As we walk past Spanish street artist Ruben Sanchez’s colourful mural in Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT), bursting with brilliant reds, oranges and turquoises, the exuberant picture puts a smile on Ramy Alawssy’s face in the morning sunshine. The man who made it happen is the founder of ING, a creative community here in Dubai that aims to unlock the potential artistic talent in the region.
ING is an innovative community, set up by Alawssy in 2014, that holds events throughout the year, showcasing remarkable ideas to inspire the next generation of visionaries. The community’s main focus is its annual festival, which hosts inspiring talks from the brightest minds in the industry (think TED talks for creatives), offers portfolio reviews from top-company execs to help increase attendees employability, and gives hands-on workshops from some of the most inspiring artists from across the world.
After a life of relocating, originally fleeing Iraq with his family in 1996 due to the political situation in the country, and then completing his education in Malaysia, Alawssy moved to Dubai in 2010. With a degree in graphic design from Limkokwing University, he came to the UAE with high hopes, but was frustrated to learn that the region was starved of a creative community.
“When I came from Malaysia in 2010 I was shocked, there was not much happening creatively in the city. I felt like getting a job at an advertising or branding agency, somewhere fitting for me as a graphic designer, would be a dream. So I gave up on it, there was no platform,” says Alawssy.
Eventually, the young graphic designer found a job at a local company through a family friend, but it was when Behance, an international online social network where members can showcase and discover work, approached Alawssy in 2012 to organise and curate a creative conference in Dubai, that he considered setting up his own community.
“Two years into doing events for Behance, Adobe sponsored me and paid me enough to bring in two international speakers, so we flew them in. I still remember it. It was in the middle of the week, right after work, and we still got 140 people to attend, and after that I thought; this could be big. There is obviously a hunger for it,” says Alawssy.
It was at this point, in 2014, that Alawssy decided to set up a creative community for the UAE. Now two years in and ING, which is a suffix for doing or making, is gathering momentum. Last year’s festival saw over 400 people gather at the auditorium in Dubai Knowledge Village to hear talks from a diverse range of international speakers, from renowned designer and Adobe resident Kelli Anderson to co-founders of the design and film agency Snask, Fredrick Öst & Erik Kockum.
ING’s 2016 creative festival, held at Dubai Design District in April, promises to take this quality content to the next level. As well as hosting 19 international speakers, including established creatives such as David Delgado from Nasa and Hollywood film concept designer Neville Page who will be giving talks and workshops, there will also be portfolio reviews from international creative agencies, as well as an exhibition floor where over 30 artists from all over the world will showcase their work.
“I think the reason why people come is because the content is strong,” says Alawssy. “The line-up of our speakers is incredible, even if you compare it with New York and Berlin conferences, we are of that standard and at times higher. This has always been the most important thing for us.”
Alawssy’s hope for ING going into the future is to continue building a community in the region that helps creative minds reach their potential.
“We’re badly in need of people using their creativity to make it a better place. The region has a lot of potential, it is extremely rich in this light. With all the challenges we face today, still the region is a good place to be in. It shows how much it could be if people used their minds creatively,” says Alawssy.
“I want it to become a platform. If you have an idea, and you want to make it, you come to the ING festival to get inspired and collaborate, take workshops to get you moving, to create things that you’re passionate about. It doesn’t matter if it’s an e-book or a start-up, whatever initiative you have, you need to make it, and ING is the place where you can get started.”
Sanchez’s JLT mural represents this can-do attitude. In an area where street art is almost unheard of, Alawssy’s belief, along with Sanchez’s talent, gave this neighbourhood Dubai’s biggest and most celebrated street mural, and its existence is priceless.
“For two years I passed this wall going to work and thought how beautiful it would look with a piece of art painted on it, rather than looking neglected,” says Alawssy. “One day I decided, since no one acted, I’m not going to wait, I’m going to try to make it happen.”
After almost two years of negotiating with DMCC, JLT’s free-zone authority, Alawssy got the green light last year, and after obtaining the paint and the cherry picker, Sanchez went to work.
“Now that it’s done, people have responded really well. Till today, people go out of their way to visit this wall and take photos next to it. They really feel that this is what Dubai is missing and I think people want to see more things like that,” says Alawssy.
Alawssy’s hope and belief for the region’s potential comes across as genuine; the young Iraqi is clearly passionate about improving the country’s outlet for creativity. From organising beautiful street art for the local community, to helping talented artists, photographers, graphic designers etc, improve their portfolios and find careers, Alawssy is clearly optimistic about the power of a creative family. To him, the talent in the region is bountiful and there are plenty of opportunities, too – he’s just the man connecting the dots.