Abu Dhabi plans to spend $6 billion on culture to diversify from oil

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

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

“In terms of growth, we know that the creative industries will be a major contributor to GDP here in Abu Dhabi,” Mohammed Al Mubarak, head of the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism, said in an interview.

The oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates launched a separate $13.6 billion 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 “significant portion” of this new money has been earmarked for building cultural institutions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which is already home to the Louvre, a major tourist attraction.

Zayed National Museum, which displays the life of the founding father Sheikh Zayed, is under construction. Mubarak said preparations for the much-anticipated and long-awaited Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum have been awarded, 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, an interfaith facility that includes a mosque, church and synagogue.

With 20,000 people already working 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 district with tenants like CNN, there are plans to welcome 8,000 workers by the end of the year.

Expanding the creative sector, while targeting the creation of job opportunities for citizens, will also require external talent. Abu Dhabi, along with other emirates, has launched a special visa to facilitate entry for skilled workers.

Residents of Middle Eastern countries often complain about the difficulty of obtaining visas for the security-conscious UAE. But Mubarak said authorities have been in touch to work on a “smooth” process with quick checks, as well as looking at grants and other incentives to help “every single income demographic” thrive in the expensive city. “If you are an artist,” he said, “you will have the opportunity to thrive in the most economically efficient way.”

He said that during the pandemic, the emirate has invested $200 million in film production. About 1,000 people took part in the filming of Mission Impossible 7 in the emirate earlier this year.

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

It also ignored concerns about the impact of the UAE’s severe restrictions on freedom of expression. He pointed to broader reforms that include granting long-term visas and even citizenship to some expatriates.

He said, “We are a developed country that is developing with our times.” “This year we’ve already seen massive changes in policy, so you can see how forward thinking has become.”

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