Artist and curator Marcia Stegath Dorr traveled to Oman and discovered timeless culture, art, and craft virtually unknown to rest of the world. She has worked ever since to preserve Oman’s past and lift up its 21st Century artisans as the Consultant to the Ministry of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman. Hear about Marcia’s journey on this edition of “creative:impact” with co-hosts Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw and WEMU’s David Fair.
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU’s David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT MARCIA DORR:
Born and educated in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Two sons, two granddaughters.
EDUCATION: University of Michigan 1965–1971
- College of Architecture & Design; BFA/Design, May 1971
- School of Education; Teaching Certification/Art K-12, December 1971
Native English, French fluency, Arabic AFL 2
2018–Consultant to British Museum/Royal Ontario Museum/ Oman National Museum Project
Project team member for field research and documentation of women silversmithing traditions of Southern Oman. Project outputs to include an exhibition in November 2020 in the British Museum (ref. Traditions and Trajectories: The Female Silversmiths of Dhofar; Anglo-Omani Society Annual Review. London, 2019).
2018–Consultant to the Office of Royal Court Affairs, Sultanate of Oman
Provision of expertise to Oman Across Ages Museum Project for development of interactives, films and museography, research and writing of museum text, sourcing and assessment of artefacts, and curator training.
2019–Consultant to the Oman National Museum
Ongoing provision of expertise related to museography development, and review and editing of English text.
2015–2018 Consultant HM the Sultan’s Office for Economic Planning Affairs
Provision of expertise for the preparation of the Oman Mountains Atlas including research, writing of text and production of image material.
2012–2016 Consultant to Oman Ministry of Heritage & Culture
Provision of expertise for the development of the Oman National Museum including research, writing and editing of text, artefact sourcing and assessment, museography development and training of curatorial staff.
2004–2011 Advisor to Oman Ministry of Tourism; Directorate of Historical Sites Development
Expansion of Ministry of Commerce and Industry position following transfer of responsibility for 26 forts and castles to the newly-created Ministry of Tourism. Duties included provision of advisory services, training, team-building, and working interactively with local communities, private and public-sector organizations, other stakeholders and contractors in the sustainable development of forts, castles and other historical sites throughout Oman. Highlights include serving as Coordinator for the development of Khasab Castle as a major tourism destination (Winner, Museums & Heritage International Award, London 2010). Examples of concurrent participation in special projects include: British Museum; ‘Adornment & Identity’ Exhibition of Omani Jewellery and Costume, London, 2011 (Oman Liaison and Curator and British Museum Lecturer), Diwan of Royal Court; Technical Committee for Archaeological Affairs (Executive Task Force Member), Oman Botanic Garden, 2008 (Consultant), UNESCO Training Seminar for inscription of World Heritage Sites, 2006 (Participant), and Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington DC, 2005 (Festival Organising Committee Member and Presenter).
2001–2004 Consultant to Oman Ministry of Commerce & Industry; Department of Domestic Tourism
Coordinator for the conservation and development of 22 Omani forts and castles, inclusive of museums, libraries and exhibitions, informational and promotional publications, audio tours, documentary films, establishment of workshops and sales outlets for traditional artisans. Participation in special projects included the Frankfort Book Fair (October ‘04), and UNESCO World Tourism Conference (November ‘04).
1996–2001 Advisor to His Highness Sayyid Shihab bin Tariq bin Taimour Al Said
Coordinator of the Omani Craft Heritage Documentation Project (OCHDP) including research, writing, photography and design of The Craft Heritage of Oman, a two-volume book documenting Oman’s traditional craft heritage, together with the development of a permanent photographic archive of more than 5,000 images. Project work also included writing and presentation of The Importance of Documentation to the Development of Traditional Craft Industries in the Sultanate of Oman: A Private Sector Approach at Forum UNESCO for Living World Heritage, Fifth International Seminar, Byblos and Beirut, Lebanon.
1999–2000 Consultant to private sector development project, Sultanate of Oman
Provision of technical expertise to Al Sifah, a major private sector tourism development project. The scope of work included provision of development concepts for a fortress-style hotel, traditional theme villages, restaurants and recreational facilities. Also included were suggested ways and means of benefiting local communities in association with the Project. Output; a written report of 256 pages.
1994–1998 Development of artisans’ marketing organization, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Establishment (founding partner) of Omani Heritage Gallery, Oman’s first not-for-profit enterprise, to serve as a much-needed link between traditional artisans and the contemporary marketplace. A research trip to Yemen (San’a) was also taken at the request of USAID during this period to assess the potential for preserving and promoting traditional Yemeni crafts industries using models developed and implemented for Oman.
