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Tasmeem Doha is a biennial international conference focusing on unique and contemporary themes in art and design. The 2015 edition focused on the theme of "playfulness" as expressed by the Arabizi word 3ajeeb! (ahh-jhee-b) meaning "strange in a strange way, cool in a cool way, and slightly weird in a slightly weird way".

I, along with 3 other co-directors (Simone Muscolino, Richard Lomard, & Levi Hammett), conceived, planned, managed, and implemented a weeklong academic conference in the form of an art & design festival to explore multidisciplinary themes related to playfulness, collaboration, interaction, rapid prototyping, and learning through making.

The conference, a unique platform, brought together 40+ practicing artists, designers, and creative thinkings & makers from around the world to Doha, Qatar. The invited practitioners collaborated with students and faculty from around the Arabic Gulf region (and from over 50 different Nationalities) to create live events, performances, and interactive installations that were open to the Qatar Foundation community and general public.

Two of the most distinctive aspects of Tasmeem '3ajeeb!' was developing a unique theme (bridging local & international cultures) to foster participants to engage in shared dialog, and using this theme to completely redefine and redesign the structure of a 'conference' allowing new forms of exchange to happen, and new methods of dissemination to occur.

The co-chairs developed six areas for investigation:

(1) a response to a condition — in a Middle Eastern culture that sometimes does not value idiosyncrasy or unconventional thinking — can themes of play be used take break away from certains norms and behaviors as a method for making, ideation, cross-cultural exchange;
(2) formulate plans of action in unique ways that hand not been attempted previously;
(3) look past conference, global/local trends, and playful innovations has precedent;
(4) identify possible dissemination streams (publications, exhibitions, presentations) proceeding the conference;
(5) develop and employ systems and structures allow the event to take shape through emergent and indeterminate human interactions;
(6) design spaces (online and physical) for outcomes to be exhibited (social media apps, real-time image archives, and 25 short films available online, etc).

Every two years a new conference theme is selected based on rigorous internal peer review process of submitted proposals with budget, timeline and hypothetical plan for implementation. The financial award to develop the event can be as high as $750,000. 

As part of our Tasmeem event, we created a downsclaed mirror version of the event at our home campus in Richmond; created several venues of exhibition and dissemination in the US., Europe, Japan and Dubai; we worked closely with VCUarts building management team to design new lighting for the building, new seating, and new exhibition spaces, all which remain to this day;  we developed an artist in residence program to assist in the creation of a playable 9-hole artist putt-putt course; we collaborated with Casey Neistat, an international influencer and filmmaker, who made posts about the event while in Doha; and we collaborated with OFFF in Barcelona to create an a Qatar version.

Photographs by:
Omer Mohammad, Markus Elblaus & Richard Lombard