The infrastructure of culture

Coming soon: teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi

AEA Consulting’s Cultural Infrastructure Index is always an interesting read. Established back in 2016, it aims to provide an overview of investment in big cultural sector projects, specifically those a budget of $10 million or more that were publicly announced or completed within a calendar year. AEA’s compilers don’t claim that the Index is exhaustive, but “it is intended to provide an accurate picture of trends in global cultural infrastructure investment”; and with a caveat or two (see below) it does just that.

The report for 2022 has just been published, and it suggests that investment in such projects is back to pre-pandemic levels. AEA counted 185 projects completed in 2022 and another 225 that were announced; between them, they represent just over $15 billion worth of investment ($7.8bn billion in completions, $7.3bn in announcements).

That’s the highest number of announcements recorded since AEA began tracking in 2016, almost 30 percent up on 2021’s then-record of 174 projects. The total value of those projects was also up, from $6.5bn to $7.3bn, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that this means the average value was down slightly – around $37.4m for 2021, $32.4m in 2022.

Otherwise, the trend is definitely upwards, certainly in gross numerical terms. Across the Index’s seven years of data, the number of completed projects has increased on average by 11 percent each year. With a rush of GCC projects in the pipeline, we’d expect a major increase in the next few years – Saudi Arabia alone aims to open more than 200 cultural attractions by 2030, most of them high-status high-value developments like the large-scale Centre Pompidou in AlUla due to open in 2028 or 2029. Qatar’s Art Mill doesn’t seem to be in the Index’s lists, either, but that was presumably because it was announced in 2021. Abu Dhabi can be expected to contribute substantially to the completed projects total when the Guggenheim, the Zayed National Museum and the Natural History Museum are handed over.

The Index provides information on the number, type, location, and budgets of cultural infrastructure projects announced and completed in the year. It also tracks trends across project types as well as uses, geographical spread and year-on-year changes.

All this demonstrates that the major action remains in the West – the Middle East, for example, contributes only eight new and five completed projects to the 2022 total (see the list below). By contrast, there were 104 announced and 63 completed in North America alone.

Indeed, the majority of cultural projects are in a handful of countries – Australia, China, the UK and the US account for two-thirds of total investment. But Asia is coming up fast, with 39 announced and 44 completed projects. Indian investment alone more than tripled, from $51 million to $235 million.

Most of the projects are museums and art galleries, of course, representing just under half of all completions and slightly more than half of announcements. The development of cultural districts also shows some signs of growth, albeit from a low base (the investment in Al Quoz Creative Zone doesn’t feature, but maybe it’s too piecemeal to be counted.) This year’s Index also provides a closer look at the rise of purpose-built immersive and digital cultural experiences, including the forthcoming teamLab Phenomena in Abu Dhabi.

The attribution of investment, incidentally, is a bit patchy. Most of the Middle East’s projects don’t have a publicly declared value, for instance – the competitions have Dubai’s Museum of the Future listed at $136m, among the announcements is the Qatar Auto Museum at $100m, and that’s it. Presumably the compilers just guessed that the other projects made it over the $10m barrier (they’re probably right). And this caveat covers the relative lack of data from our region: “The Index only captures projects that are announced formally as either planned or completed. Almost all completed projects have been formally announced, but not all planned projects are. For example, we are aware that there are numerous cultural infrastructure projects in the Gulf
region that are in an advanced stage of planning but will not be captured in the Index until they are completed …”

If you want to check the Index for yourself, it’s available for free download here.

Middle East projects completed

Argo Factory Contemporary Art Museum & Cultural CentreIranCultural Hub
3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports MuseumQatarMuseum/Gallery
Museum of Islamic ArtQatarMuseum/Gallery
Fenaa Alawwal Cultural CentreSaudi ArabiaMultifunction arts venue
Museum of the FutureUAEMultifunction arts venue

Middle East projects announced

Clock Tower of Tabriz Cultural Heritage MuseumIranMuseum/Gallery
Oman Cultural ComplexOmanCultural Hub
Dadu, Children’s Museum of QatarQatarMuseum/Gallery
Lusail MuseumQatarMuseum/Gallery
Qatar Auto MuseumQatarMuseum/Gallery
Hira Cultural DistrictSaudi ArabiaCultural Hub
Natural History Museum Abu DhabiUAEMuseum/Gallery
teamLab PhenomenaUAEMultifunction arts venue

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