With the completion of projects like Dubai Design District and Alserkal Avenue, artists around Dubai are finding more and better opportunities to express themselves. 

Sometimes, with fewer commercial conditions which would originally limit their creativity and personal touch. 

Yet, with the expensive Dubai lifestyle, the question remains... how do these freelance artists survive?

Ever since Slovenian photographer Marta Lamovsek moved to Dubai in 2013, she has invested a great portion of her time and resources into her personal projects.

An example is her portrait series, Plastic Garden, which pays homage to the Pathani culture of young Pakistanis living in Satwa, Dubai.

Knowing that they live far from their mothers, wives, and daughters, the flowers - typically a feminine symbol - became a representation of their profession in gardening as well as their longing for their families back home.

“I've learnt through the years that time is more important than money. You have to have the time to invest in yourself, into the projects that are fulfilling you personally and make you grow as a human being,” Lamovsek told StepFeed.

While this project is not likely to bring her much financial fulfillment, she compensates with some of her other freelance work with commercial brands like Dior and Tom Ford.

Unlike Lamovsek, painter Dana Naser’s opportunities don’t come from commercial brands. Instead, she teaches art classes at The Jam Jar.

“I would like to achieve a lot by educating people about art.

I would like to also have a coherent art society that produces good local art as well as a support platform for the local artists,” Naser told StepFeed.

When Brazilian street artist Tarsila Schubert moved to Dubai five years ago, she realized that the cost of studio rental was too expensive.

“As a freelancer, it’s not easy at all. You have to pay your bills and then the client doesn’t pay you and then you run out of money,” Schubert told StepFeed.

This led her to think of an affordable way to create a space where artists could meet and exchange ideas. With the help of an investor as well as a solid business plan, she was able to launch Blue Cave, the first art factory run by artists in Dubai.

“The artists’ rent is not enough because I put it very cheap so that any artist can afford it. To maintain this space, we need to rent it out for events or exhibitions every month. We are also considering to host talks, installations, or cinema nights in the terrace,” Schubert said.

For some of the art residents, like Dodi Riyahi, who has just returned from a break from the commercial aspect of the field, working at Blue Cave offers the right balance.

“Because of the nature of Dubai, my previous practice translated very quickly into a commercial entity, but it’s a double-edged sword. When you have a lot of monetary success, it is hard to be creatively successful,” Riyahi told StepFeed.

As for space manager Cholo Juan, coming to Dubai eased his struggles. Prior to Blue Cave, he had been working as a painter and a curator in FN Designs.

“I struggled so much in finding my style and how to express it. When I came to Dubai, it opened my eyes to new possibilities. 

Back in the Philippines, the art scene is very competitive and there is a lot of criticism,” Juan said.

Gary Yong is another artist who enjoys juggling between his personal practice and commercial work.

"As an artist, I always learn to adapt to living and making it work in many cities, but I am glad to be based in Dubai at this point," Yong commented.

While brands and hospitality outlets are the prospect clients of visual artists, it is a completely different story in the case of musicians. 

The situation is particularly tough for original singers, most of whom are against covers, preferring to play their own tunes.

“Since their music is not very well known to the public, it's so hard to sell it to promoters! At some point these musicians go into commercial strategies to make a living, so they tend to play as many private shows as possible,” artists manager, Elia Mssawir, told StepFeed.

According to Mssawir, who has helped numerous singers and bands make it in the UAE’s growing music scene, this too could be a double-edged sword.

“Sometimes, there are no ways to go around it. Because if you want to make it as an original musician, you have to follow the trendy life of a typical musician in Dubai, which is pleasing the commercial ear and keeping your fans in the venues dancing or rocking,” he added.