Abu Dhabi: now officially a ‘City of Music’

Abu Dhabi has joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, an initiative launched in 2004 to promote cooperation among cities which recognise creativity as a major factor in their sustainable urban development plans.

The Network allows member cities to select only one activity from the seven on offer, a somewhat restricted interpretation of creative endeavours that comprises Crafts & Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts – and Music, which has been Abu Dhabi’s pick.

There are around 250 members of the Creative Cities Network, just over 40 of them ‘Cities of Music’. They range from Adelaide to Vranje (Serbia) and include Auckland, Bogotá, Glasgow, Kansas City (?) and of course Liverpool.

Candidate cites self-nominate with “an application that clearly demonstrates their willingness, commitment and capacity to contribute to the objectives of the [Creative Cities] Network. Those objectives comprise an entirely commendable list that includes a brief to make creativity an essential component of urban development, broadening opportunities for creative professionals, improving access to cultural life, and international cooperation between member cities.

Abu Dhabi regards culture (and by extension creativity) as an essential driver of social development and economic diversification. The claim that music is one of the culture and creative industry sectors which has seen “significant levels of investment and support” is less convincing. True, Bait Al Oud is a genuinely significant homegrown academy for Arab music, and the Sounds of the UAE concert series at the Cultural Foundation provides Emirati musicians with a significant platform for bring regional music to a wider audience (including a degree of innovation alongside the traditional emphasis).

For contemporary music they are complemented by the (commercial) Berklee Abu Dhabi, the academic Music Program at NYUAD, and The Arts Center’s schedule of performances and associated workshops.

Otherwise ADMAF’s annual Abu Dhabi Festival has been running since 2004, heavily music-oriented and geared to individual or short-run concerts of mainstream classical music typically from Western orchestras. Much the same applies to DCT-Abu Dhabi’s Abu Dhabi Classics programme, currently in its ninth series.

The commitment mentioned as part of the Creative Cities qualification should also include “a realistic action plan” for the next four years that has specific projects, initiatives or policies. It’s not clear whether Abu Dhabi is proposing anything additional to the present calendar of musical events or institutions, but the DCT-Abu Dhabi press release suggests that the UNESCO designation will allow Abu Dhabi” to continue its cultural mission of expanding the music sector as part of the commitment to grow the culture and creative industries”.

This apparently includes supporting the development of a local music scene and recording industry (both of which are distinctly undernourished at present at the grassroots level, with a couple of laudable exceptions) and increasing music contribution to film, TV, and gaming (which is indeed one of the priorities for twofour54’s Yas Creative Hub).

Incidentally, any UNESCO member country can have up to four Creative Cities within its borders. It would be interesting to see if Dubai goes for design, say, or Sharjah for film …

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