Dubai is already a tourist favorite, and now the city's sights are set on the next milestone: becoming the center of art in the Middle East and Africa
- The city of Dubai, and United Arab Emirates as a whole, have become increasingly known as a hub for art in the Middle East and Africa.
- When I visited, I found that Dubai has dozens of galleries with a clear focus on promoting Middle Eastern and African artists with clear perspective that is far different from what one usually sees in the US and Europe.
- Abu Dhabi's opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is another stake in the ground that the country wants to be a hub for art. But the building of the structure was marred by allegations from human rights groups that workers were mistreated.
- While the talent, money, and vision is present in Dubai, and the U.A.E. as a whole, the art scene is still maturing and not quite ready to compete with the likes of New York or London.
For decades, the capitals of the art world have been New York, London, Berlin, and, perhaps, Hong Kong. Dubai is vying to add its name to the list.
Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.
Dubai has long been a melting pot of Middle Eastern, African, and southeast Asian cultures. Add in billions of dollars of investment in museums, architecture, universities, and galleries and a growing understanding amongst the United Arab Emirates' elite that art is a powerful conduit through which to convey to the world, and their people, the vision of what a modern Middle Eastern nation looks like, and you have the makings for a dynamic art scene."The former cultural capitals were places like Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Cairo. But due to political and economic challenges, the dynamic shifted and it's now here in the Gulf," Myrna Ayad told CNN last year. Ayad is the director for Art Dubai, an international art fair started in 2007 that is meant to compete with the likes of Art Basel.
Then you add in the tourism factor. Dubai's rulers have a grand strategy to diversify the emirate's economy away from oil by making it the most popular tourist destination in the world by 2025. Already, it is the fourth-most visited city in the world, with a projected 16.7 million visitors this year, according to Mastercard's Global Destination Cities Index.
That's what's been behind its building of landmarks designed to be the biggest and most extravagant of the world, like the tallest building, the second-biggest mall, and the most luxurious hotel. A thriving art scene - with priceless and famous works of art to see - seems to be the final piece of the puzzle.
But it's hardly all about tourism. As Dima Abdul Kader, the cofounder of emergeast, an art gallery focusing on rising Middle Eastern artists, told Harvard Kennedy School fellow Michael Greenwald, the push towards the arts is about establishing "an arts and culture framework as a core fundamental of the respective social fabric for generations to come."
I recently visited to see what Dubai's arts scene is all about. Here's what it was like: