Arab Press

بالشعب و للشعب
Tuesday, Dec 05, 2023

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar gain the cultural upper hand with heavy investments in the creative economy

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar gain the cultural upper hand with heavy investments in the creative economy

After the lockdowns, closures and travel bans of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated tourism, entertainment and concert-going, 2022 saw what might be described as a mad dash to make up for lost time.

Even as the prospects of a post-pandemic economic recovery dim for the rest of the world owing to the war in Ukraine, the Gulf energy-exporting countries — particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — are plowing back a good portion of their windfall profits into activities in the field of culture.

Over the past decade, these countries have invested billions in cultural enterprises, establishing new museums, exhibition spaces and music venues to boost tourism, economic growth and instill a sense of national pride.

The 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.

These investments appear to be paying off, with the Gulf states enjoying a cultural renaissance, propelled by both state-led and private patronage. This at a time when governments elsewhere in the world are slashing their arts budgets.

In the UK, for instance, leading galleries and museums have seen drastic cuts to their Arts Council England funding for 2023, while the former Arab cultural capitals of Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut, devastated by wars, instability and talent drain, are today mere shadows of their former selves.

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030 in 2016, he placed culture and the forging of a new creative economy at the center of the Kingdom’s development agenda.

The plan was to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil and gas and to implement economic, educational and administrative reforms along with social transformation.

Since it was established in 2018, the Ministry of Culture has spearheaded a growing roster of cultural events around the Kingdom and internationally. In 2021, it reported that Saudi Arabia had hosted 100 cultural events led by 25 new cultural organizations.

Among its recent and forthcoming highlights are the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, first held in December 2021, and the Islamic Arts Biennale, due to open on Jan. 23 in the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport.

According to the ministry’s “Report on the State of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2021: Culture in Public Spaces,” some 10.5 million domestic tourists visited the nation’s cultural sites in the first 10 months of 2021 — exceeding the 8.5 million total for 2019.

In December, the ministry opened a cultural center, Fenaa Alawwal, at the former headquarters of the Kingdom’s first commercial bank in Riyadh. It established the center as part of its effort to fulfill the Vision 2030 goal of “encouraging culture as a way of life.”

The center, which will be used for a range of cultural activities, aims to bring together Saudi and international creatives.

The 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum opened in Doha last year.

While the idea of a renaissance signals a flourishing of artistic activity, it also points to the idea of breaking down barriers, providing a platform for the free exchange of ideas.

“In history, there are many turning points which have been important to artistic movements, from the Renaissance in Italy to the Nahda in the Arab world, all of which have been characterized by immense creativity and a blossoming artistic scene,” Manuel Rabate, director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, told Arab News.

“It is undeniable that the Gulf has undergone significant cultural development in recent years, and this is powered by continuous investment, cross-cultural collaborations, and recognition of the importance of culture and arts in building a deeper understanding and fostering dialogue.”

The social transformation in the Kingdom is nothing if not palpable. From gigantic raves in the desert to festivals such as Riyadh Seasons, art biennales and film schools, the process is inspiring creative thought and intercultural dialogue.

“For the community there’s certainly an increase in the variety, quantity and quality of art exhibitions in every major city in Saudi,” Qaswra Hafez, founder and director of Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery, told Arab News.

“We are contributing like we always have, by producing professionally curated exhibitions, mainly for Saudi artists, and by facilitating exposure for our artists through participating in local, regional and international art fairs.”

Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Qatar has its own state-led cultural plans. For more than a decade, Qatar has been investing billions in its cultural scene, which has developed in parallel with the country’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Its goal, like that of Saudi Arabia, is to move its economy away from an overreliance on petroleum and natural gas and toward tourism and cultural activities.

At the helm of Qatar’s culture drive is Sheikha Al-Mayassa Al-Thani, a global art patron and collector and sister of the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

In March 2022, Sheikha Mayassa announced that Qatar would build three new museums — the Lusail Museum, Art Mill Museum, and the Qatar Auto Museum.

The new venues will be operated by Qatar Museums, a government entity founded in 2015 to oversee cultural institutions, including the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Islamic Art.

“Culture is the most powerful tool. It has no religion, no language; it’s just open,” wrote Sheikha Al-Mayassa in her book, “The Power of Culture,” published in 2022. But, as she stressed in her 2014 TED talk, art and culture are also about building a national identity.

“We are revising ourselves through our cultural institutions and cultural development,” she said at the time. “Art becomes a very important part of our national identity.”

Reem Al-Thani, acting deputy CEO of exhibitions and marketing and director of centralized exhibitions at Qatar Museums, says there is a strong desire to share the nation’s cultural identity with the outside world.

“We want to present our history and the larger context of our nation; it is not just that all of sudden we are here because of oil,” she told Arab News.

“This is who we are. This is our history, this is where we come from, these are our traditions, our wisdoms and our intellect.

“It is undeniable that the Gulf has undergone significant cultural development in recent years,” said Manuel Rabate, Director, Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“It is also the role of the museums to present this in a very succinct manner. We also want to make sure the present Qatari generation understands their past.”

For more than a decade, the UAE has been pursuing a similar strategy, while at the same time trying to attract big-name international galleries to the Arabian Peninsula.

The Saadiyat Cultural District in the UAE capital is home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017 as part of a $27 billion tourist and cultural development project on Saadiyat Island

It is also home to the Guggenheim, due for completion in 2025, the Abrahamic Family House, due in 2023, and the Zayed National Museum, due in 2025.

