by Lynda Higgs
In May 2014, bazaar featured local artist Sarah Chouari and her exciting, new, creative concept the ArtSpace Café. This month we have the pleasure of congratulating her on a very successful first year and talk with her about her vision for the company. On entering the ArtSpace Café the first thing you notice is the atmosphere, which is calm and welcoming. Low lighting and paint-spattered tables combine with an abundance of canvases and art materials to create an environment which invites you to sit down, pick up a brush and switch off from the screen-oriented world outside. A small café and cosy seating on the paved area just outside the store combine to encourage you to stop, relax and get creative.
Born and raised in Kuwait, Sarah has also lived in Lebanon, the U.S. and Dubai, however Kuwait is the place to which she has returned. Having graduated with a degree in Fine Art and Graphic Design (from the State University of New York), Sarah began her career working as a graphic designer for design agencies in Kuwait. A brief change of direction saw her studying Patisserie with Wilton and running her own bakery in Dubai, before returning to the States for a couple of years.
Eventually she returned home to Kuwait in 2013, bringing with her a vision for an innovative concept which offered people the chance to socialize and get creative at the same time, something that didn’t exist in Kuwait just 2 years ago.
Sarah credits her business partners, Raghda Yousef and Sara Farasheh, for the energy they’ve brought to the business. Together, these three women have worked as a close knit team in order to bring the concept of art workshops to Kuwait. Together they have maintained the ethos of Sarah’s original idea, whilst tailoring it to the requirements of the local market.
“Our team is without a doubt the reason that we are where we are today and have been able to celebrate a year of being in business. It is the intangible elements that make a business like this work, we have become a family and we, all the artists as well as myself, Sara and Raghda, are able to deliver what we do because we all understand what the ArtSpace ethos is and genuinely care about it.”
“Although I knew the market and that there was nothing like ArtSpace in Kuwait, I didn’t appreciate that there would be unique challenges to meet when I first started the process of setting up the business 2 years ago,” observed Sarah. “I had an idea in mind, of a large space offering workshops all day long and a coffee bar where people could make their own coffee when they wanted to. The idea was that this space would exist for the purpose of art and nothing else. The first challenge we encountered was that the concept of creative workshops was completely unknown in Kuwait at the time and this was a challenge we had to meet. At that point we sat down and came up with ideas that would allow me to realize the workshop concept and present it in a way that would work in the Kuwaiti market.”
When I asked Sarah about the inspiration for ArtSpace she told me about a similar concept she came across in the US, PaintBar, which, at that time, offered a few classes per week and a place for socializing.
“The essential difference between what PaintBar offered at the time, and what we offer, is that they only had a few workshops per week which were an introduction to art and it was much more about the social aspect, whereas I wanted to share my passion for art “all forms of art” through workshops in a place where the café space was incidental.” Of course, Kuwaiti culture is very much about socializing and so the team decided to evolve and so ArtSpace became ArtSpace Café, offering both a meeting place and a space in which to learn about and enjoy art. (side note: According to PaintBar’s website their format has changed over the last couple of years, but it was the inspiration for ArtSpace Café).
Sarah and the entire ArtSpace team, which includes a number of talented, local artists, are constantly developing new ideas. They try to offer what customers are interested in and will respond to, rather than prescribe, what they should do.
“The challenge of coming up with new ideas and new concepts for the business can be stressful, but it is also exciting.” Sarah said. “When we opened it was just about painting, but that has evolved into other forms of art, including mosaic art, etc, and, going forward, we will try to introduce new styles and techniques (of art) regularly. That’s why it’s called ArtSpace ‘a space for art in every form.’
The ArtSpace team’s motto, from the moment that they first opened up their doors until now, is “We can do it!” One thing that really struck me during our conversation is that Sarah and the team really do want to reach out to people and show them that everyone has some sort of artistic talent inside them.
“We offer a variety of workshops every day and all are offered on a per workshop basis; no one is expected to buy a package of workshops or a membership. We want to offer people the chance to learn about art when they can and in a fun way. When we first opened up we didn’t know what to expect, but gradually, as people came to workshops and started to experience the confidence that comes from learning a new skill and creating something they didn’t know they could before they came to ArtSpace, they told friends and family. Just one year after first opening our doors, the people that come to ArtSpace are as diverse as the population of Kuwait. We encourage everyone, regardless of age or ability to visit the café and experience the joy of art.
Of course, none of this can happen without the team being, in turn, motivated by their customers. Sarah considers the most rewarding part of her work, that moment when she sees someone who has never held a brush before learn how to paint a picture and then leave at the end of two hours with their own painting: “This is something amazing. It is a form of therapy and confidence building. We don’t just do what we do for a living, we do it because it gives something unique and positive to our customers!”
In the interest of offering something unique, therapeutic and confidence building, Sarah is always speaking to artists, including photographers and actors, and considering new workshops for her customers. Now that the ArtSpaceQ8 brand is becoming known, sometimes people come to her because of what they’ve seen on social media, which does mean a little more time for the team to develop new concepts and workshops.
Sarah is keen to mention that they also encourage the artists (on the team) to join workshops at ArtSpace, as this allows them the opportunity to learn from one another and to learn new techniques, which they can then teach at the workshops offered to customers. As she rightly observes: “Art and creativity is not something that happens in a bubble we learn from one another and improve our knowledge and skills in this way.”
The team offers a variety of classes on a daily basis, the details of which are posted on various social media platforms on a daily basis, and customers can expect to learn technique and gradually develop a skill if they regularly participate in workshops. People will see an example of a painting or piece of art on Instagram and will learn how to create that piece of art, but with their own touch.
For those who are more advanced and skilled, they offer private classes and they also cater for art workshops at people’s homes, if that’s what they would like. The café itself is booked for birthday parties 2 to 3 times a week and this is very popular, particularly with girls.
As if all of this weren’t enough, ArtSpace has evolved into a brand that offers a variety of services, all with creativity and art as their starting point.
“We have “Pieces by ArtSpace”, where we create bespoke pieces, including paintings, string art, mosaic, decorative items created from recycled items, to customer’s requirement. We also offer “Designs by ArtSpace” offering freelance graphic design services, and going forward we will be offering an interior design service. In addition, we will be bringing another new concept to the market in the autumn, the details of which will be posted on Instagram and other social media.”
What started as a simple idea to bring the joy of creating your own piece of art to people in Kuwait, is now not only a reality, but a concept that is evolving by the week. The energy and creativity of the ArtSpace team has taken Sarah and her team on a journey they probably couldn’t have imagined even a year ago, and if their enthusiasm for what they do is anything to go by, the journey has only just started.
If you’re interested in joining a workshop, booking a party or speaking to Sarah about the possibility of a private booking or a commission, you can contact her on 9777 5273 or get daily updates about workshops by following them on Instagram @ArtStpaceQ8 , Twitter @artspaceq8 or Facebook: Artspaceq8
Interview and Photography by Lynda Higgs www.LyndaHiggsPhotography.com.