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Abu Dhabi, A Local Ecosystem Adapting Western Models.

Since Abu Dhabi’s founding in 1971, there has been a high regard for culture and art considering that the second law passed inaugurated the Cultural Foundation, a “culture and art center”, into the country’s legal framework. Emphasizing the importance of culture upon the establishment of the country has set the tone for the cultural vibrancy of Abu Dhabi, as there was substantial importance when it came to cultural development throughout the past 50 years. The 60 cultural infrastructure points in Abu Dhabi are a combination of local and international institutions from universities to museums.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of Abu Dhabi, valued the significance of culture and art, thus taking a keen interest in developing the cultural landscape of the city. Abu Dhabi has five “sites and landmarks” three of which are associated with the late Sheikh Zayed, demonstrating the influence that the leader had in terms of development and prosperity. Built around the 1790’s Qasr Al Hosn a “site and landmark”, “remain[s] the heart of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s plans; with the fort serving as his family home, seat of governance for the new nation – ordering a full restoration for the Al Hosn site, set the intention to become the city’s national archive and encapsulating the historical developments of Abu Dhabi.”26 Two of Abu Dhabi’s major “sites and landmarks” are named after Sheikh Zayed, one being the Sheikh Zayed Memorial and the other is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The Cultural Foundation first opened in 198127 during Sheikh Zayed’s rule, serving as another testimony of his commitment to preserving and celebrating the Emirati culture.

Abu Dhabi’s five “museums” are a representation of the current reality of the city; a combination of Sheikh Zayed’s legacy and the role of international institutions and partnerships in shaping Abu Dhabi’s cultural vibrancy. On the one hand, Shaikh Zayed museum alludes to the late founder's vision, while the Louvre museum illustrates how imported ideals can adapt to the local cultural landscape.

The influence of the west is noticeable specifically in the “cinemas” and “universities”. Out of the eight “universities”, three are international institutions that have opened campuses in Abu Dhabi. Degrees like Art History, Film and Music are offered at the international “universities”, whilst the local “universities” mainly award communication and media degrees. While “cinemas” like Cinema Space, have diverse programming of Arab and foreign films, the majority of the “cinemas” feature international blockbuster movies.

In terms of the innovation clusters, Abu Dhabi has a total of 13. The city is made up of approximately 200 islands28, has three “urban districts”. Creating urban districts like Al Maryah Island Abu Dhabi is building on its already existing urban landscape in hopes of creating pockets of economic and cultural growth throughout the city. Two Four 54, another “urban district”, is a standing testament to the cohesive relationship between harnessing local talent through employment and pairing it with international expertise, like National Geographic.

Balancing between modernity and heritage, Abu Dhabi is looking to build a local ecosystem, while also adapting western models to enhance its cultural vibrancy.

Researched and written by Yasmena AlMulla, Azza Elhassan & Wakim Zeidan

The research was concluded in December 2019


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