TBY talks to Salah Al Qassim, Advisor to the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, on culture, the arts, and heritage in Dubai.

Salah Al Qassim
After acquiring a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from UAE University in 1984, Salah Al Qassim began his career at the UAE Ministry of Education heading the Media Department. His position in the education sector extended to developing and presenting television programs on Dubai Television, which focused on education issues, society, parenting, and history. He then pursued further higher education and acquired a PhD Degree in Mass Communications from the University of Wales, UK, in 1995. Before joining Dubai Culture and Arts Authority as Advisor, he served as the Secretary General of Dubai Cultural Council, where, over four years, he designed and executed a number of cultural programs and managed a wide array of activities aimed to drive excellence in the cultural and artistic arenas.

Dubai Culture is leading a renaissance of the cultural scene in Dubai, transforming the city into a hub of culture, arts, and heritage. How is Dubai unique in the region with regard to its efforts in culture?

As home to some of the world's most iconic achievements, Dubai has gained a reputation as a multicultural center of creativity and innovation, a reputation that global art institutions have recognized. With dedicated cultural and artistic spaces, and over 70 galleries active throughout the year, Dubai's thriving arts community has sparked increasing interest throughout the region, in part because of its geographic location and the emergence of knowledgeable collectors with more sophisticated tastes from the region and across the globe. Today, Dubai has earned a firm spot on the global art-commerce map. Furthermore, a committed government demonstrating its support in the form of funding, community involvement, and educational programs—as highlighted by Dubai Culture's various initiatives including the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards—has produced a conducive environment to promote all aspects of culture and the arts. Established and emerging artists have both found recognition here and abroad, for example, by taking center stage at the second appearance of the UAE pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The continued growth of the cultural scene in Dubai is most apparent in the Al Quoz Industrial Area, now home to many art galleries, rehearsal spaces for musicians and performers, as well as photography and design studios. This development is similar to the beginnings of such artistic hubs as Factory 798 in Beijing, where industrial areas have become a haven for an arts industry to thrive in. This, in addition to the Gate Village in the Dubai International Financial Centre, is a pulsating community for art and culture. Two major annual art fairs, Art Dubai and the SIKKA Art Fair, and several film, literature, and theater festivals fill up the city's arts calendar.

What strategies do you conduct to keep the essential Arabian spirit alive while promoting more internationalization?

We, at the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, believe in remaining firmly rooted in our Arabian identity throughout our further progress toward wider global recognition in the cultural scene. By initiating several pioneering projects we have broadened and deepened public engagement with the arts, culture, and heritage. The most crucial function of the Authority is to build on the city's cultural identity and protect its national heritage, while contributing to the transformation of Dubai's cultural and artistic landscape. To achieve this, the Authority has formulated policies to preserve and foster the heritage and traditional facets and assets of the city, while collaborating with global art centers and government entities that will play an integral role in enhancing cultural knowledge and promoting global dialogue on culture and the arts. Dubai Culture has announced several initiatives that strengthen the historic and modern cultural fabric of Dubai including Khor Dubai, a living museum; activities at Al Bastakiya; Dubai Next; heritage week, and heritage centers in schools.

How would you assess Dubai Culture's contribution to intercultural dialogue?

Dubai Culture is committed to enhancing awareness of culture and arts in Dubai by fostering robust dialogue with the public to generate interest in the sector, while creating and implementing a strong marketing strategy. Each initiative led or supported by the Authority spearheads and encourages both the public and private sector to play an active role in promoting Dubai's true cultural and artistic essence. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards is a pioneering and trail-blazing initiative that further strengthens the active participation of patrons, the building blocks of the cultural landscape. The effect and importance of patronage is now highly visible, with increased involvement from the private sector across all key disciplines. The success of Dubai Culture's focus to promote cultural and arts patronage has been further underlined with a noticeable increase in the support of patrons to various art forms in the city. In the third cycle in 2012, some 44% of those honored were new patrons, apart from a 17.5% overall increase in patrons, underscoring the increased interest among organizations and individuals in driving the arts sector. Of total patrons, 15% comprised government departments and organizations, a 75% increase compared with the first cycle.