Dubai's thriving cultural scene will emerge stronger than ever after Covid-19

When asked to name one hallmark that truly defines Dubai, it is its forward-looking spirit that first comes to mind. From its beginnings as a seafaring and trading port, Dubai's culture has been founded on openness and adaptability. This has been demonstrated by the emirate’s fast and pragmatic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Within days of the outbreak, employees across both public and private sectors were asked to work from home. Government entities swiftly shifted resources and operations online and implemented emergency regulations to protect and empower all critical workforce personnel, who shielded our people and safeguarded our communities. Our leaders frequented the front lines and lauded essential workers for keeping vital services going.

In fact, our leaders took charge from the front lines themselves. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ensured that everyone living in the UAE felt secure amid a health crisis that sparked anxiety worldwide.

Years ago, Sheikh Mohammed had ensured the digitisation of the country's services and that paid off – government services operated around the clock. Sheikh Mohammed even joined pupils and teachers on their first day of online learning.

He remained determined and steadfast so that residents could return to work and their livelihoods in record time, pressing ahead with national projects that contribute to the high quality of life, welfare and progress that the UAE is known for.

But the efficiency of this response was not only limited to public health and safety. This agility also helped reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, under the directives of Sheikh Mohammed, unveiled a stimulus package worth Dh6.3 billion to protect businesses across the emirate.

Like for all other industries, the Ministry of Culture and Youth rallied to support our creative community through the National Culture Relief Programme. Similarly, the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority has been in constant talks with members of Dubai’s cultural industry, listening to their concerns, noting their needs and strategising ways to not only lessen the impact on their careers but also to devise ways of experiencing culture and doing business in the course of this "new normal".

This is the spirit of Dubai and the UAE. Our success lies in working as a team

After gathering immense feedback from the industry, the Authority teamed up with the Art Jameel Research and Practice Platform to award micro grants to artists and creative practitioners who had been impacted. Dubai Culture also partnered with LinkedIn to provide creative professionals with free, specialised e-learning courses, networking and development opportunities with peers and access to an insightful bank of data for future studies and research.

Finally, it supported the Global Grad Show’s open call to students from different fields to propose solutions to problems posed by the spread of Covid-19. These are merely starting points of projects we have in the pipeline to support the cultural industry through this crisis and beyond.

This is the spirit of Dubai and the UAE. Our success lies in working as a team. We in Dubai look to the future with hope, optimism and the determination to achieve our goals. We see challenges as opportunities to grow and break the mould of the ordinary. We strive to innovate and improve the status quo, bearing in mind the happiness of the people of Dubai.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in every industry, including the art world. When the pandemic hit, Dubai’s creatives and cultural institutions displayed their resilience and entrepreneurial spirit. Within days, they moved their operations and content online and, most importantly, made culture accessible for everyone, everywhere. Art enthusiasts joined Alserkal Avenue’s Galleries Night online. Art Dubai invited collectors and the public to visit their virtual viewing rooms and events. And so, arts and culture provided stress relief, entertainment, and learning opportunities for children and adults alike. More than anything, they provided hope.

Alserkal Avenue, the arts district in Al Quoz, Dubai, is hosting a fundraising day for Beirut disaster relief. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue
Alserkal Avenue, the arts district in Al Quoz, Dubai. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue

This comes as no surprise. Being the home of the world’s busiest airport and thanks to Dubai's position as the digital capital of the Middle East, the city is already a highly connected crossroads of business and culture. Guided by our forward-thinking leadership, institutions such as the Dubai Future Foundation and Smart Dubai Department, our research and investment in digital transformation, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and smart cities make Dubai not only a pioneer in smart governance, but also accelerates its digital transition during the pandemic.

Innovation and digitisation also sit at the heart of the development of our cultural sector. Dubai’s Museum of the Future, nearing completion, will explore how technology and AI can help shape our future and enhance lives. Furthermore, the Global Grad Show nurtures the next generation of innovators by providing a platform to showcase graduates’ design products from all over the world with high social value. Dubai Design Week showcases the best of state-of-the art design solutions.

A visitor at an art gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai.
A visitor at an art gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai

So while Dubai’s cultural sector may be relatively young compared to established art centres in the West and Far East, its youthfulness and forward-looking spirit helps businesses and the creative community adapt, innovate, and future-proof our industry. This is why I am confident that we will emerge stronger. As we look to reopen our cultural spaces, the spirit of solidarity and resilience that we have witnessed will live on, restore our drive, and renew our hopes for the journey ahead.

By working together, we transform setbacks into learnings, and challenges into opportunities for further growth. Our determination to improve and innovate stems from our shared ambition to foster the happiness and well-being of the people of Dubai. Our consistent commitment to digital innovation and infrastructure is bearing fruit and promising to deliver solutions to safeguard and protect our heritage.

The pandemic may have disrupted most aspects of our lives but far from hindering Dubai’s cultural ambitions, it has cemented them. I look forward to working with our peers in the industry to ensure our progressive cultural scene and our forward-looking spirit live on for generations to come.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is chairperson of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Updated: May 2, 2021 11:56 AM


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