Creativity festival Semi Permanent leads the way for post-Covid live experiences

For its debut in the Middle East, the Semi Permanent festival is bringing the world’s leading artists, musicians and designers to Abu Dhabi for three days

Abu Dhabi cultural venue Manarat al Saadiyat is set to be transformed this October by Australian-born creativity and design festival Semi Permanent, running as part of the inaugural Collectors Week. With a three-day program of talks, performances, dining experiences, art installations and screenings from a standout line-up of acclaimed global creative talent aimed at offering fresh and unique perspectives on our world post-pandemic.

From an exclusive interview with Grammy award-winning DJ and songwriter Mark Ronson to a pop-up bar and restaurant by New York establishment The Flower Shop and an installation by the genre-defying artist Refik Anadol, Semi Permanent is your window into the current state of global creativity.

Event program showcases the diversity of creative practices

From art and music to architecture and fashion design, the breadth of Semi Permanent’s program demonstrates the shifting nature of creativity in the 21st century. In particular, many of the projects that the speakers will discuss on stage point to a breaking down of traditional practices or structures: there are artists collaborating with fashion designers, musicians making fashion lines, graphic designers creating furniture.

According to Semi Permanent creative director and curator of the Semi Permanent Middle East festival, Mitchell Oakley Smith the event is intended to provide a window into what’s happening in the arts and design landscape — both today and into the future. “We’ve brought together some 30 incredible talents, from here in the UAE as well the United States, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and beyond, and while they vary greatly what they create, what they have in common is that they’re leaders in their field and define trends,” says Oakley Smith, noting such talent as architect Oana Stanescu, musician Dana Hourani and fashion designer Bunyamin Adin of Les Benjamins among those that will be in attendance.

“In our talks program, which anchors each ticketed session of the event, we’ll have keynote talks and conversational interviews on stage with these talents, and that’s an incredibly rare and amazing opportunity to hear directly from these tastemakers about what makes them tick, how they go about their work, and what’s next,” he adds. “To be returning to live events with such a dynamic and broad lineup, and to be doing that in Abu Dhabi as part of the inaugural Collectors Week is really exciting.”

A new format for live events

For 19 years, Sydney-based company Semi Permanent has been staging its festivals in cities across the world, including its Australian home as well as Auckland, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London, Stockholm and Portland. Over the course of nearly two decades, Semi Permanent became the largest and most recognised creativity and design festival in the southern hemisphere, with its events featuring keynote talks by esteemed creative talent including director Oliver Stone, filmmaker and photographer Gia Coppola, architect Bjarke Ingels and skateboarder Tony Hawk.

When Covid hit in early 2020, companies like Semi Permanent went into shock, the insurmountable impact of the pandemic on the live event format shuttering businesses across the globe. But instead of retreating, Semi Permanent’s founder, Murray Bell, took is as an opportunity to reinvent what a festival experience can be, the result of which will be unveiled at Manarat al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi this October.

“We’ve gone from being able to have 5000 people in a room to having less than 500, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make something that’s exciting and memorable,” says Bell. “We discovered quite the opposite: that we could craft a series of incredibly intimate experiences that bring audiences even closer to the talent, and offer a range of touch points and dynamic mix of programming.”

For Semi Permanent Middle East, that includes keynote talks and performances, but also curated exhibitions, large-scale installations, pop-up food and retail experiences and workshops. “At Semi Permanent, no two experiences will be the same, and whether you’re someone working in design or the arts, or are just keen to enjoy something new, we know this evolved event format will really inspire.”

Semi Permanent Middle East runs 14-16 October 2021 at Manarat al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. For tickets, visit:

Updated: September 26th 2021, 8:53 AM