What a Unesco City of Music status for Abu Dhabi means for the cultural sector

The recent designation is an acknowledgement of the UAE capital's dedication and investment in arts and culture

More global collaborations and international concerts will take place in Abu Dhabi after its designation as a Unesco City of Music.

The UAE capital was granted the distinction on Monday by the Unesco Creative Cities Network, a programme launched by the UN agency to promote co-operation among cities recognised as cultural hubs regionally and internationally.

Since its launch in 2004, the City of Music initiative has welcomed more than 50 locations, with Abu Dhabi joining Liverpool in England, Ramallah in Palestine, Spain's Seville and the German city of Mannheim.

Ronald Perlwitz, head of the music programme for the Department of Culture and Tourism − Abu Dhabi, says the capital's place among these cities is a testament to its focus and investment in culture.

With the Cultural Foundation and Louvre Abu Dhabi, plus the arrival of music institute Berklee Abu Dhabi and the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre, Perlwitz says the city is building a formidable reputation as an international cultural hub.

“It’s a message to the world that we consider culture is important in all aspects of society,” he says. “And by joining this network of like-minded cities we can share knowledge and experiences and work on things that are on a bigger global scale.”

Exporting talent

As a curator of Abu Dhabi Classics, a music series of eclectic concerts ranging from Arabic folk to Italian opera, Perlwitz is excited by the prospect of showcasing Abu Dhabi’s diverse music scene internationally.

The City of Music status allows Abu Dhabi to benefit from the Unesco Creative Cities Network's comprehensive global array of industry contacts, including musicians, festival organisers and influential cultural figures, to create opportunities for UAE musicians to collaborate with peers at home and abroad.

“You know, bringing an international artist to Abu Dhabi is relatively easy, in that you find them and once you agree, it’s all about scheduling,” Perlwitz says.

"But now locally based musicians in Abu Dhabi can get in touch with others from around the world and create common projects together and instead of just importing talent we can take the next step of exporting as well."

This is not only done through events organised through DCT Abu Dhabi. Independent UAE musicians are also encouraged to go online to the Cities of Music website and forge their own connections.

Good energy in Abu Dhabi

Such opportunities are music to the ears of Lebanese singer-songwriter and Berklee Abu Dhabi artistic director Mayssa Karaa.

As an artist renowned for her expansive collaborations, including with Grammy Award-winning composer AR Rahman and Emirati pop star Hussain Al Jassmi for Expo 2020 Dubai, she says established and aspiring artists stand to benefit from Abu Dhabi’s inclusion in the City of Music network.

"We now have access to this accumulated wealth of talent and experience," she says. "Berklee Abu Dhabi students will benefit from this because our vision has always been to create a rich music ecosystem here that can build international bridges though contemporary music and dance.

"With Abu Dhabi a City of Music, we feel even more aligned now in transforming arts education and empowering artists to be better."

NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre's executive artistic director Bill Bragin says the designation will also encourage wider support for the city’s cultural scene from all sectors.

“So much of how I see Abu Dhabi has developed is through first recognising the goals and visions, then putting those aspirations out front and once people see how all of this is a priority then the right conditions fall in line behind it,” he says.

“There is a lot of good energy happening around and what this does is validate the efforts so far.”

While satisfied with the growth of Abu Dhabi’s cultural sector, Perlwitz says the City of Music association marks the next step of that evolution.

One thing the that had to be demonstrated in Abu Dhabi's application to join the network was "the impact this designation will have on the sustainable development of the city", he recalls.

"So this shows that Abu Dhabi as a City of Music is not about looking back at our great achievements in the past, but about looking ahead. It's about saying music will help us develop this beautiful city in very positive direction – one that we have already been on for years.”

Updated: November 14th 2021, 7:02 AM