x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Successful festivals connect with the people they serve

Festivals allow us to ride the wave of progress and discover who we are, remember from where we have come and anticipate just where we want to go, writes Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo

From the Abu Dhabi Festival to the Sharjah Biennial, Art Dubai and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (all of which took place in March), to the Al Dhafra Festival, Qasr Al Hosn Festival, the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, and many others held throughout the year, festivals have become prominent features on the UAE’s cultural calendar. But why do they matter? Beyond entertainment, what role do festivals play?

At the end of the Abu Dhabi Festival’s 11th edition, it is important to ask these questions and ponder the purpose of festivals so that they remain integral to their public; the people without whom they would not exist.

Festivals are joyful communal gatherings that form vital creative hubs, expressing the energy of a nation. They celebrate the vibrancy, diversity, traditions and innovations of society. By handing the mantle of expression to artists (of all disciplines), communities engage in meaningful and memorable experiences that strengthen the ties that bind: our identity, our sense of self, and our connection to the place in which we prosper.

Festivals matter because they are the safekeepers of a community’s identity. If they remain true to what that community represents, then they will strengthen that identity and enable its progress into the future.

At “The Hero Inside” Abu Dhabi programme during the festival’s Space Sessions, I was shown around by students who had created wonderful works of comic art and animation. It was there that I felt an enormous sense of pride. Here were the young people of Abu Dhabi sharing their creativity in a part of the festival that they had created; a seamless interaction that every artistic ­director should aspire to.

By bringing people together to spectate and participate, festivals provide a platform for collaboration and a chance for citizens, residents and visitors alike to interact, explore points of view, share opinions and see the world around them in new and interesting ways. In doing so, festivals offer society a breathing space; an opportunity to reflect and imagine alternative future scenarios.

Over the past month, the 2014 Abu Dhabi Festival has held over 100 events across the UAE, generating audiences that nourish the country’s creative and cultural sector. Our community programme has expressed the spirit of society, providing access to the arts for all, regardless of age or ability.

Our education programme has nurtured children’s natural curiosity, giving a meaning to learning and preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the creative challenges ahead. And our main programme has inspired through excellence, further reinforcing Abu Dhabi’s destination profile as a global cultural capital.

Such celebrations of mankind’s genius go far beyond the sim­plistic promotion of artistic expression and the momentary rush that comes with the temporary indulgences of entertainment.

As a source of innovation, education, creativity and enjoyment, festivals – as long as their frequency is sustained – nurture an environment that is attractive to investors and contributes to the economic wealth and health of a community. They forge a crossroads that intersects with industry, trade and commerce as well as welfare and education.

In this distinct collaborative forum, the magnet of attraction increases; drawing audiences from further afield with each edition. And in time, significant benefits are reaped as positive, tangible social and economic changes take place.

From reinventing traditional myths through The Story Mile at Khalifa Park, imagining the future in the Festival Debates, and matching Emirati talent with icons of stage and screen, every edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival invests in the very roots of creativity that make this nation unique.

In the UAE (the “Land of Blessings”), we have a duty not only to celebrate the spirit of this land, but also to express the richness of its society and explore all that shall shape its future. Festivals allow us to uphold the principles of respect, tolerance and enlightenment upon which the UAE is founded. They empower us with the capacity to blaze a trail of inspiration and ideas for future generations to pursue. But most of all, festivals allow us to ride the wave of progress and discover who we are, remember from where we have come and anticipate just where we want to go.

A true festival should have no greater goal.

Her Excellency Hoda I. Al Khamis-Kanoo, is founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and founder of the Abu Dhabi Festival