1994 Consultant to the Oman Ministry of Heritage & Culture
Preparation of a marketing study and action plan for the development of traditional pottery-making, textile-weaving and dhow-building factories supported by the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. Output: A written report of 130 pages.
1993–1994 Consultant to the Oman Development Council
Preparation of a 10-Year National Plan for the development of a commercially viable handicrafts industry in Oman on behalf of a 5-member Cabinet Committee chaired by His Highness Sayyid Faisal bin Ali bin Faisal Al Said, Minister of National Heritage & Culture. Output: A written report of 190 pages.
1992–1993 Consultant to the Oman Ministry of Social Affairs
Design and implementation of ‘New Horizons’, a national exhibition of Omani women’s crafts.
1991–1992 Consultant to the Oman Ministry of National Heritage & Culture
Design and implementation of displays for the Omani Heritage Pavilion at World Expo ’92, Seville.
1991–1992 Consultant to Omani-American Joint Commission (USAID and Ministry of Social Affairs)
Preparation of a feasibility study for the development of a commercially viable handicrafts industry in Oman. Output: A written report of 178 pages.
1990–1991 Technical Consultant to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Ministry of Social Affairs & Labor, Southern Oman
Design and implementation of a development project based on traditional pottery production in the Southern Region of Oman (Dhofar) in conjunction with the opening of three Omani Women’s Associations in the region. The project was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and operated under the Directorate of Women and Children’s Affairs.
1986–1989 Development of expertise in Omani crafts and culture, Northern Oman
Professional activities during this time included study of Arabic, levels I and II, and teaching of local pottery classes. Also researched Omani cuisine and culinary customs and wrote A Taste of Oman, a small book detailing these customs. The book has sold over 4,000 copies and is currently in its second printing. During these three years I also helped establish an ice skating instructional program in conjunction with the introduction of the sport to Oman, produced and performed in 4 major ice shows, and trained daily for three months in trapeze and acrobatics with a visiting Italian circus.
1984–1985 Independent design services. Ann Arbor, Michigan USA
Independent freelance work in illustration and graphic design during an 11-month hiatus in the USA between international development projects in the Gambia and the Sultanate of Oman.
1983–1984 Development of Artisan’s Cooperative. The Gambia, West Africa
Direction of local traditional artisans, at their request, in the establishment of an Artisan’s Cooperative to link producers throughout the Gambia with contemporary markets for their craft products and enable them to market their products through their own retail outlet. As a result, the artisans were able to eliminate their reliance on middlemen and increase their income tenfold. Furthermore, artisans began once again to pass their skills on to the next generation. Other work undertaken in the Gambia during this period included the provision of interior design services for the US Ambassador’s Residence.
1974–1983 Development and ownership of design firm. Ann Arbor, Michigan USA
Independent freelance work in illustration, graphic art and interior design led to the establishment of Marcia S Dorr & Associates, a small design firm registered in the State of Michigan. As owner, I assumed primary responsibility for identifying clients and selling the services of the firm, as well as engaging in interior design work. As the firm expanded, I employed other designers to enable the firm to offer a wider range of design services.
1971–1973 Art Teacher. Pattengill Elementary School, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Michigan USA
Responsibilities included curriculum development and teaching of art to 400 students ranging in age from five to thirteen, inclusive of special programs for emotionally impaired children.
Dorr, Marcia, al-Zahli, Abdullah, al-Thanawi, Aisha and al-Rawahi, Saif, 2013. Khasab Castle, A Museum for the Material Culture of the Musandam Peninsula in the Sultanate of Oman; Reimagining Museums: Practice in the Arabian Peninsula. MuseumsEtc Ltd., Edinburgh and Boston, 2013. 284–322 of 701 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 2010. Oman Botanic Gardens Design Concepts for Heritage Village. (Stage 1- RIBA equivalent A, B and C). 112 pages.
Dorr, MS, 2008. Earth, Water and Fire: The Pottery Traditions of Oman. Pride 2008, Al Roya Publishing, Sultanate of Oman. 10 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 2008. Oman’s Craft Industries in Context. Pride 2008, Al Roya Publishing, Sultanate of Oman. 10 pages.
