Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) shares his views
Louvre Abu Dhabi: "People said that it cannot be done"
A few days before the opening date of Louvre Abu Dhabi was due to be announced, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) spoke to The National.
"When you’ve been on a job for so long, especially a job like this which is so technically difficult, when people have said that it cannot be done and when there has been a lot of hardship - it’s been a very stressful job for everybody - it’s easy to forget that in a couple of months that will be it. We will see it come to life and appreciate it in a completely different light.
"I know there is still a lot of work to do, but we need to love the building as it is for the next few weeks because they will pass just like that, and then we will never see the building again in the same way as we do now.
When the museum opens, what will people see?
"This is not a soft opening. This will be a full [state] opening, all of the artworks that we have will be there, whether those are ones that have been acquired or those that are coming in on loan. It will be a fully-functional museum with all of the attributes of a fully functional museum."
What does this mean for the Saadiyat Island Cultural District? Is there the confidence and the appetite to move forward with the broader plan?
"The leadership here have been very clear from day one about where they want Abu Dhabi to be on the global cultural map and we haven’t deviated from that. Look at what we have achieved in the last few years: whether that’s opening Unesco sites to the public in Al Ain, working on other sites both archaeological and cultural like Qasr Al Hosn, opening the Muwaiji Museum, all of those continue to move forward. When we think about Saadiyat Island as a cultural centre as one of the cultural centres in Abu Dhabi city, the direction also remains the same. We are opening the Louvre Abu Dhabi this year, the target is that the Zayed National Museum will come next and the Guggenheim will come after."
So when can we expect an announcement on the other museums?
"When we announce the dates for the Zayed National Museum they will be announced with everything that you feel is necessary: who the contractor will be, what the timeline will be, who the operator will be and when it will be opening. I like to announce things with 100 per cent trust and realism and you can expect to hear an announcement on the Zayed National Museum very soon."
There’s been a lot of change since the concept for the Saadiyat Island Cultural District was first developed and the profile of visitor who are now coming to the UAE is also quite different. Who is your audience?
"First and foremost, it’s the people who live in the UAE, the Emiratis and the expats. Within the Louvre Abu Dhabi, my children and I will be able to go on a voyage through the history of this world - not a history of one specific country - but a history that shows us how we are all connected… . This is extremely important now because we talk about how the world is connected by technology but we are also connected by history. It’s an education in world culture, which in my opinion makes us better human beings, because when you study each other’s history you understand each other more and we get to know each other better.
Special report: Louvre Abu Dhabi: The museum of then, now and the future
We then have tourists. Abu Dhabi today is very different from Abu Dhabi as it was in 2007. We now have more tourists, last year we put 7 per cent on our visitor numbers, but we now have a lot more Indian and Chinese tourists. The beauty with the Louvre being a universal museum is that you can come from anywhere and you will see something that belongs to you and that’s very special.
How does the Louvre Abu Dhabi fit with the rest of Abu Dhabi’s cultural strategy?
"For me, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will open a door and encourage tourists to visit the Unesco and other archaeological sites in Al Ain, the local museums at Qasr Al Muwaiji and the Al Ain Palace Museum. It’s part of a cultural strategy that has started and will not end. Very soon we will have the Louvre Abu Dhabi, then we will have Qasr Al Hosn and the Cultural Foundation, after that we will have our National Library and after that we will have the Al Ain Palace Museum and the Al Ain National Museum uplifts as well as other archaeological sites and oases in Al Ain."
With the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi will gain a world class museum, but what else is being done to deepen the emirate’s cultural scene?
"During the last few years there has been a huge push to enhance education is schools, whether that is social skills, art or theatre but, within the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we will also have a very strong research arm that will include historians, archaeologists and students who will come to the LAD and learn more about the collection, publish papers about the pieces in the collection and produce their own theories and knowledge. That’s extremely important to us. You need to have that research and development arm that is open to other institutions and students that allows them to learn and publish."
What will people pay to enter the Louvre Abu Dhabi?
"We are still finalising this. Obviously the museum is an educational tool and we need to make it affordable to all demographics. Today, everybody goes to the cinema and pays their 50 dirhams to watch a movie and we need to pitch it at that kind of level to allow everybody to have the opportunity. On the other hand, we have an operator and we need to keep the museum clean and secure, so as much as possible, we want to try and have some kind of income to offset those costs."
What is the broader significance of the museum’s opening?
"The world, including a lot of people here, do not know about the long historical presence of the people here in the UAE. We haven’t been here for 40 or 50 or 100 years, we have been here for thousands of years and for all of that time we have been a connecting point between east and west.
"When the Louvre opens it will be just the latest example of that connection that our forefathers spoke about that has lasted for thousands of years.
"Abu Dhabi has put its hand on its heart and said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s messages are ones that it wants to send to the rest of the world, messages of unity, of acceptance, of connectivity and tolerance. These were messages that were important 1,000 years ago but are even more important today and Abu Dhabi is the beacon that will broadcast these messages to the Arab world and to the rest of the world."