The energy in the capital city of Riyadh is buzzing with the launch of Noor Riyadh, the world’s largest light art festival. Featuring 190 creative installations from over 130 artists hailing from more than 40 different countries, the festival has transformed Riyadh into a gallery without walls. Under the theme of ‘We Dream of New Horizons’, the annual festival takes place in 40 locations across the city, with installations in urban areas, public gardens, heritage locations, and more.
So what does it take to present a city-wide light art festival that showcases a variety of artists, ambitious cultural programming, and a charity auction as well? We spoke with Nouf Almoneef, Project Manager of Noor Riyadh and Architectural Advisor at RCRC (Royal Commission for Riyadh City), to know more about the process behind planning the festival, lessons she has learned along the way, and what she hopes people will take away from experiencing Noor Riyadh.
Khaleejesque Magazine: The current edition of Noor Riyadh is triple in size. With over 190 installations and 500 events, can you talk about the curation process, how long did it take, and what it was like for you managing a project of this scale?
Nouf Almoneef: Noor Riyadh this year is the biggest light art festival in the world. It's bigger in scale and as you mentioned, in size. We have more than 40 countries also participating in this edition. In terms of curation, the curators, Hervé Mikaeloff, Dorothy Di Stefano, and Jumana Ghouth, were carefully selected to create a balance between international and local artists. This is for the festival that will continue for 17 days. Also, we have the accompanying exhibition that is going on for 3 months. Its lead creator is Neville Wakefield and associate creator is Ghaida AlMogren. How did we manage the whole thing? Noor Riyadh has an amazing artistic team that worked closely with the curators and Alhamdulillah they had a balance between the international, regional, and local artists. How did we plan this? It took us since we finished the last edition of Noor Riyadh, which was in March 2021. So from March 2021 until now, we were working very hard and very closely with the curators and the teams for this to happen and to be a success.
K.M.: In your opinion, what impact has Noor Riyadh had on the city on a local and an international scale?
N.A: So Noor Riyadh is a program under Riyadh Art. The Riyadh Art project is one of the four grand projects of Riyadh City. It's following the Vision 2030’s goal to make the city more livable. The Riyadh Art mission, and ambition, is to make Riyadh into a gallery without walls and a more cosmopolitan city. We want to deliver joyful experiences to people. To experience the arts, the culture, the light art. To ask, what is light art to people? This type of art is for everyone and Noor Riyadh is for everyone. Noor Riyadh is for all ages and all genders. We want to target visitors, residents, students, artists and as many more audiences in the city also with our public programs. Through the community engagement programs, we are making different audiences experience this art festival. Even from the artist's side. We are giving opportunities for local artists to collaborate with international artists and to go globally as well.
K.M.: Now on a more personal level, what have you learned through the process of planning and implementing Noor Riyadh?
N.A.: Honestly, when it comes to planning, we had a lot of challenges. Especially considering we have more than 190 artworks in 40 locations all over the city from 130 artists. The whole logistics challenge of bringing these amazing artists locally and internationally, as well as raising awareness, since even local artists haven't even experienced light art as a medium and this is a new format for them, and for the curators and us as a team. We helped the whole team and the entire artistic direction to create a masterpiece at the end and that was beautiful. Honestly, it's a beautiful process. Also, planning it with community engagement programs that I just mentioned. We want to target schools and universities. We want to reach as wide an audience as possible. So we thought let's do women only workshops, for example. Let's do a charity auction. Let's bring the blind to see the artworks. How are they going to see the artworks? We're going to explain to them, we're going to make them feel the art. So planning everything altogether was a bit challenging, but it was beautiful and it covered as many aspects as we wanted, Alhamdulillah.
K.M.: Within your role of managing and overseeing Noor Riyadh, what did you learn professionally? How did you develop as a creative person managing a creative organization and a creative project?
N.A.: Hmm.. What did I learn? I honestly learned a lot between last year's edition and this year’s edition. So when we received instructions last year that we had to make it three times bigger. I questioned, why bigger? Because it’s a light festival. We want everyone to enjoy it. Everyone in the streets. For example, yesterday I saw my ill aunt and she told me “I only go from my house to my son's house.” She said, “I experienced the festival while I was on the road.” This joyful experience that she shared with me made me really happy because she didn't have to go to locations. She can’t go out, so this experience made me happy.
What did I learn? I learned to give to people. As in a personal level to support local talents. Our local talent, our people, our artists. Even regionally, we Arabs are here, we have the talent, we know so much. Our artworks are amazing and that's what I learned throughout the years. And also managing the whole festival. In a way, it taught me patience and to just be calm. Everything is going to happen, you just have to take baby steps. And if you want to achieve something big, it's going to happen. I never expected it when they told me they wanted it to be three times bigger, I said it will never happen! But everything was possible with the support of the teams, the support of the government, and the support of the private and public institutions and individuals. Frankly, without them this festival would never have been a success.
K.M.: How has Noor Riyadh supported new artists and provided them with opportunities? Has there been any collaborations between local and international artists for example?
N.A.: It started last year with a local light artist who collaborated with a painter who is known globally and they created a piece together. One artist drew on paper and then the other artist created light art of it. It was at the Historical Center, it was made with oil. It was really beautiful. So every year the Noor Riyadh artistic team encourages the curators to foster co-production between local and international artists. This is what art is all about. To bring all these artists together, to bring people together, to know how Noor Riyadh is bringing all these artists, especially emerging artists through our community engagement programs. We are targeting emerging artists. We have a database from last year and this year as well, and most of the 190 artworks are of emerging artists. They are so happy and they’re like “I didn't even imagine to be one of the people participating.” We are giving opportunities to all artists, to all creators, locally and internationally.
K.M.: What would you like to see in the upcoming edition of Noor Riyadh? How would you like it to be realized?
N.A.: Alhamdulillah, we have reached a wide audience until today. This year, we had artists from 40 countries. We reached Madagascar, Uganda, Turkey, and Poland. Even when we were working with the logistics team to issue visas for the artists. I was saying, “Where is this artist from? Madagascar. I'm like, wow, really?” So our reach is global, Alhamdulillah. Also, our slogan this year is that we're bringing light from all around the world to Riyadh. Next year, I would like to go even further and have more countries to collaborate with in Noor Riyadh. I want to see how different cultures can all come together and what they would create. So, this year most of the artists followed our theme, which is ‘We Dream of New Horizons’. And each artist, because they have different cultures, delivered the message in a different way. This was really nice to see and I can't wait to see what artists will create in the upcoming edition of Noor Riyadh.
Noor Riyadh Festival: November 3 – 19, 2022
Noor Riyadh Exhibition: November 3, 2022 – February 4, 2023
For more information, visit riyadhart.sa/en/noor-riyadh