x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

The ‘museum of the future’ won’t just be judged on the quality of its art

Government bodies and cultural industry executives in the UAE will also have to work out how museums will impact the socioeconomic landscape of the region, writes Florian Wupperfeld

Over the next few years, the UAE will become home to three highly anticipated world-class museums – the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. These destinations promise to transform the cultural offering of the UAE and to attract audiences from all over the world.

With these new museums, the UAE is aiming to compete with world-class institutions in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

There is great recognition in the region of the importance of culture as a key driver for the service industries and as an exciting offering for the local community.

Culture can transform entire communities and bridge social divides. There is also a belief that culture drives the expansion of creative industries in the region – a belief backed up by the fact that such industries thrive in cities like Berlin and London.

As founder of the inaugural Leading Culture Destinations Awards, I constantly ask myself about the role of museums today. What are consumers looking for? And what do the cultural institutions in the UAE need to do to compete on the global stage?

The entire sector is undergoing transformation. So government bodies and cultural industry executives not only have to answer these questions, but they will also have to work out how museums will impact the socioeconomic landscape of the region.

Partnerships with major international museums such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim will create a world-class curatorial programme in the UAE, but it is essential to reach out to the local art community in order to make that proposition unique.

International blockbuster shows can be seen all around the world, but the local aspect is the part that makes the experience unique for cultural travellers. The French architect Jean Nouvel, who designed the Louvre Abu Dhabi, has also said as much: “A museum should belong to a town and its people and its history”.

Local culture is perhaps the key experience for international travellers to understand the history of the place they visit.

The UAE is in the perfect location to create an intersection between many cultures. In a world of political and social unrest, cultural destinations can be one of the keys to engaging different sections of society and to breaking down existing barriers.

But a revolution within arts and cultural institutions worldwide means they are now not only places to see exhibitions, but also places to socialise and shop in.

For consumers, culture is not just a learning experience, but is also very much a part of their lifestyle.

As well as sell-out exhibitions, the MoMA in New York and the Louvre in Paris now offer great restaurant and shopping destinations, nurturing the social aspect of the museum visit, transforming themselves into social hubs.

In Paris, New York and Berlin, young creative industry professionals go on their lunch breaks to museums to have a bite. Similarly, the Southbank Centre in London, an arts centre on the Thames, offers every year numerous festivals, shops and almost 20 restaurants.

That a museum can turn into a shopping destination becomes clear for any traveller who has been to MoMA around Christmas time, where the queues in the museum shop are as long as in any top department store, offering products with great creativity and artistic storytelling.

Consumers also seek out cultural institutions for their architectural prowess, which the UAE’s new museums promise to compete on, with international architects including Foster + Partners, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel designing some of the most anticipated cultural buildings.

Bringing culture to new destinations requires a holistic approach to engage with lifestyle saturated consumers. Museums have a unique opportunity to position themselves in the hearts of travellers since culture rarely goes out of fashion. But the balance of the offering and the willingness to engage with the local community are both key to the success of the museum of the future.

Florian Wupperfeld is co-founder of the online travel guide (leading culturedestinations.com) and the inaugural Leading Culture Destinations Awards, which will be announced next month