philosophy of “switching mindsets from owning assets to gaining access” and “being a scalable and adaptable model” in mind. The Rukun Creative Exchange subsidiary is expected to open its doors to visitors soon and features a gallery, maker’s lab, audio/visual lab, library, and an events area. 

In a social distancing friendly zoom interview with Al Saud, we were able to tap into further insights.  

Yasmine Mohamed (Y.M.): Why did you decide on the name Al Mashtal?

Noura Al Saud (N.S.): Ala’a and I derive inspiration from nature often. Al Mashtal is the Arabic term for a plant nursery. It is meant to provide a safe space and appropriate environment for our creatives to thrive, similar to how a plant nursery caters to growing seedlings. The premises, located at the Diplomatic Quarter, was once a school that became deserted. It was intentional that we picked out a non-commercial spot, one that’s replete with soul and inspiring. We also loved the symbolism behind a  school’s potential to nurture and support students. 

Y.M.: Which section of Al Mashtal are you most excited about?

N.S.: Even though the site is still under construction, I am looking forward to the library. That area was enclosed and we brought down some walls to make it partly indoor and partly outdoor. The sound of rustling trees on windy days is quite soothing. Because the pandemic hindered the progress of the physical hub, the digital platform was introduced first, however. We currently hold several activations and takeovers online to remain active through available means. 

Al Mashtal interior rendering

Y.M.: What’s the dynamic like between you and Ala’a managing Al Mashtal?

N.S.: In terms of specifics, she takes care of marketing and strategy. Because of my background in design, I oversee the space itself. It’s also in me that I need to be on top of where things are at, hence, I follow up on administrative details as well. Generally, we often come together to keep ourselves in check ensuring that we are providing what the creative community needs, not what we think they need. Obtaining, assessing, and implementing changes based on feedback is also an important part of our process.

Y.M.: I know you like puzzles. How does Al Mashtal fit in with your other brainchildren, That Initiative & Rukun Creative Exchange?

N.S.: Right after I met Ala’a we created That. It’s how we started, and it’s the radar through which we listen and connect with other creatives. That Initiative’s essence is to stimulate creatives to look deep within themselves for a better understanding. The ideation behind Al Mashtal came to us after we listened to answers from community members who were prompted to dig beneath the surface layers of the self. Rukun is the umbrella which holds everything together.

Y.M.: What other forms of support do you feel the Saudi creative community needs today?

N.S.: The expected answer is financial support. Despite that funding is crucial, we found that when starting out, the majority need affirmation by seeing and believing that whatever they aspire to create is doable and probably has already been achieved. One of the biggest hurdles at the beginning is having the right mindset. There is a prevalent false belief that one would not be able to accomplish before obtaining XYZ resources first. When in all reality, a lot can be done with available resources however little they may be. Receiving proper mentorship and guidance are key.

Al Mashtal interior rendering

Y.M.: What is the source of inspiration behind your creations? What motivates you?

N.S.: A multitude of sources like reading, pondering upon nature, and experiencing other cultures inspire me. What moves me most though is when I realize how a creative solution answers a need or problem I thought was once impossible to decipher. How a proposed action or product allows for limitless possibilities across various fields intrigues me. 

Y.M.: In your own words describe what Art and Design represent to you?

N.S.:  Art and Design are the pillars of any society. They encapsulate our history, our heritage, and our story as a community, representing who we are as a people. I think without them, life would be boring and still.

Y.M.: A final nugget of wisdom for young dreamers like yourself?

N.S.: Our biggest hurdle is ourselves. Start and try things out then take it from there. Just do it as Nike says!

Al Mashtal, under construction

People of Riyadh (KSA), be on the lookout for Al Mashtal’s soft opening! Expected to take place near the end of March 2021.

For more information on Al Mashtal click here, or for more on Rukun here, or for That here!

Words: Yasmine Mohamed
Images: Courtesy of Al Mashtal

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