How many times have you heard the complaint “Dubai lacks culture, it’s a plastic city,” from residents of the city?
To me, it’s all too familiar.
The number of times I have heard this comment or a variation of it is countless. And my reaction is always the same: “Dubai very much has culture, it might not be what you’re expecting, but it’s definitely there.”
It’s true that vis-à-vis the big cosmopolitan cities in the world – New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong, etc – Dubai has a relatively young history. But when it comes to culture, the city has a unique identity all its own.
What is culture after all? Simply, it’s manifestations of human intellectual achievement such as the arts, ideas, customs, and social behaviours.
In a mere 50 years, Dubai went from desert land to a business and tourism haven. Its massive expansion and evolving infrastructure and rapid development is unparalleled by any other city in the world and it’s engraving its name solidly on the global map by following through on unique visions and reaching new heights.
And that sense of speed and daring spirit is reflected in its everyday way of life.
Fast paced. Bright lights. Overnight changes. Twenty-four hours. Seven days a week. There is always something happening in the city and new initiatives are taken by the government and private entities on a continuous basis towards evolving the lifestyle and expanding the art scene in Dubai.
Without government initiatives, wealthy individuals, wealthy corporations and wealthy banks supporting artists the world over, there would have been none of the international artistic heritage that we admire today. A similar movement is finally taking place here in Dubai for the Middle East.
This month, for example, marks the inaugural Dubai Art Season, the city’s umbrella arts initiative, launched by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture.
It has lined up more than 150 creative activities from March 14 to April 15, underlining the city’s status as a global creative hub. It also unites five of the city’s premier arts events including Art Week, the Middle East Film & Comic Con and Gulf Film Festival. Art Week celebrates three flagship events, SIKKA Art Fair, Design Days Dubai, and Art Dubai, with several panel discussions, workshops, performances, outdoor art projects and exhibitions also held.
To me, Dubai is a culture of pushing beyond the boundaries, exploring emerging talent and testing the limits of human imagination and ingenuity. And if we take the time to break out of everyday routine and look around us, we will discover that there is more to this city than meets the eye, or than we give it credit for.