Abu Dhabi plans $6bn culture spending to diversify from oil


Abu Dhabi is pledging to invest $6bn in the cultural and creative industries as the Gulf emirate seeks to increase its post-coronavirus stimulus spending and diversify away from oil.

Having already committed $2.3bn to projects in the sector, the government will over the next five years plough another $6bn into building museums, as well as making investments in sectors ranging from media, gaming and music to cultural heritage, architecture and the arts.

“In terms of growth, we know creative industries are going to be a major contributor to GDP here in Abu Dhabi,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, chair of the emirate’s department of culture and tourism, in an interview.

The oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates launched a separate $13.6bn stimulus package in 2019 to prepare the emirate for a post-oil future. It is accelerating diversification plans as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic with a renewed focus on economic development.

A “substantial portion” of these new funds is earmarked for building cultural institutions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, already home to an outpost of the Louvre, a big tourist attraction. 

The Zayed National Museum, showcasing the life of founding father Sheikh Zayed, is under construction. Preparatory work for the much-anticipated, long-delayed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi had been awarded, said Mubarak, with the main contract for the Frank Gehry-designed museum expected “soon”. Two other new museums are planned.

The cultural district is expected to be largely completed by 2025. It will include the Abrahamic Family House, a facility for interfaith dialogue comprising a mosque, church and synagogue.

With 20,000 people already employed in the creative and cultural sector, Abu Dhabi hopes that its investment in infrastructure and partnerships will create another 15,000 jobs over the next four years. At Yas Creative Hub, a new media zone with tenants such as CNN, there are plans to welcome 8,000 workers by the end of the year.

Expanding the creative sector, while aiming to create jobs for nationals, will also require overseas talent. Abu Dhabi, along with other emirates, has launched a special visa to facilitate the entry of skilled workers.

Residents of Middle Eastern countries often complain about the difficulty in securing visas to the security-conscious UAE. But Mubarak said the authorities were liaising to work on a “seamless” process with rapid checks, as well as considering grants and other incentives to assist “every single income demographic” thrive in the expensive city. “If you are an artist, you will have the opportunity to flourish in the most economically effective way,” he said.

During the pandemic, the emirate invested $200m in film production, he said. About 1,000 people were involved in the filming of Mission Impossible 7 in the emirate earlier this year.

The oil-rich capital competes directly with Dubai, the country’s traditional hub for the creative industries. The capital has previously launched its own financial centre and technology start-up hub in competition with its oil-poor neighbour. But Mubarak said the creative industry “pie” was big enough for both cities.

He also shrugged off concerns about the impact of UAE’s tight restrictions on freedom of expression. He pointed to broader reforms including the granting of long-term visas and even nationality to some expatriates.

“We are an evolving state that is evolving with our times,” he said. “We have already this year seen massive policy changes, so you can see how forward thinking we are becoming.”



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