By Colin Simpson

DUBAI // On the gallery wall, the painting immediately catches your eye. It would look great, you just know, in your living room. Wondering about the price, you head for the counter.

The Pavilion Downtown Dubai
The Pavilion Downtown Dubai

But you are politely told: “Sorry, it’s not for sale.” For this is the Pavilion Downtown Dubai, the city’s newest contemporary art space and the first to operate on not-for-profit lines.

The idea is to provide an alternative to all the other galleries across Dubai that operate as businesses by presenting art purely for art’s sake.

That ethos extends to the artists whose works are displayed on the walls, as they are not allowed to sell their pieces at the centre. The rule here is look, but don’t buy.

“One of the aims of the pavilion,” said a spokesman, “is to establish a hub for lovers of the arts to discuss and share thoughts and ideas outside the confines of commercialism.”

It is housed in a former Emaar sales office and has two galleries, a cinema, a library, a cafe and a shisha area with a view of the Burj Khalifa.

“The project is proud to be labelled the city’s first non-commercial art and public space,” said Rashid bin Shabib, director of the arts organisation Cultural Engineering, which is running the centre in a joint initiative with the developer.

One of the galleries is showcasing a light installation designed for it by James Clar, a US artist who lives in Dubai. “Exhibiting at the pavilion has been a great experience,” he said. “The fact that they changed a property sales centre into the first non-profit art space is a testament to the thriving and expanding arts scene here.”

Though the centre is pioneering the not-for-profit approach, it is happy to work with commercial galleries. The Clar installation, for example, has been staged in collaboration with the Traffic gallery, and other exhibitions are being presented jointly with such partners as the Third Line and the Palestine Film Society.

Antonia Cleaver, fair director of the Art Dubai event that took place last month, said the pavilion’s arrival has had a massive impact.

“It’s fantastic,” she added. “Non-commercial foundations and art centres are something that was really missing before. Emaar has set an example by saying ‘we have this building, let’s do something for the community’. We’d love to see banks and others follow.”