Dorr, MS and P Groves, 2007. Strongholds of Heritage: The Defensive Architecture of Oman. Pride 2007, Al Roya Publishing, Sultanate of Oman. 10 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 2005. Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Craft Traditions of Desert, Oasis and Sea. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA. 9 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 2004. The Craft Heritage of Oman. Motivate Publishing, Dubai, UAE Two Volumes, xxi + 563 pages, 1,000+ photographic images, 150+ illustrations.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 2000. The Importance of Documentation to the Development of Traditional Craft Industries in the Sultanate of Oman: A Private Sector Approach. Proceedings: Forum UNESCO for Living World Heritage, Fifth International Seminar, Byblos and Beirut, Lebanon. 8 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 1996. Time Travellers: The Changing Lifestyle of Oman’s Bedu Communities, Tribute to Oman, Apex Publishing, Sultanate of Oman. 10 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 1994. Bahla Pottery Factory, Sumail Textile Factory, Sur Woodcrafting Factory: A Marketing Study. Report to the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, Sultanate of Oman. 130 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 1993. Development of a Commercially Viable Handicrafts Industry in the Sultanate of Oman: A 10-Year Development Programme. Report to the Oman Development Council, Sultanate of Oman. 190 pages.
Dorr, MS and NR Richardson, 1992. Development of a Commercially Viable Handicrafts Industry in the Sultanate of Oman: A Feasibility Study. Report to the Omani-American Joint Commission (USAID), Sultanate of Oman. 178 pages.
Dorr, MS, 1989. A Taste of Oman: Traditional Omani Food. Mazoon Press. Sultanate of Oman. Soft cover. 18 pages. (Reprinted in 2005 for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival).
US Ambassador’s Appointed Member to the Board of Directors; The American International School of Muscat (TAISM); 1999–2014.
Ceramics major: 5 years of study, University of Michigan, College of Architecture & Design. Work exhibited in USA, Oman and West Africa.
Professional Figure Skating: ISIA accredited instructor and ISIA judge for international competitions, USFSA accredited instructor. Ice show production, performance, choreography, costume and set design.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to creative:impact, our weekly look at the local creative sector. Today, we expand to include the international. I’m David Fair, and with my content partner and co-host, Deb Polich, we are going to have a fascinating conversation today. We always say the world is shrinking, and today’s show, Deb, is evidence of that.
Deb Polich: You know, David, the show feeds my insatiable curiosity. We’ve had guests working in such a broad range of arts and creative industries. And I think Marcia Stegath Dorr, our guest today, may just have one of the most interesting positions and will win for the best title. Marcia is a consultant to the Ministry of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman and Cultural Heritage and the Restoration of Force Castles in Oman. Let’s welcome her.
David Fair: Yes. Welcome to creative:impact, Marcia. And exactly how big is your business card?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Oh, I typically don’t even try the business card. I just smile a lot.
David Fair: Sounds like a good idea.
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Yeah.
Deb Polich: So, Marcia, you were raised in Ann Arbor and studied art and education at the U of M, and, you know, we’re always talking on creative:impact about the wildly twisting career paths an art degree can take people. And so how did you hop, skip, and jump from being an elementary art teacher to having international art career in the Middle East?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Gosh. Short story, I was lucky enough to get to West Africa to be able to live there for a year on an entirely different sort of project. But, while I was there, I discovered that there were wonderful, wonderful artisans in many different fields, all of whom had the same problem. They were making wonderful things. They were skilled and meeting the needs of the people around them, and yet, they had no way to adapt to the modern market for crafts. And so, other people were taking advantage of them by coming in, for example, buying pottery for 10 cents a cost, taking it to somewhere, perhaps 15 miles, just because these people didn’t have cars. They had donkeys for travel. And so they would then take the products that people were making if they bought a pot for 10 cents, they would sell it for ten dollars. And the artist didn’t get any of that additional return. And so, they were giving up their craft. They were struggling to survive in a more modern environment as things became expensive. And I just got mad.
David Fair: And when she gets mad, she gets to work. Marcia, what in particular about the arts and craft culture in Oman, about the pieces themselves, captured your attention and made you dedicate your work to it?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Well, when I went to Oman, I arrived to find a time capsule. Before 1970, Oman was essentially medieval, and traditional crafts were still meeting the utilitarian needs of survival and–where start–an ancient, ancient craft tradition beginning 6000 years ago with producing copper and bronze. So, I found myself faced with something amazing that I wanted other people to know about. And I also found myself again, yet again, faced with artists who were struggling because it was beginning to change. So I had to write it all down. And that meant I had to use new skills that I never had used before. I had artisan skills and myself to appreciate what people were doing. But I wanted to share that, so I had to learn how to document that, to photograph, to write all about it, and I just got my roller skates on started going as fast as I could because it was so much to be done. It seemed locked in.
