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Arts festivals are key to nation's long-term development

Cultural events such as the Abu Dhabi Festival and Art Dubai are important to the growth of the UAE and the future of its citizens.

"Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. That is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope."

Oscar Wilde


The Abu Dhabi Festival, Art Dubai and the Sharjah Biennial have placed the UAE squarely at centre stage of the art world this month, adding significantly to this nation's rich cultural identity and reflecting a core creative ethos valuing cultivation.

Cornerstones in the sustainable development of the UAE, initiatives such as these bring cultural creativity to the forefront of public thought while nurturing future Emirati cultural leaders and practitioners. Such positioning fosters cultural diplomacy, brings thought leaders to the UAE and creates a positive environment for the development of our youth.

Cultural diplomacy is a fundamental pillar in today's interconnected world. Perceptions built on the free flow of information can often be divisive. However, artistic expression unites people from different backgrounds through the commonality of emotion - allowing the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture and identity.

Driving cultural development locally allows the UAE to be a forum for this conversation, a hub from which the smartest minds gather around expression to discuss leading issues in the context of art, be they personal, cultural, economic or social.

As the UAE strives towards a knowledge-based economy, fostering conversations among the best and brightest around issues core to the human experience is a fundamental asset that is beyond value.

Hosting these events allows us to strengthen the UAE's role in such dialogue. Through the greater exposure of Emirati artists, the public can take on a greater responsibility as the guardian of all forms of Emirati cultural expression and play a vital role in its continual evolution, consequently strengthening civic pride and personally communicating the strength of the UAE's rich cultural identity - a cradle of dynamic artistic practice that takes pride in its Arab heritage.

This conversation and its broader context create a truly inspiring environment for our youth. The famous Maltese physician and inventor Edward de Bono said it best: "There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns."

Artistic expression presents an alternative platform from which young people can explore their creativity and its application elsewhere. By exposing the next generation of Emirati leaders to different forms of cultural expression, our human capital is developed with a greater nourishment of creativity and an all-roundedness that will catalyse commercial growth and help diversify the economy.

But success depends on building a true culture of creativity beyond the core events themselves. Initiatives like those we see this month play a strong role in social inclusion, knowledge empowerment and community development; reaching out to the citizens and residents across the UAE, bringing the arts to everyone, regardless of age, ability or location. Further incubating social cohesion and the sustainability of the capital's growth, these events utilise music and the arts as effective vehicles for social unity and cultural heritage.

In strengthening an interaction with the rest of the world, this cultural engagement and soft diplomacy breathes life into mutual cultural understanding and helps position the UAE as a thriving metropolis for creativity and excellence in arts.

Creativity is humanity's greatest renewable resource. It is the one core aspect of our existence that empowers us to better our society year on year, inventing technologies, businesses and industries. And, unlike any other resource, it grows the more it is used, an exponential value cycle that can truly drive a nation's long-term development.

When someone asks why culture matters, why Art Dubai, Abu Dhabi Art, the Abu Dhabi Festival and the Sharjah Biennial mean so much to the UAE, that is my answer.


Hoda I Al Khamis-Kanoo is the founder and artistic director of the Abu Dhabi Festival

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