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Dubai, The Cultural Catalyst of the Emirates.

What started off as a small and humble fishing village on the shore of the Arabian Gulf, is known today as the ‘Entertainment capital of the Middle East’81, pointing to the exponential growth that has happened in Dubai’s modern history. Once Dubai entered the post-oil era82, around 1990, the government began implementing policies that would have a drastic effect on the cultural vibrancy of the city.

Dubai is home to a total of 147 cultural infrastructure points and has attracted 15.9 million tourists in 201783. Although the most famous and known “site and landmark” in Dubai is Burj Khalifa, the city has a total of 12 “sites and landmarks”, four of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, otherwise known as Dubai Culture. As for “museums”, out of the 16, six are managed and promoted by Dubai Culture. The Dubai Culture “plays a critical part in achieving the vision of the Dubai strategic plan 2021 of establishing the city as vibrant, global Arabian metropolis that shapes culture and arts in the region and the world.”84 The creation of the Dubai Culture in 2006 and their involvement in managing and promoting cultural institutions in the city demonstrates the effect that the government has on the cultural vibrancy of the city.

In the mid 1990s Dubai shifted its strategy to become a “multi-sector economy to reduce their dependence on hydrocarbons”, which came to be known as the ‘Dubai Model’85. The shift from being an oil dependent economy allowed for Dubai to focus on enhancing its service-based economy and knowledge-based economy. Currently, Dubai has 22 “universities”, a mixture of national and foreign institutions that offer degrees in the creative and cultural fields. The city is also home to 14 “libraries”, eight of which are public libraries that are owned and managed by Dubai Culture. With 24 percent of the cultural infrastructure divided between “libraries” and “universities”, it is evident that the government of Dubai is committed to achieving a sustainable knowledge-based economy.

The city hosts 13 “fairs and festivals” a year, about thirty percent of them are dedicated to art and design. Art Dubai and Design Days, both of which have Dubai Culture as a strategic partner, alone brought in around USD 35 million in 2015 to Dubai86. Although Dubai has 26 “galleries” and is a hub for “fairs and festivals”, according to Saeed Al Nabouda, director of Dubai Culture, “there [has] been culture and art in Dubai for decades, [yet] the infrastructure had not always been in place to give artists the best possible platform to make a living from it.”87 In order to combat that obstacle, in January 2019, Dubai unveiled a five-year strategy with an objective to bolster the city’s cultural landscape.

The ‘Dubai Model’ is also used to describe the ‘free zone’ policy that has been enacted by the Dubai government as a way to attract foreign investment. The city has a total of 23 innovation cluster points; where seven of them are “urban districts”. The “urban districts”, all of which are free zones, cover multiple fields from design to science, to media and tech. Looking at the cultural landscape of Dubai, it is evident the impact that the government has had in developing the city’s cultural vibrancy. From strengthening the tourism sector to developing a five-year cultural strategy, the Dubai government is a key player when it comes to enhancing culture in the Emirate.

The research was concluded in December 2019


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