Abu Dhabi expects $ 6 billion in cultural spending to diversify from oil

Abu Dhabi is committed to investing $ 6 billion in the cultural and creative industry while the Gulf emirate seeks to increase its spending on post-coronavirus stimulus and diversify away from oil.

Having already committed $ 2.3 billion in projects in the sector, the government will allocate for the next five years another $ 6 billion in museum construction, in addition to making investments in sectors ranging from the media, play and music to cultural heritage, architecture and art.

“In terms of growth, we know that the creative industries will be a major contributor to GDP here in Abu Dhabi,” Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the emirate’s culture and tourism department, said in an interview.

The oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates has launched a separate $ 13.6 billion stimulus package in 2019 to prepare the emirate for a post-oil future. Accelerate diversification plans as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic with a new focus on economic development.

A “substantial part” of these new funds is earmarked for the construction of cultural institutions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which is already in an outpost of the Louvre, a major tourist attraction.

The Zayed National Museum, which shows the life of founding father Sheikh Zayed, is under construction. Preparatory work for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, both anticipated and long overdue, had been awarded, Mubarak said, with the main contract for the museum designed by Frank Gehry expected “soon”. Two more new museums are planned.

The cultural district is expected to be largely completed by 2025. It will include the Abrahamic Family Home, a facility for interfaith dialogue that includes a mosque, a church and a synagogue.

With 20,000 people already employed in the creative and cultural sector, Abu Dhabi hopes its investment in infrastructure and partnerships will create another 15,000 jobs over the next four years. At Yas Creative Hub, a new media area with tenants like CNN, they are expected to welcome 8,000 workers by the end of the year.

The expansion of the creative sector, while aiming to create jobs for citizens, will also require overseas talent. Abu Dhabi, along with other emirates, has launched a special visa to facilitate the entry of skilled workers.

Residents of Middle Eastern countries often complain about the difficulty of securing visas for the UAE concerned by security. But Mubarak said authorities were in liaison to work on a “seamless” process with quick checks, and also considered subsidies and other incentives to help “every single demographic income” thrive in the expensive city. “If you’re an artist, you’ll have the opportunity to flourish in the most cost-effective way,” he said.

During the pandemic, the emirate invested $ 200 million in film production, he said. About 1,000 people took part in the film Mission Impossible 7 in the emirate earlier this year.

The oil-rich capital competes directly with Dubai, the country’s traditional center for the creative industry. The capital has already launched its financial center and its initial technology center in competition with its oil-poor neighbor. But Mubarak said the creative industry’s “cake” was big enough for the two cities.

He also raised his concerns about the impact of the UAE’s strict restrictions on freedom of expression. He pointed towards wider reforms, including the granting of long-term visas and also of nationality to some expats.

“We are an evolving state that evolves with our times,” he said. “We’ve already seen this year that we’ve seen massive policy changes, so you can see how we think ahead as we become.”

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