By Bahjat El-Darwiche, Karim Sarkis, Alice Klat, and Melissa Rizk
Gulf governments need to increase people's sensibility to arts and culture by better integrating these offerings into people's daily lives, says Strategy& Middle East
The GCC countries are putting considerable effort into ambitious, national strategies to nourish leisure and entertainment (L&E), particularly around arts and culture.
Every GCC country has put sizeable focus on L&E in its national development plans. Yet, despite considerable financial commitments, returns on investment may not fully materialise unless there is a concerted effort to stir the interest of citizens and residents.
The issue is not the offerings themselves; countries in the region have much to offer.
The UAE has opened its doors to world-class arts, hosting Art Week and internationally recognised museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It is also home to a number of national and Islamic museums, with one of the best known being the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Heritage.
Saudi Arabia has numerous heritage sites, with a number of them recognized by UNESCO such as Al Hail region and the Gate to Makkah.
Bahrain’s Arts Centre hosts art related workshops, talks and exhibitions. Kuwait has a large cultural district and Oman has one of the region’s most established opera houses.
Yet GCC consumers have low engagement rates with these offerings and a limited interest in increasing their participation in the near future.
Our survey of 1,200 GCC residents found that people had a greater preference for lighter L&E activities than more culture-oriented ones. Respondents want family entertainment centres, mega parks, sports events or urban parks.
Some 70% of those surveyed said that their reason for L&E is “to have fun,” compared to 40% who do so for enrichment of knowledge and culture, and 39% who use L&E to intensify their connection to family and friends.
There are two reasons for these preferences. First, the GCC public has limited awareness of the available arts and culture offerings. Second, those who are aware, and do attend visual arts and live entertainment events, tend not to be satisfied with the quality of current offerings.
Survey respondents in most GCC countries were least satisfied with their own city’s visual arts and live entertainment offerings. According to the survey, it appears that these offerings lack variety and are not always culturally relevant.
Therefore, governments need to increase people’s sensibility to arts and culture by better integrating these offerings into people’s daily lives. To do that, they can start by making arts and culture more readily available.
One way is to hold vibrant events that are easily accessible. For example, Paris, Montreal, and Naples hold “Nuit Blanche,” an annual, all-night festival which transforms a city centre into art galleries that showcase installations and performances.
Also, governments can encourage the arts and culture to adopt emerging technologies. These can create immersive and engaging experiences that draw people in.
In London, the Natural History Museum uses virtual reality in its “Hold the World experience.” Visitors are able to view the collections accompanied by a hologram of renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
Singapore is an example of a country that has successfully increased popular sensibility to arts. The country has sought to bring “arts and culture to everyone, everywhere and every day.”
The government has turned over popular public spaces to exhibitions and performances, nurtured new talent and supported existing artists, and established community culture clubs. The result is that the number of Singaporeans who attended at least one arts event a year rose from 40% in 2013 to 54% in 2017.
Over the long term, governments can nurture artistic and cultural talent through educational programmes and visas.
Dubai in October 2019 introduced a long-term cultural visa of five years to attract artists, innovators, and others to establish the city as an incubator for creative talents. Governments can also support the development of creative talent by encouraging private sector philanthropy and investments in these endeavors.
GCC countries will benefit from building on their extensive and growing cultural endowment, by strengthening the connection with the potential consumers of arts and culture. Attracting people to arts and culture by making them relevant and entertaining, is an important next step in developing the GCC’s L&E sector.
Bahjat El-Darwiche, Karim Sarkis, partners with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network; Alice Klat, Director of the Ideation Center, the leading thinktank for Strategy& Middle East, and Melissa Rizk, a senior fellow at the Ideation Center.