Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

In difficult times, Saudi Arabia’s cultural vision is a beacon of hope

One year after launching its programme to elevate the Kingdom as a global creative hub, it is imperative for Saudi Arabia to continue bringing people together through cultural exchange

On Friday, we mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of our cultural vision; the guiding principles that set out how the Ministry of Culture will achieve its mandate of leading the cultural transformation in Saudi Arabia.

However, as we reach this milestone, we find ourselves amid events unprecedented in recent times, bringing with them cause to pause and reflect.

During this time, it is more important than ever to cherish all that connects us. Culture has always been a binding force; one which provides a sense of comfort and belonging, serving as a bridge between peoples and cultures.

As I reflect on our many accomplishments over the past year, it is clear to see that it has been a resounding success. And it is imperative that we press ahead with a clear sense of purpose, bringing people together through cultural exchange.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, centre, pictured at the Venice Biennale. Twitter: BadrFAlSaud
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, centre, pictured at the Venice Biennale. Twitter: BadrFAlSaud

For instance, in the past year, we have seen Jeddah host the first-ever charity art auction in Saudi Arabia; a partnership between prominent auction house Christie’s and the Ministry of Culture. We have seen Riyadh host the inaugural Fashion Futures, which brought together the best of Saudi and global talent. And we have seen beautiful exhibitions around the country and the world, welcoming Saudi artists alongside the global creative community.

All of this is helping to elevate Saudi Arabia as a global cultural hub and strengthen knowledge-sharing with our friends around the world.

As we move forward on this historic journey, it is important to remember why culture matters. It builds understanding between peoples and enriches the lives of those it touches. It also represents a powerful engine for economic growth. Our studies have shown that the cultural sector has the potential to create 100,000 jobs and contribute more than $23 billion to the country’s economy by 2030.

Atmosphere during MDL Beast, a three-day festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bringing together the best in music, performing arts and culture. MDL Beast
Atmosphere during MDL Beast, a three-day festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bringing together the best in music, performing arts and culture. MDL Beast

Our country’s leadership recognises the transformative impact that arts and culture have on society – Vision 2030 sets out an ambitious blueprint for us to follow as we develop our cultural industries. But just as when you build a house, the blueprints rely on strong foundations.

For Saudi Arabia, those foundations are our people. This is why the most pressing part of our mandate is creating a cultural ecosystem that empowers our young and dynamic population, unlocking their full potential. We have a wealth of homegrown talent that will drive Saudi Arabia’s cultural transformation and it is part of my role to harness it.

At the Ministry of Culture, we are moving forward with our strategy for the sector, which includes a range of policy initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to nurturing and developing talent.

We recently announced a ground-breaking new cultural scholarship programme, providing specialised educational and training opportunities for Saudi students abroad, and announced a partnership with The Prince’s Foundation to launch the Centre for the Building Arts, offering a series of vocational training programmes for heritage regeneration professionals.

We also launched a new scholarship programme for Saudi fashion designers, in partnership with The New School’s Parsons School of Design, one of the top-ranked fashion design schools in the world. The programme, which we announced during the ministry’s Fashion Futures event, will provide young and aspiring Saudi fashion designers the opportunity to attend a prestigious institution that has taught world-renowned designers.

I am also proud to see planning under way for the Art Residency Initiative; a series of fully funded residencies for artists, writers and curators that will provide Saudi and international artists with the physical and technological infrastructure to develop their talents.

Saudi's Art Residency Al Balad aims to foster cultural exchange. Courtesy Saudi Ministry of Culture 
Saudi's Art Residency Al Balad aims to foster cultural exchange. Courtesy Saudi Ministry of Culture 

Whatever the circumstances, we are committed to delivering these programmes. We will adapt, overcome and deliver. Because all of these programmes are incremental steps in our cultural transformation journey – a journey that promises to enrich lives and enable the current and future generations of cultural creatives.

The past few years have shown us that there is no limit to what Saudi creatives can achieve when provided the opportunity and tools to succeed. We have seen Saudi filmmakers win global awards at prestigious festivals such as Sundance and Venice. We have seen Saudi artists lead the Kingdom’s return to the Venice Biennale. We have seen five Saudi artists exhibit stunning artworks at Desert X Al Ula – the first site-responsive art exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia. Three Saudi artists have also exhibited their work at Bienalsur, the world’s first travelling contemporary art biennale. And the list goes on.

The talents we have across our country, whether established or emerging, old or young, urban or rural, are an essential part of our vision for the sector. They are the cultural ambassadors who will highlight our unique national identity and showcase our rich culture to the world. It is our responsibility to provide the support they need to flourish, and in so doing, establish the strong foundations for the future of Saudi culture.

Prince Badr Al Saud is Minister of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Updated: March 28, 2020 07:06 PM

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