Arts in the Gulf have enormous potential for growth

It's time to turn the spotlight on the many talented artists in the Arab world

Najat Makki, Emirati visual artist interacts with the young artists at the workshop in the Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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The arts play many roles in society and anywhere in the world, a society's evolution is deeply connected to the arts. The arts give people opportunities and ways to express themselves, to relate to one another, reflect, grow, unwind and enjoy themselves. Today, more than ever, and following challenging economic times, we need arts and culture as a source of inspiration.

Community has always been at the heart of Arab culture and the arts have always played a significant role in building and maintaining kinship, civic engagement and overall progress of the people.

The Gulf region is known across the globe for its rich culture and heritage that spans over a thousand years. Arabs have a long history of contributions to various disciplines that have helped shape the world we live in, from science and technology to education. However, arts and culture especially have always held a unique space.

The complexity and diversity of the Arab experience is reflected across various forms of art, from storytelling, which has evolved over centuries and with the times, to poetry, books, music and visual arts. The Islamic Golden Age is most notably known as an era when Arab works flourished, yet there has never been a dearth of talent in the region.

From painters to literary minds, to designers and filmmakers, Arabs continue to do their best at creating excellent art and gaining recognition. Governments in the region have also been proactive in growing these sectors, from planning and hosting film and book festivals, art shows, exhibitions and celebrating creativity from all other parts of the world.

The Royal Opera House in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman on Tuesday evening, Oct. 11, 2011, during the first dress rehearsal of its inaugural season. The premiere production, opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, which will open to the public on October 14th, was specially commissioned by the opera house to be led and designed by the Italian director and producer Franco Zeffirelli, and the Fondazione Arena di Verona orchestra will be conducted by the famous Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. (Silvia Razgova/The National)

Arab talent is well-represented across media and museums across the globe but there is still plenty of room to innovate and look for new opportunities to support people in creative fields so that the region achieves its full potential.

Furthermore, investing in the region's arts and culture scene will open up new streams of revenue, create employment, entrepreneurial opportunities and support the economies in coming years.

Unesco has noted that cultural and creative industries are among the fastest growing sectors in the world, worth an estimated $4.3 trillion and accounting for 6.1 per cent of the global economy. These industries have created close to 30 billion jobs and employ a higher percentage of people aged 15-29 than any other industry.

Business investors in the GCC region must look towards opportunities in the arts and culture realm and work closely with creatives in order to channel resources towards maximum mutual benefit. They must also engage directly with educational institutions that produce graduates from creative fields to create mentorship programmes, workshops and networks that support the industry and all its stakeholders.

Perhaps spotlighting creative interests among students at schools as well as higher education institutions will encourage a greater percentage of young Arabs to pursue their passions professionally. Grants, awards, scholarships, and funding for creative pursuits could be a great support to those who are trying to establish themselves.

Youth in the GCC region, including students, aspiring creatives, job seekers and entrepreneurs, should be encouraged to explore opportunities locally and also to participate in collectives to cultivate an environment that is collaborative and synergistic.

Governments can add to existing platforms and infrastructure for creative sectors and ensure accessibility to young creatives and professionals. Also, while tourism industries do engage with culture in the region there is more potential to highlight the diversity and richness of creativity that is a part of Arab tradition.

The GCC region has witnessed a series of major transformations over the past few decades, but the best outcomes have always been built on tradition such as entrepreneurship and community-centric thinking. Preserving Arab heritage and adapting it to the modern world with an innovative lens is the way to move ahead while remaining connected to our roots.

The region has come a long way but there are still many untapped opportunities and there is no better time than now to bring the spotlight on brilliant, creative artists among us. We must empower them, invest in their work and collaborate in order to support broader socio-economic goals that will drive the region forward.

Published: September 12, 2023, 7:00 AM