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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Saudi Arabia to invest $64 bn in entertainment in next decade

Construction for kingdom's first opera house underway 

"Vision 2030" is a move championed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Presidency Press Service / AP
"Vision 2030" is a move championed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Presidency Press Service / AP

Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday that ground has been broken for the construction of the country's first opera house.

The General Entertainment Authority chief Ahmad bin Aqeel Al Khatib said that $64 billion (Dhs235 billion) would be invested in the kingdom's entertainment sector over the coming decade as part a large-scale programme of social and economic reforms.

"We are already building the infrastructure," Mr Khatib said. "God willing, you will see a real change by 2020."

The authority aims for the industry to help create 220,000 jobs by 2030.

The money will come from both the government and the private sector and the authority said earlier this week that more than 5,000 shows, festivals and concerts are planned for 2018, double the number of last year.

The opening up of new entertainment options in the conservative kingdom is part of a programme of reforms dubbed "Vision 2030" - a move championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The state wants to capture up to a quarter of the $20 billion currently spent overseas every year by Saudis seeking entertainment, lifting a ban on cinemas and putting on shows by Western artists.

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In the eastern city of Dhahran the long-awaited King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, or Ithra, is set to be fully functional by the summer. The futuristic building will host a touring exhibition and four galleries.

Meanwhile concerts and Comic-Con popular festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

The port city of Jeddah is seen as the kingdom's main art hub. Sited on the Red Sea, and the primary port of entry for Mecca and Medina, it has been shaped by the flow of pilgrims and immigrants from nearby countries.

Despite the restrictions that have been in place, numerous self-organised collectives, commercial art galleries and studios have been established in Jeddah.

Young artists work across media - blurring the boundaries of art, design, fashion, and film, just as opera does in its engagement with theatre, music, set design, and mixed media.

As Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms continue, the art landscape of Jeddah and the country is expected to welcome more permanent institutions, both in the visual arts and, as we see for the performing arts, opera houses or even dance studios and theatres.