The creative pivot away from oil in Abu Dhabi

Coming real soon now? The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi government is planning to invest a further $6bn in the cultural and creative industries over the next five years as the emirate uses the need for a post-pandemic stimulus to continue its diversification away from its economic dependence on oil.

Mohamed Al Mubarak, chair of DCT – Abu Dhabi (right), chose to outline his plans in an interview with the Financial Times rather than the local media or specialist culture or tourism outlets. The link between the creative sector and the wider economy could not be clearer: “in terms of growth, we know creative industries are going to be a major contributor to GDP here in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Abu Dhabi has already committed $2.3bn to projects in the creative sector, primarily via the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the impressive makeover of the Cultural Foundation site, and the rehabilitation of historic Al Ain. Over the next five years the additional $6bn will become available for “investments in sectors ranging from media, gaming and music to cultural heritage, architecture and the arts”.

The biggest single chunk is apparently earmarked for museums, with the Zayed National Museum – already under construction – likely to get the lion’s share. But Al Mubarak did confirm to the FT that preparatory work for the much-delayed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is under way, with the main contract for the Frank Gehry-designed museum expected to be awarded “soon”.

Tadao Ando’s Maritime Museum is a calm, elegant and deceptively simple structure with ramps and floating decks that guide visitors fluidly through the exhibition space

Two other new museums are planned, apparently, which is good news: one will presumably be the structure in the render above, the rather beautiful Maritime Museum designed way back in 2006-7 by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. (There again, it may be two other completely different museums; the Maritime Museum has disappeared from the main menu of the DCT Abu Dhabi website, though the page is still live.)

Also due to get investment is the Abrahamic Family House, a facility for interfaith dialogue comprising a mosque, church and synagogue – the Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque, St Francis Church, Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue – that has been designed by David Adjaye (Saadiyat is going to be something of a must-visit destination for lovers of high-class architecture, which is of course the point).

Scheduled to open in 2022, the Abrahamic Family House “epitomises interfaith harmonious coexistence and preserves the unique character of each religion … It personifies Abu Dhabi’s vision for human fraternity and embeds coexistence into the already diverse cultural fabric of the UAE,” according to the quote from Mohamed Al Mubarak in the press release. It also makes the point that three of the world’s major religions share a common root – the vision of a god that is omnipotent, eternal, omniscient and created the universe really ought to be something that binds rather than separates.

David Adjaye’s complex of three buildings for the Abrahamic Family House, in context with the Louvre and the Zayed National Musuem

The Saadiyat Cultural District is set to be finished more or less completely by 2025, which would certainly represent a massive acceleration by previous standards.

Back at the FT interview, Mohamed Al Mubarak noted that some 20,000 people are already counted as being employed in the Emirate’s creative and cultural sector. The investment in infrastructure and partnerships aims to add a further 15,000 jobs over the next four years, most of them in twofour54’s Yas Creative Hub. This new relocated media zone is on track for a phase one opening late this year, with approximately 77,890m2 of net leasable space that will start taking media-related companies from twofour54’s existing campus by Khalifa Park.

CNN, Ubisoft and Unity Technologies are among those already confirmed to rent space there. Once complete in ten years or so, the development should be one of the most advanced content creation hubs in the world, with a total of 270,000m2 for content creation, broadcast media, advertising and video game development. That will be integrated within a fully walkable, landscaped campus that includes parks, cafes, restaurants, “wellness facilities” (aka gyms?), an outdoor amphitheatre, rooftop terraces, and direct pedestrian access to Miral’s Yas Bay Waterfront and Etihad Arena.

Yas Creative Hub, due to start taking tenants this year

Mubarak told the FT that the Yas campus should have 8,000 people working there by the end of the year; the existing twofour54 site has around 5,000 folk in some 600 companies.

The FT interview also raised the potentially sensitive subject of the UAE’s restrictions on freedom of expression, a concern for many Western artists and others who have read about kidnapped sheikhas and abused construction workers. Al Mubarak’s view is that “we are an evolving state that is evolving with our times … We have already this year seen massive policy changes, so you can see how forward thinking we are becoming”.

Exactly how and where the UAE is making these forward moves is a matter for debate – there are clear avenues of progress, but some areas remaining resolutely no-go – but at least Abu Dhabi, along with other emirates, has launched a special visa to facilitate the entry of skilled workers with plans for a “seamless” process with rapid approvals.

Al Mubarak also noted that the authorities are considering a variety of incentives to assist “every single income demographic” thrive in what is after all a relatively expensive city in an expensive country. “If you are an artist, you will have the opportunity to flourish in the most economically effective way,” he said.

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