Art What! Arts Interview

Art What!: An Interview with Ali Shabaz, Chief Creative Officer of M&C Saatchi Group, on new art prize ‘Art For Change’

In partnership with Saatchi Gallery in London, M&C Saatchi Group have launched a global Art Prize to identify the next generation of emerging artists, in line with the partnership’s aim to deepen access to contemporary art, broaden learning opportunities for young people in the UK and worldwide and identify the next generation of artists influencing real societal change. Together they believe in the power of creativity to change the world.

Open to artists in the first five years of their career from UK, Europe, Americas, Asia, Australia, and Africa, the new Art For Change Prize offers up a total prize fund of £20,000 to be split between six regional winners. A winner from each location will be decided by some of the best business and creative minds from M&C Saatchi Group globally and eminent guest judges. All artists will exhibit their winning works in a dedicated exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, a recognised authority in contemporary art, where the overall winner will be announced, as chosen by a grand jury led by Saatchi Gallery.

Amongst these eminent guest judges are Ali Shabaz, Chief Creative Officer at M&C Saatchi Singapore, who will be judging the Asian entries. Considered one of Asia’s most experienced and highly-awarded creative leaders, Ali’s experience spans over twenty five years across South East Asia and the Middle East, with work centering on creating clutterbreaking ideas, building brands and understanding integrating communication across different platforms from ATL to Digital and Social. Speaking to Ali, we found out more about his thoughts on this new initiative, and the applicability of this year’s debut prompt and theme – Equality.

“I actually joined M&C Saatchi Singapore only in March, and in a nutshell, my role is to lift the quality of creative work we offer clients, particularly with how important branding is in a post pandemic world,” says Ali. “If we imagine it, we can all agree marketing has changed quite a bit, and creativity is even more central to connecting with consumers, so my team’s job is to create the most creative solutions for my clients businesses.”

While M&C Saatchi is an advertising agency first, both M&C Saatchi and the Saatchi Gallery share certain values that makes the Art For Change Prize an ideal project to collaborate on. “Globally, we are seeing a new ethos of meaningful change, but how do we apply that to marketing? We consider how we can make a real impact on consumer lives and the brands we work with, and how we can make meaningful change internally, from the policies we put in place, to the services we have for clients,” says Ali.

“With the theme being ‘Equality’ this year, we’re looking for creative interpretations and expressions of Equality, and we want to give these up and coming artists a canvas to talk about the subject through their art,” he adds. “The journey towards this prize has been an exciting one, and we hope that by introducing Equality as the theme, it helps foster creative thinking and diversity, and that more people practice it as a culture. The prize hopefully also creates a long-standing platform with an entity as prestigious as the Saatchi Gallery to do this year on year, and perhaps create an ecosystem to platform these emerging artists.”

As a creative himself, Ali believes in the power of youth and their ideas, and the prize as a way to ‘level the playing field’ and give emerging artists a chance to show the world what they’ve got. “It’s free to enter, and the only barrier to entry is to be within the first five years of your career,” he says. “When it comes to M&C Saatchi, we also support youths by reaching out to institutions like NAFA and Lasalle to find interns, some of which do eventually enter a career in advertising. I do see a lot of momentum for Singapore in the art world, like how Singapore Art Week is coming in January, and it’s definitely headed in the right direction. Think about us as adding our own brick to this conversation with this competition, to help the artists in Singapore and perhaps, see a local artist be represented.”

On how he feels about the theme, Ali feels it is a prompt that resonated deep in his heart, especially pertaining to ideas of equal opportunity. “Equality is about looking at everyone the same way, and having an honest fair chance at everything we do, irrespective of background or ethnicity,” he says. “It is an idea that we apply even to our organisation, where we support differences of ideas and champion diversity of thought. With these, it contributes towards a more powerful conversation within the creative industry, and theme, a powerful convo we need from creative perspective more diversity, and we encapsulate it in all we do, from hiring policies to the way we handle meetings. We also have a free open house programme where anyone can enjoy training, this is just one example of the many initiatives we have that drive us towards meaningful change, which then translates into results for ourselves and clients.”

On the future of creativity and the arts, Ali is hopeful, especially being in Singapore, which he feels has the reputation and edge. “Artistic directors and designers can be very proud of their work here, and I feel there’s always something new to learn each day,” he says. “It’s a fast changing world – I have a 16 year old daughter who told me she wants to pursue career in art, and that’s not something I would ever have imagined, but she’s been introducing me to digital art and NFTs, and I’ve been so surprised by this whole new world. The future comes through learning, and I hope there will be more avenues for young upcoming artists and talent to absorb this new knowledge, and from an advertising and art perspective, Singapore can do it.”

On the partnership with Saatchi Gallery, Ali expresses how much joy it’s brought to the company and how easy it’s been working with them, with cross-continental coordination via Slack group chats, and plenty of support when it comes to approvals and partnerships. As part of this shared mission in making art, culture, and creativity accessible to everyone, the prize is a celebration of emerging artistic talent, as it highlights and stimulates dialogue around visual arts as a medium for positive global and social change and give exposure to emerging artists worldwide. “There is a lot of pride on our end, because we feel art can create meaningful change and have a positive impact on society. It’s a small but certain step in the right direction,” he says.

“We definitely want to change as much as we can from perspective of aligning with equality and diversity, but it is coming off the idea of meaningful change globally and in the world with our clients,” Ali concludes. “With the pandemic, there’s been a global shift in the way people think, where they outline priorities and better work life balance. And in marketing, brands become more aware and conscious of how we connect with consumers, which is why something like an art prize is capable of bringing all these things together. I hope it inspires others to become better people, not just to ourselves but to the people we work with. And that is inspires other organisations to join on our journey in building this future, and find likeminded individuals and corporations in supporting us in making this dream happen.”

The Art For Change prize deadline for entries is 15th September 2022, 11.59pm UK BST. Regional winners will be announced on Friday, 28th October 2022, and the overall winner announced on Wednesday, 7th December 2022. The exhibition will run from 8th December 2022 to 6th January 2022. More information available here

To apply artists must be aged 18 or over, within the first five years of what they hope will be a successful artistic career and be working in one or more of the following media: painting, drawing, illustration, photography, collage, 2D mixed-media, video or film.

1 comment on “Art What!: An Interview with Ali Shabaz, Chief Creative Officer of M&C Saatchi Group, on new art prize ‘Art For Change’

  1. Pingback: Art What!: An Interview with Georgina Greenslade, Head of Communications at Saatchi Gallery – Bakchormeeboy

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