“All of these museums represent the UAE’s commitment to cultural development and its desire to be a global leader in the arts,” Rabate told Arab News.

The UAE, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has implemented state-funded plans to grow the cultural sector and its contribution to the economy.

In 2018, the UAE’s cultural authorities agreed to a country-wide cultural strategy that would work in “a more strategic, sustainable and ambitious direction,” dubbed the Culture Agenda 2031.

The UAE’s National Strategy for the Cultural and Creative Industries, launched in 2021, aims to increase the contribution of the cultural and creative industries’ sector by 5 percent of gross domestic product by 2031.

Among its principal aims are “strengthening the UAE’s position on the global cultural and creativity map” and to “inspire creative thinking and attract cultural talents and creative entrepreneurs from around the world.”

The road map places a strong emphasis on business and entrepreneurship with objectives that include “attracting freelancers and creative start-ups to set up, live and work in the UAE.”

MISK Art Week in Riyadh.

The private art sector in Dubai in particular has been spurred on by the arrival of foreign players. Of note are the number of international galleries that have opened in recent years, including that of the French art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, who opened his first space in Dubai in 2022.

Others, such as Efie Gallery, Dubai’s first African-owned contemporary art gallery, was launched in 2021 with a mission “to be at the forefront of the rapidly burgeoning contemporary African art scene worldwide,” according to its co-founder Kwame Mintah.

“The selection of Dubai as our first location is due to the relative nascence of the local art scene here, which in turn has offered the perfect terrain for expansion and innovation,” he told Arab News.

Foreign gallerists are not only flocking to Dubai to participate in the UAE’s cultural expansion; they are drawn to the welcoming business environment opening up across the Gulf.

“It is the ease of doing business here — probably easier than anywhere else in the world — as well as the huge government support that made us open here,” Indian collector and art entrepreneur Tushar Jiwarajka, who launched Mumbai’s Volte Art Projects in Dubai in September 2021, told Arab News.

“Dubai offers a relatively blank canvas in terms of its cultural landscape — it’s one of the few places in the world where one can actually help shape the cultural landscape.”


Related Articles

Arab Press
The BBC Caught Again with Questionable Journalistic Standards, as Ugly Facts Undermine Its Attractive Yet Flawed Arguments
Biden Advocates for Palestinian Authority to Govern Gaza and West Bank
Apple and Disney Halt Ads on X Following Elon Musk's Antisemitic Post, US Reacts
The UK’s Supreme Court, in a move that surprised no one who respects international law and human rights, has just delivered a landmark ruling against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s immigration strategy.
Top German journalist received €600,000 from Putin ally, leak reveals
A Dramatic Video from Gaza, Provided by IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari, Offers Undeniable Evidence of Hamas Establishing Terror Operation Bases Near Schools, Above Hospitals, and Inside Civilian Areas.
Moody's Downgrades U.S. Credit Outlook to Negative Amid Fiscal Concerns
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
Blackrock gets half a trillion dollar deal to rebuild Ukraine
Israel: Unprecedented Civil Disobedience Looms as IDF Reservists Protest Judiciary Reform
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Singapore Carries Out First Execution of a Woman in Two Decades Amid Capital Punishment Debate
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Unlike illegal imigrants coming by boats - US Citizens Will Need Visa To Travel To Europe in 2024
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to
The politician and the journalist lost control and started fighting on live broadcast.
The future of sports
Unveiling the Black Hole: The Mysterious Fate of EU's Aid to Ukraine
Farewell to a Music Titan: Tony Bennett, Renowned Jazz and Pop Vocalist, Passes Away at 96
Alarming Behavior Among Florida's Sharks Raises Concerns Over Possible Cocaine Exposure
Transgender Exclusion in Miss Italy Stirs Controversy Amidst Changing Global Beauty Pageant Landscape
Swedish Embassy in Baghdad Engulfed in Flames Amidst a Firestorm of Protests
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Global Trend: Using Anti-Fake News Laws as Censorship Tools - A Deep Dive into Tunisia's Scenario
Arresting Putin During South African Visit Would Equate to War Declaration, Asserts President Ramaphosa
Today, we're unveiling the splendor of one of Saudi Arabia's most exclusive and stunning retreats – the Jeddah Yacht Club
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
The Changing Face of Europe: How Mass Migration is Reshaping the Political Landscape
China Urges EU to Clarify Strategic Partnership Amid Trade Tensions
Europe is boiling: Extreme Weather Conditions Prevail Across the Continent
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Hospitalized Due to Dehydration Amidst Summer Heatwave
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Saudi Arabia Joins the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia
The Renowned Crown Prince Camel Festival Set to Return to Taif on Aug. 1
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
40,000 child slaves in Congo are forced to work in cobalt mines so we can drive electric cars.
An Ominous Shift in Warfare: Western Powers Risk War Crimes and Violate International Norms with Cluster Bomb Supply to Ukraine
Bye bye democracy, human rights, freedom: French Cops Can Now Secretly Activate Phone Cameras, Microphones And GPS To Spy On Citizens
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
Tensions Escalate as Iran Challenges Saudi Arabia's Sovereignty over Al-Durrah Gas Field
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
Saudi Arabia and China Forge New Frontiers in Space Exploration
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback