Throughout human history, the role of culture has gone hand in hand with the advancement of human development, and been pivotal to the formation of complex, civilised societies. Active cultural participation is a journey of learning and discovery. It is an important instrument in stimulating creativity, progress and prosperity.
In particular, culture reminds us of our common identity as human beings, irrespective of where we come from, the language we speak or the customs and traditions we inherit and by which we live our lives. Through culture, our voices, memories and stories – individually and collectively – have the power to reveal a sense of wonder and magic in everyday experience.
For the Department of Culture and Tourism, improving access to culture in all of its forms is one of our fundamental pillars. Our vision is, in fact, focused on fostering cultural interaction, creativity, tolerance, diversity and a sense of shared identity.
Today, technology is an effective tool for amplifying culture, enabling us to overcome challenges related to the accessibility of information and valuable content from cultural sites and museums.
With this in mind, DCT Abu Dhabi has launched a new initiative, CulturAll, to grant universal access to Abu Dhabi's cultural sites and programmes through online virtual reality tools. The platform delivers dynamic content from our most prominent sites and institutions, such as Manarat Al Saadiyat, Qasr Al Hosn, Berklee Abu Dhabi, Cultural Foundation and Abu Dhabi Art through DCT Abu Dhabi social media channels.
CulturAll looks to transform the physical experience of our most distinguished cultural assets into a virtual one, making them available to people across Abu Dhabi, the UAE and around the world. This will enable the widest possible range of audiences to discover and explore the cultural foundations of the emirate.
Experts from each institution are developing content across a variety of topics, including contemporary art, archaeological sites, music, handicrafts and heritage. CulturAll’s content is designed for maximum visual enjoyment and engagement via social media.
The entertaining, interactive CulturAll content falls under three key themes: ‘Create’, ‘Explore’ and ‘Meet’. ‘Create’ invites the public to share their own creative content and provides guiding tips and online demos. ‘Explore’ allows audiences to access DCT Abu Dhabi’s cultural activities and programmes, such as concerts, exhibitions, festivals, conferences and forums through video, audio recordings and published materials. ‘Meet’ presents new ideas and concepts from experts with whom DCT Abu Dhabi collaborates internationally, and includes interactive sessions with artists, historians, architects, curators and many others.
In light of the current crisis that has temporarily shuttered cultural sites throughout Abu Dhabi, CulturAll harnesses the power of technology to facilitate access to our emirate’s unique cultural assets even in a time of isolation and limited movement. It enables us to continue learning, sharing knowledge and broadening our horizons despite our current inability to physically experience these cultural treasures.
Aside from launching new initiatives, DCT Abu Dhabi continues to develop its digital cultural assets to encourage reading and to facilitate access to knowledge for the largest possible audience. With many of us confined to our homes, now is the time to dig into a new book, delve into a volume of poems, or listen to your favourite author reading their newest title.
Seeking to inspire all those with a love for the written word, The Poetry Encyclopedia, one of the largest online reference centres for Arab poetry, is continuously supplied with new material, including previously unpublished items. The list of DCT Abu Dhabi publications converted into digital and audio formats is also growing regularly, ensuring that they can easily reach a larger segment of those interested in literature, science, heritage and other subjects.
Meanwhile, Kalima Reading Club has tackled the challenge of social distancing by taking its discussion sessions virtual and enriching the content of its social media channels.
All challenging situations present opportunities, and the present halt in activity gives us a chance to review and develop our cultural programmes and the ways we implement them. Libraries across the emirate continue to offer new methods of holding seminars, meetings, workshops and reading programmes remotely, using multimedia and advanced technology, while our digital library, which includes millions of references, addresses and specialised databases, is one of the most important sources of knowledge we make available.
With this egalitarian access to culture in mind, Louvre Abu Dhabi will also soon launch enhanced digital assets and activities to continue engaging audiences around the world with the museum’s treasures. These include virtual tours of the museum’s current exhibitions, and a series spotlighting masterpieces from the museum’s collection. Fun, interactive online videos and activities for young art lovers bring families together to learn and play, while digital learning resources for teachers can be used to engage students once schools start up again. In the spirit of culture for everyone, all of these digital resources will be available for free on Louvre Abu Dhabi’s website and social media channels.
Culture is a unifying force in our interconnected global community. Its progressive effects and ability to distil the shared themes that define human existence act as a catalyst for peace and positive interaction. Communities are strengthened by the championing and development of their creative outlets, which provide a thriving platform for all cultures to explore, learn and share. Artistic expression, at its core, reveals commonalities in the nature of humanity and highlights the transcultural landscape of the world we live in.
In these trying times, we hope that our new cultural approaches and initiatives will contribute to deepening our sense of belonging, expressing our national identity and keeping our hearts and minds active and open to inspiration, wherever we are in the world.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak is Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi