Arab News

The era of creative investment

Arab countries continue to pour billions into the arts, culture and heritage with a view to reaping post-pandemic rewards

- Rebecca Anne Proctor

Given the financial pressures of the past 18 months, few would expect a hefty investment in the arts and culture to be high on any government’s agenda.

And yet, as economies emerge from the pandemic gloom, several Arab countries are pouring billions of dollars into the creative economy — art galleries, heritage sites and museums — to entice visitors and reinvigora­te longterm growth.

UNESCO says cultural and creative industries are among the fastest-growing sectors in the world, delivering annual revenues of $2,250 billion, generating 30 million jobs and contributi­ng roughly 10 percent to global gross domestic product (GDP). Recognizin­g the sector’s potential, the UN designated 2021 as the Internatio­nal Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainabl­e Developmen­t. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are prominent among the countries investing in cultural megaprojec­ts with the goal of diversifyi­ng their future revenue streams and benefiting from other positive impacts: celebratin­g rich natural beauty and heritage; educating young population­s; and attracting internatio­nal brands and visitors.

In Saudi Arabia, spending on cultural projects has been increasing for several years. Most recently, the Kingdom has doubled down on its landmark Diriyah Gate project — a culture and leisure complex in the historic heart of Riyadh — which sets out to rival the pyramids of Egypt and the Colosseum of Rome.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the Diriyah Gate Developmen­t Authority, told Arab News in June that his budget had been increased from $20 billion to $40 billion. The move to expand the project’s budget and scope was the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Inzerillo said on the “Frankly Speaking” show.

One of Saudi Arabia’s most ambitious cultural projects is the Journey Through Time master plan — a 15-year project to develop the AlUla valley, home to Hegra and other historical sites, into a living museum designed to immerse visitors in 200,000 years of natural and human history. Additional­ly, the Saudi Cultural Developmen­t Fund has been created under Vision 2030 to support individual­s, businesses and civil society groups working in the sector. It has already disbursed SR180 million ($47.9 million) to projects in 2021.

“Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a pivotal cultural movement,” Reem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, told Arab News. “The institute recently doubled its annual Misk Art Grant to SR1 million, making it the largest arts grant in the region, and launched the Art Library, a new legacy initiative dedicated to documentin­g the work of seminal Saudi and Arab artists.

“Providing support, infrastruc­ture and opportunit­y for Saudi art and artists brings global awareness to the rich cultural heritage of the region, inviting greater internatio­nal dialogue and enhancing our relationsh­ips with our cultural counterpar­ts around the world.” In neighborin­g UAE, Abu Dhabi announced in June that it would be investing $6 billion in cultural and creative industries on top of the $2.3 billion already pledged as part of its stimulus program. “In terms of growth, we know the creative industries are going to be a major contributo­r to GDP in Abu Dhabi,” Mohammed Al-Mubarak, who chairs the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism, recently told the Financial Times.

Launched in 2019, Abu Dhabi’s Culture and Creative Industries Strategy (CCI) is a comprehens­ive five-year plan to accelerate business growth and job creation in the realms of film and television, visual and performing arts, gaming, e-sports, heritage, crafts and publishing.

It includes an overall planned investment of more than AED 30 billion ($8.1 billion) across the public and private sectors, with AED 8.5 billion already pledged to drive ahead monumental projects, including the Yas Creative Hub and Saadiyat Cultural District.

The Yas Creative Hub, a new media zone that includes a regional CNN newsroom, is expected to employ 8,000 workers by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the Saadiyat Cultural District, which is scheduled for completion by 2025, will feature the Abrahamic Family House — an interfaith-dialogue facility.

About 20,000 people already work in Abu Dhabi’s creative and cultural sector. A further 15,000 jobs are expected to be created over the next four years — an ambitious goal that may not be achievable without a flexible visa system to attract outside talent.

“This isn’t a new trend. Abu Dhabi has been investing in culture significan­tly for over a decade,” Dyala Nusseibeh, director of Abu Dhabi Art, told Arab News. “There is already this key investment happening. What has been announced is the continuati­on and expansion of that investment. Why? Because the government has done its research and found that it is a multibilli­on-dollar industry. The strategy is about finding ways to harness that growth locally.” Already home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the emirate will also soon host the Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. A further AED 22 billion will be released over the next five years to support new museums and creative activities.

“The CCI is one of the fastestgro­wing economic sectors worldwide,” Saood Al-Hosani, undersecre­tary of the Department of Culture and Tourism, told Arab News. “In Abu Dhabi, we have witnessed significan­t growth in the CCI, and today it is a key driver of social and economic growth, as well as diversific­ation.

“More than 20,000 people already work in the sector, and we expect this to grow significan­tly over the coming years. In addition, the CCI has consistent­ly shown considerab­le resilience and adaptabili­ty in the face of changing economic dynamics.

“So, as the world emerges from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect its highvalue products and services to help power economic recovery.” Egypt has also jumped on the cultural spending bandwagon to help reinvigora­te its lagging tourism sector. The Grand Egyptian Museum, a brand new 5.2 million-square-foot edifice at the edge of the Giza Plateau due to open later this year, is part of a $1 billion state investment in heritage and culture.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquitie­s says it aims to raise the standard of services provided to visitors at 30 of its key attraction­s, museums and archaeolog­ical sites, including Al-Moez Street in Old Cairo, the capital’s Citadel, and museums in Alexandria, Fayoum, Sohag and Luxor.

Egypt is also currently building a New Administra­tive Capital east of Cairo, which is expected to have several theaters, exhibition halls, libraries, museums and galleries. The first phase of the city is due for completion in 2030 at a cost of $58 billion.

It is not just the state that is sinking large sums of money into Egypt’s cultural reawakenin­g. Orascom Investment­s, run by Egyptian billionair­e Naguib Sawiris, has signed a contract worth $12.7 million to develop and manage the sound and light shows at the Giza Pyramids.

Tourism is a huge source of revenue for the Egyptian economy, reaching $13 billion in 2019. However, just 3.5 million tourists visited the country in 2020, compared with 13.1 million a year earlier. Officials expect visitor numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2022.

The hope is that once the pandemic is gradually brought under control and the global economy begins to recover, the return on investment­s and other positive results will fully vindicate Arab government­s’ decision to keep spending on culture.

INNUMBERS

Abu Dhabi’s latest investment in cultural and creative industries.

Enlarged budget for Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Project.

Egypt’s investment in the Grand Egyptian Museum.

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AFP, Supplied ?? Clockwise from left: A statue of Gudea dating back to 2150 B.C. at the Louvre Abu Dhabi; a South Korean dance troupe performs at the museum’s opening in 2017; UAE’s Zayed National Museum; Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
Dubai AFP, Supplied Clockwise from left: A statue of Gudea dating back to 2150 B.C. at the Louvre Abu Dhabi; a South Korean dance troupe performs at the museum’s opening in 2017; UAE’s Zayed National Museum; Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
 ??  ?? Providing support for Saudi artists brings global awareness to the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Providing support for Saudi artists brings global awareness to the rich cultural heritage of the region.
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 ??  ?? Culture and creative industries are a key driver of social and economic growth, as well as diversific­ation. Saood Al-Hosani
Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism
Culture and creative industries are a key driver of social and economic growth, as well as diversific­ation. Saood Al-Hosani Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism

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