The Custodian: The Intersection of Technology and Art: The Custodian’s Digital Initiatives by Salah Lababidi

This article appeared in The Custodian Issue #66 and was dedicated to the Dalloul Art Foundation and its custodian Basel Dalloul in which we covered the foundation’s mission, influence and importance in championing and safeguarding Arab art for generations to come.

Rima Nasser: Mr. Lababidi, can you elaborate on how the Dalloul Art Foundation embraces technology to expand its reach and enhance the appreciation of art?

Salah Lababidi: DAF, through the vision of Dr. Basel Dalloul, is primarily a research institute for Modern and Contemporary Arab art. The research itself involves all mediums that are either written, photographed or videoed. It’s my job to make sure that we are able to organise as efficiently as possible this research so that it can be retrieved in any desired way and most importantly, that the research data, when relevant, is linked together through a logical user experience that evolves over time and is supported by a solid technology infrastructure. With this in mind, I would say that what we have done here at DAF over the last five years is to merge technology and art research to allow interested parties to access this research and broaden the awareness of Arab culture.

RN: In what ways have digital initiatives allowed the foundation to connect with a broader and more diverse audience?

SL: In every way. Our website today is in most cases within the top three search results for over 350 master arab artists. Our research is entirely online for anyone to access. Ninety per cent of our traffic comes from searches.

RN: How do you ensure that technology remains a tool to enhance rather than replace the traditional art experience, especially in a digital age?

SL: Video did not kill the radio, there will always be a place for traditional art and I see the merger of technology and traditional art as a beautiful thing. The digital experience is evolving and nothing we can do can stop it from taking its rightful place amongst traditional art. Many people in the future will need to be, and in fact crave being, offline from time to time to ingest culture without a pixelated screen, to view the full colour spectrum that our eyes can see. The number ofart events in all major capitals in the world, and especially since Covid ended, is a phenomenon that one would not expect in the present situation, including in Beirut where as I see it is booming or at least very dynamic and eventful.

RN: Could you provide examples of specific digital projects or technologies that have been particularly effective in engaging art enthusiasts and fostering a deeper understanding of art?

dafbeirut.org, google.com, artsandculture.google.com, smartify.com, artsy.com, artnet.com, mutualart.com, masterworks.com, saatchiart.com, selectionsarts.com

On The Foundation’s Outreach Programmes

RN: The foundation’s commitment to making art accessible to diverse communities is commendable. Can you share some of the key components of your outreach programmes and initiatives?

SL: Our Instagram page is growing quickly and we keep it active. Other than that we’re communicating more directly person to person with universities, institutions and art enthusiasts around the world. The truth is, through the extensive research we’ve made public online, we can barely handle the inreach from people finding the Dalloul Art Foundation and its wealth of information about Arab art on search engines.

RN: What strategies and partnerships has the foundation employed to ensure that art truly becomes “Art for all”?

SL: Too many to list but a few that come to mind: Google Arts & Culture and Smartify host most of the DAF collection details on their website as well as for a number of art institutions. Our content is not hidden, you can find it everywhere. We like to share what we find. In the future, we will be looking out for new partnerships for original ideas to disseminate our research and we have a few undisclosed projects in the pipeline for release next year, so a good idea is to become a member on our website to stay in the loop.

RN: Could you give examples of successful community engagement projects that have had a significant impact on individuals or communities, demonstrating the power of art outreach?

SL: We collaborate very closely with all institutions in Lebanon and many around the world for loans and grants for books and other cultural events.

RN: How does the foundation address accessibility challenges in bringing art to underserved or marginalised communities, and what outcomes have been achieved in this regard?

SL: Our research is accessible for free to anyone marginalised. Everyone is welcome to our research and we invite those interested to contribute and quite often fund such projects.

RN: What role do you see art playing in promoting inclusivity, diversity, and cultural understanding through your outreach efforts?

SL: Enormous in every way. Art can emit an emotional narrative quite often that words cannot, but with words also art can be appreciated even more … audiovisual if you will!

RN: Looking forward, are there any innovative plans or initiatives on the horizon that will further expand the foundation’s reach and impact in making art accessible to all?

SL: Emerging technologies, audiobooks, podcasts. There are some things also that I cannot disclose right now, but if you become a member on our website, you’ll be the first to know.


About Salah Lababidi

Salah Lababidi, born in Beirut in 1971, began his tech journey with a Commodore 64 at age nine, marking the onset of a lifelong digital passion. Initially interested in hardware and software, this hobby soon transformed into recognised expertise. Salah’s education started at Sevenoaks and the Lycée Français Charles De Gaulle de Londres, which honed his talents in chess and rugby. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from the George Washington University, showcasing his diverse interests. His linguistic proficiencies span Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese.

Starting his career in the travel sector, Salah observed the tech transformation of the 90s, particularly as airlines transitioned to Unix systems. This piqued his interest in web development, especially in UI/ UX, leading him to delve into Linux by 2003, which became integral to his CMS optimisation philosophy. Salah’s affiliation with WordPress spurred him to create more stable, customised data solutions, collaborating with industry giants like American Airlines and United Airlines. In 2015, he pioneered Secrets of Beirut and MyDecor.com, with the latter employing innovative Dynaweb Core PHP OOP programming.

Now the Managing Director at the Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF), Salah applies his UI/UX, data architecture, and Linux expertise on platforms like AWS and Google Cloud. He played a pivotal role in setting up the DAF website, a vital art research and publication resource. Additionally, Salah is involved in outreach and recruitment for the foundation, helping to bridge the gap between art and technology.

Caption featured image: Salah Lababidi.

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