The way we were, the way we are: facing the future of the UAE’s cultural development

By Juan Carlos Vasco, ACCIONA Cultural Engineering Director for the Middle East

Since the early 2000s, the UAE’s culture sector has grown rapidly. A number of cultural organizations and initiatives have emerged and evolved into a hub such as Art Dubai, the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, Dubai Design Week, Sharjah Art Foundation, Alserkal Avenue… to name a few. The UAE has seen increased global recognition in its positioning to become a cultural leader in the region. This is a result of economic initiatives, such as the launch of the UAE Cultural Development Fund, which aims to support cultural activities within the country and encourage projects aimed at promoting the development of UAE cultural creations.

As the UAE continues on its path of progress and development, the aim to preserve its rich culture, heritage, and traditions has become a key priority and facet of developing a national identity for future generations. This includes not only buildings and sites, but also intangible social processes, cultural memories, and knowledge preservation. This is key not only to presenting an authentic picture of the country to the international community, but also to connecting future Emirati generations with their history. A great example of this is the Bait Mohammed bin Khalifa (BMBK) project, a cultural project located in Al Ain, to preserve and rehabilitate the major building in the context of the UAE’s recent history, in which ACCIONA has left its mark. ACCIONA Cultural Engineering, the ACCIONA business unit that develops sustainable museum and art centre solutions, was selected by the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi to carry out the technical development and museographic implementation of the 2,840 sqm that covers the total surface of the exhibition. The house was built in 1958, near Al Mu’taredh falaj, for Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa (1909-1979) and his fourth wife, their daughters and sons.  

The UAE’s culture has been built upon years of values passed on to the nation by our leaders and this project is a good example of this as it will help to understand  the World Heritage of Al Ain and how the UAE’s history links its pre-oil stages and its heritage with the present days.

Our late founding father, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, always emphasized that economic growth—despite its importance and priority—is not an end in itself; it is, rather, a means to make life more balanced and moderate. That is why we believe that the sort of development that integrates the cultural dimension is truly sustainable for a nation, in line with the explicit link between the two contained in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Following all this, the UAE has launched several initiatives with the aim of to establish a starting point to stimulate and consolidate the growth of the Emirate and underpin its global cultural status, like the “2020: Towards the Next 50”, launched last year. Our Leaders want to establish the Emirate’s position as a global center for art and culture, an incubator of creativity, and a thriving hub for talent.

In addition, a few days ago, the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Youth said at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Summit that Dubai has a forward thinking 10-year plan to boost the cultural sector. The plan consists of eight goals and around 40 initiatives that will be become a “reference road map to make the creative sector among the best economic sectors in the UAE.”

All these initiatives comes within the framework of Dubai Culture’s unremitting efforts to drive the robust growth of the culture sector by setting long-term plans that strengthen Dubai in the global cultural scene, while also helping realize the wise leadership’s vision and supporting its march of excellence.

It is a fact that cultural spaces play a key role in the development of free and educated societies. Equipping these spaces with latest technologies ensures cultural heritage is preserved and gives us a new way to look after who we are.

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