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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Louvre Abu Dhabi is a portent of things to come

Not just a museum, Abu Dhabi's new showpiece is the embodiment of Sheikh Zayed's vision

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. AP
French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. AP

Are museums still relevant or are they merely "collections of stuff"? asked a major news broadcaster earlier this year. The snaking queues outside Louvre Abu Dhabi today on its first public opening offer a resounding answer to the question that has been troubling cultural institutions for years; how does one make museums an essential part of the fabric of a community? In designing Louvre Abu Dhabi, Jean Nouvel factored in the need not to simply create a home for astonishing artefacts but to offer something for everyone, whether that is a meeting place, a cafe, somewhere to watch the sunset or a place to entertain children for a few hours. Abu Dhabi’s new showpiece is not simply an acquisition or status symbol, but part of a grand masterplan to make the UAE’s capital a destination in its own right - one with a credible sense of its past, present and future.

Like the pieces of a jigsaw, all the parts are coming together. Within two years, the Dh19.1 billion Midfield Terminal airport project will be completed, capable of serving 84 million passengers a year. The Eithad Airways Formula One Grand Prix, theme parks and year-round sunshine already bring in more than 3.5 million visitors a year. Louvre Abu Dhabi alone is expected to reel in 3,000 visitors a day and the domino effect is likely to be huge. The Conference of Mayors estimates out of every dollar spent in the US on museums, $7 are returned to the public coffers, because cultural tourists stay longer and spend more.

Add to that the numbers drawn to the city via its cruise terminal – 346,000 passengers a year, with plans to introduce a water taxi linking all the major attractions to Mina Zayed – and the Dh3 billion contributed annually through exhibitions and you have a comprehensive strategy to provide a rounded experience for residents, tourists and those here on business. It is the realisation of the dreams of a man who envisaged its potential when Abu Dhabi was little more than a sleepy fishing village. Looking out on a barren patch of sand, Sheikh Zayed said: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.” Louvre Abu Dhabi is the embodiment of that sentiment and prescient of the things to come.