Taking Dubai’s creative pulse

UPDATED 27, 30 June, 9 July and 5 August 2021 The UAE’s first ever statistical study on the creative economy has been published by Dubai Statistics Center for Dubai Culture. Centring on Dubai, of course, it puts up some facts to support the idea that the creative economy contributes significantly in terms of GDP; and that the emirate’s integrated infrastructure qualifies it to be a global hub for attracting investment in creative industries.

This is the first example of output from what’s being termed ‘the Dubai Creative Pulse’, an integrated economic classification and measurement framework aimed at measuring the health of the creative economy against international standards.

The numbers themselves are interesting rather than stunning, and we weren’t given too many of them; but importantly they do provide a baseline for assessing future progress. The value of the cultural and creative industries grew by nearly seven per cent between 2018 and 2019. The emirate’s total GDP had also grown, though not by as much (up 2.88 percent to AED 436 billion); so the CCI’s share of GDP grew overall to 5.1 percent in 2019, up a shade from 4.9% the year before.

GDPAED 424,133mAED 436,345m+2.88%
CCI valueAED 11,164mAED 11,665m+6.79%
CCI share of GDP2.6%2.7%

Note: in the original article the press release announcing the analysis didn’t actually include GDP figures for the emirate, so we had back-calculated these. But now Dubai Culture has come up with the numbers in the table above: “the GDP should be based on current prices and the data published in DSC website from 2006-2019” said the accompanying note. We’re happy to correct this. The share of GDP represented by CCI is as indicated above.

The statistics define the creative economy in the emirate in seven main sectors: design and creative services, audiovisual and interactive media, books and press, visual arts and crafts, “performing arts and celebration”, cultural education, and cultural and natural heritage. There are of course a mass of subsectors within those broad headings.

The number of businesses operating profitably in the creative and cultural industries increased impressively, from 7,445 in 2018 to 9,772 in 2019. This produced more jobs in total, up from 69,341 employees in 2018 to 75,998 employees in 2019, representing a growth of 9.6 percent.

Average no of employees9.37.8

Another note: we originally took the number of jobs and employers for 2018 directly from the press release, but there were slight differences between that data and figures in an accompanying graphic. Dubai Culture subsequently explained that “2018 data [was] corrected as a result of reclassification of economic activities”.

This particularly affected the number of employers in 2018, which is now significantly lower than we had originally indicated. The principal effect of this is to show a really impressive rise in the number of CCI business employing people – up by nearly a third between 2018 and 2019. And clearly these are smaller businesses with fewer staff, since the number of employees has gone up by a much smaller proportion.

The Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, launched a few weeks ago, has a target of 15,000 creative and cultural institutions and 140,000 jobs in the sector by 2026. Crucially, there’s also a target of five percent for the CCI’s share of the emirate’s GDP; hitting that in the next five years would be an impressive achievement.

Incidentally, while the total number of active enterprises was up 17 percent in 2019, it’s clear the number of people working in each company was down slightly – 8.3 per employer in 2018, 7.8 in 2019.

That’s echoed in the split by business size. In turn, the number of very small, small, and medium-sized institutions – fully 98 percent of them count as ‘small’ or ‘very small’; and 70 percent of them come under the heading ‘Design and Creative Services’, which you’d expect to be mainly small teams.

This certainly emphasises Dubai Culture’s needs to for a strategic focus on entrepreneurs and SMEs. The Dubai Creative Economy Strategy and the development of Al Quoz Creative Zone (described as “a pilot strategic project” for the future roll-out of more creative zones in the coming years) will obviously be key.

Hala Badri, DG of Dubai Culture (right), said that her authority has developed “programmes and initiatives of strategic importance that form the essential pillars for the growth of the cultural and creative industries in the emirate and enhance its position to be a regional and international centre for the creative economy within an integrated system that contributes to achieving Dubai’s comprehensive economic development”.

Actually we suspect she didn’t really say this, so much as agree to sign off on a committee’s portmanteau of list items to be covered one way or another. These were immediately followed by “our agenda to support the global efforts towards the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development 2021 declared by the United Nations to promote sustainable and inclusive growth as well as highlight the role of creativity in the economy”.

So let’s deconstruct those bullet points:

  • “programmes and initiatives of strategic importance” – to service the 2026 target of five percent contribution to GDP (and 15,000 employers with 140,000 jobs in the sector)
  • “essential pillars for the growth of the cultural and creative industries in the emirate” – major projects, initiatives and partnerships, and specific infrastructure and legislative moves aimed at improving the sustainability of the sector and the emirate’s ability to attract talent
  • “enhance its position to be a regional and international centre for the creative economy” – there’s always a soft power angle to government communications in the UAE
  • “within an integrated system that contributes to achieving Dubai’s comprehensive economic development” – see point one above
  • “supporting UN’s International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development 2021” – this proposal was adopted by the General Assembly back in 2019 to recognise the need to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, foster innovation and provide opportunities, benefits and empowerment for all. UN member states are encouraged all to spend the year (“in accordance with national priorities”) to raise awareness, promote cooperation and networking, encourage sharing best practices and experiences, enhance human resource capacity, promote an enabling environment, and tackle the challenges of the creative economy. Dubai is certainly doing its bit there.

There’s a clear-eyed approach to the value of investing in the sector, one that could usefully be adopted by other economies. Four significant advantages are helpfully identified by Dubai Culture:

  • Direct input into economic growth, especially sustainable growth from GDP contributions and job creation
  • A knock-on effect in other areas such as IT and comms, real estate, tourism, and hospitality.
  • Job durability since the creative industries not particularly vulnerable to the automation that will surely decimate other sectors
  • Making the city more attractive both to visitors and to would-be entrepreneurs and skilled workers.

UPDATE 30 June 2021 Here’s an infographic that shows the breakdown of CCI’s economic value by sector. (What actually constitutes each sector isn’t defined, so the massive contribution of ‘design and creative services’ could cover everything from a freelancer with Photoshop to a huge advertising agency.)

‘Output’ is defined here as “the value of final end-products and services provided by an establishment authorised to provide them to other units as well as any goods and services provided for self-consumption”

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