‘Steam’ power may hold the key to future innovation and growth

The arts contribute greatly to society, writes Her Excellency Hoda I Al Khamis-Kanoo.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck once said that a pioneering scientist must have a vivid intuitive imagination “for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination”.

It is widely accepted today that the strength of a country’s economy will be determined by its success in innovation. Planning and preparing for such a future is practically impossible, apart from investing in innovation. As recognised by the Government, the creativity that fuels innovation within society must be the core of a country’s development plans. This will allow youth to think differently and create solutions that are based on new ways of thinking. This is why innovation plays an increasingly important role in government policy, as exemplified by the Government’s National Innovation Strategy.

It could be argued that the success of our economic future will depend on being a leader in innovation. So we must consider how best to prepare future generations of innovators and what it would take to make this happen.

Investment in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) teaching is a move in the right direction, but I believe that this should include art. So Stem would become Steam: science, technology, engineering, art and maths. Whether directly emphasised within the academic syllabus or through extra-curricular programmes such as the ones we create at the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (Admaf), the balance between these subjects is essential. Without art, the other elements would limit originality and creativity. Science and technology can aspire to find clear answers to problems, whereas art creates the questions. Art fuels an inquisitive mind that inspires new ways of thinking whatever the field of specialisation.

It is the unique nature of art that makes it the perfect incubator and catalyst of innovative and creative thinking. The perfect environment to help science, technology, engineering and maths thrive. Put simply, art can connect the dots of successful innovation and creativity, which are necessary elements to create new industries in the future. New industries and the jobs they bring, will be the basis of our economic well-being.

Art also contributes significantly to the well-being of society. Life-enhancing and entertaining, it defines our personal and national identities.

We instinctively know this, but often take it for granted. Imagine for a moment, a society without the influence of the arts and you’ll have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life – and much that is educationally vital. Imagine taking the history out of museums, removing poetry from the curriculum and traditional music from our communities, losing the concerts and performances in theatres, the books in our libraries, having no more festivals dedicated to culture, literature and painting. What’s left would be a society without a national conversation about its identity or the cultural context within which it connects with the rest of the world.

Admaf fills the cultural space, striving to make programmes such as the Abu Dhabi Festival more expansive, colourful, entertaining and thought-provoking year on year. At the heart of our ambitions is the need to harness cross-cultural, cross-sectoral and cross-border perspectives. This is why we will bring in the likes of Sergio Mendes, Juan Diego Flores, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mayssa Karaa to this year’s festival. This is why we expand our Riwaq Al Fikr debates each year; stimulating further discourse on the subject of art and its relationship with science and technology. And this is why we emphasise the societal benefits of the arts, such as the environmentally friendly Earth Hour and Music in Hospitals series. Art and culture make a holistic contribution to society because of its inherent value, symbiotic relationship with education and its incubation of innovative thinking.

Her Excellency Hoda I Al Khamis-Kanoo is founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the Abu Dhabi Festival