David Fair: creative:impact continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. We were talking with Ann Arbor townie Marcia Stegath Dorr, who was the consultant to the Ministry of Tourism and the Sultanate of Oman on cultural heritage and the restoration of forts and castles of Oman.
Deb Polich: So, Marcia, it sounds like you were you were kind of a leader, a pioneer in this work in Oman. How did you get others and who did you get engaged in your work so that you could go forward?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Well, I first enlisted the support of the United Nations. UNDP. United Nations Development Program. But that soon branched out to include USAID, the royal family of Oman, and the ministries, and I work for many different ministries, not just tourism, but also heritage and culture, commerce and industry, social affairs, anyway that I could. I reached out. And I also got to know the artisans. And, in the space of about six years, I think I met a total of about 4000 artisans, marvelous and resourceful, and everyone wanted to help everyone else, and it just all happened.
David Fair: Now, obviously, having those kinds of relationships was key to your work, but beyond forging those relationships, how do you actually build a collection and document the history while being respectful of the people in the culture at the same time?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: That was really probably the biggest challenge. You want to interact with people, but you don’t want to interfere. You want to do something for people and ideally with people, not to people. So, I tried to set myself aside and just go with an open heart and an open mind and see what the opportunities were, that, because of my education and my background and my wonderful degree from the University of Michigan, my experience in the creative arts for several years before going. Because of that, I was able to seek ways to meet challenges that traditional people couldn’t see, and, in many cases, women and displaced people, mobile peoples, and so on. So, I just reached out a hand and helped, I tried to give opportunity to learn and hope that someone would reach back to appreciate that opportunity, and I was just swamped. I was so overwhelmed by the response and by the ability of all of the artists to learn so quickly.
David Fair: creative:impact continues on WEMU. Again, Deb Polich is here, my co-host and president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw. And our guest is Marcia Stegath Dorr. And we’re talking with her about the art in Oman and her efforts over the years to make sure that it is preserved and that the cultural heritage becomes more widely known. Marcia, you have returned to live in Ann Arbor and have now for a few years and, when allowed to make a commute, as it were, to Oman. How did the COVID pandemic impact the manner in which you conduct your work?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Well, I’ve not stopped, but it’s been tricky at times to try to communicate with people literally halfway around the world. My job at the moment is working as chief editor of the soon to open Oman Across Ages Museum, and I am working full time for them. But I’m now doing mainly writing and overseeing the development of the interactive, the films that accompany exhibits and so on. And that’s all something that can be done at a distance. So, I’m looking at a distance with a wonderful team of museum specialists and, again, with artists, artisans, craftspeople who are providing all of the objects who I’m going to exhibit and give the information about them.
Deb Polich: And, Marcia, your interest is so vast and what you’re doing there in Oman is amazing. And you’re finding different avenues to to share the artistry and and artisans of Oman. And I know fashion is an interest of yours. So, you have a history as a fashion designer. I understand you’re now a content specialist on a film about Oman textiles and designers and what influence they’ve had on fashion. In the minute we have left, can you give us a quick synopsis?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Oh, well, this is a wonderful example of reaching out. It’s a Paris film company, Paris-based film company, that is making a wonderful film about the leading edge fashion designers of Oman, who have made a leap in just one generation from traditional costume, which is stunningly beautiful, to global fashion design with some of the world’s most interesting fabrics and embellishments, trim, and some of the world’s oldest examples of fashion, of clothing traditions.
Deb Polich: And they are beautiful. I’ve had a chance to look at some of those, so I will encourage listeners to take a look at that.
David Fair: And will the film be distributed here in the U.S.?
Marcia Stegath Dorr: Well, you know, I would push for that. It’s being designed specifically to be shown in the museum. This is a marvelous museum, which will have hundreds of thousands of visitors. But I would love it to go further than that. And my guess is that it will.
David Fair: Well, you know, Marcia, it’s usually Deb who whines about not having enough time to finish a conversation. But today, it’s my turn. We’ll have to have you back and continue the conversation at some point.
Marcia Stegath Dorr: That would be my pleasure.
Deb Polich: And I’m pretty sure we can arrange that. And I also know somebody who runs a film theater, so we can probably show the film. Thanks so much for taking the time today. And we look forward to more of your work.
Marcia Stegath Dorr: You’re most welcome. It was a delight.
David Fair: That is Ann Arbor’s Marcia Stegath Dorr, who was a consultant to the Ministry of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman on cultural heritage and the restoration of forts and castles of Oman. Find out more about Marcia and her work at WEMU dot org. Deb Polich is president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and my creative:impact co-host. And we’ll be back again next week. I’m David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station, 891 WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.
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