In 2018, the heads of all cultural authorities in the UAE agreed on the importance of having a country wide cultural strategy to unite all efforts in the cultural sector of the country towards a more strategic, sustainable, and ambitious direction. The Culture agenda 2031 is the first country-level strategy for the cultural sector in the UAE, with a roadmap of 7 strategic objectives and 75 strategic initiatives from 2018 until 2031.
The Strategic Objectives of the Culture agenda are:
1. Celebrate national identity, heritage, and cultural authenticity
2. Strengthen the relationship between the community and the cultural sector
3. Support talent in the cultural sector
4. Provide high-quality cultural infrastructure
5. Build a holistic and sustainable cultural ecosystem
6. Introduce the concept of the cultural and creative industries in the UAE
7. Strengthen the role of culture in international relations
All of the initiatives assist in the implementation of the 2005 Convention, and some are innovative approaches to ensuring the protection and implementation of principles that uphold cultural diversity in the UAE, and they include the following initiatives:
* Ensure access to UAE history and heritage by all
* Encourage research and publications about the UAE's history in Arabic and other languages
* Collect and document elements of UAE intangible heritage and make available on platforms for all to access
* Include UAE intangible heritage in school curricula
* Teach Emirati handicrafts; and encourage training, development and promotion of this heritage while also responding to current and future market needs
* Develop a comprehensive Arabic language strategy
* Study the needs of different segments of society (children, disabled, youth, elderly, residents, etc.) from the cultural sector and develop a plan to provide those needs
* Encourage all residents to participate in cultural events implemented in the UAE
* Strengthen cultural diversity awareness in the country.
* Provide translation at cultural events and programs to encourage the participation of non-Arabic speakers
* Develop mechanisms to ensure that different segments of society can enjoy cultural products and spaces
* Ensure the availability of cultural outlets and programs in all areas of the country and for all
* Provide volunteering opportunities in the cultural sector
* Ensure the provision of cultural education for all ages, with high-quality, and in line with best practices
* Develop a plan to promote community awareness of culture's role in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals 2030
* Develop a national plan to support talent in the cultural sector
* Develop a framework to discover cultural talent
* Provide comprehensive care and support for cultural talent in all its different stages
* Provide awareness to families, institutions, and community members about the importance of supporting cultural talent
* Ensure the availability of training opportunities in major cultural projects implemented in the country
* Ensure the availability of cultural spaces in every city
* Provide spaces and labs to encourage cultural and artistic experimentation
* Develop a plan to collect cultural data to support planning and policy development
* Develop a funding framework to support the cultural sector
* Assess the IP system to support the cultural sector
* Ensure sustainable cultural tourism in the country
* Ensure culture is a main component of other sectoral policies, strategies, and initiatives
* Study and assess the status of all of culture's subsectors and develop plans to enhance them
* Support research initiatives in the cultural sector
* Study and assess the role of foundations and non-profit organizations and develop a plan to make them an active participant in the cultural ecosystem
* Establish a national committee mandated with the development of the cultural and creative sector in the country
* Develop a strategy to nurture and grow the CCI sector in the country
* Establish a sustainable cultural development fund to support individuals, entrepreneurs, and institutions
* Study domestic cultural consumption patterns and develop plans accordingly
* Support the establishment of cultural markets (digital and non-digital)
* Develop an export strategy for local cultural products
* Strengthen cultural relations and exchange at the regional and international levels
* Contribute to the protection of cultural heritage around the world
* Strengthen culture's role in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals 2030
Since 2018 and the launch of the culture agenda, the cultural sector has taken deliberate steps to implement some of the initiatives. As of 2018 and onwards, the following major initiatives have been implemented (this is a sample list and is non-exhaustive):
* Talent Support Policy for the Cultural Sector:
In 2018, the UAE launched the Talent Policy to support cultural talent in all its life cycles in the UAE. With 5 Strategic Objectives and 23 Strategic Initiatives that aim to put in place a wholistic framework to discover, support, train, encourage and attract cultural talent. Since then, the UAE started implementing the Talent Policy, and one of the most notable accomplishments is the Talent Visa which came into effect in 2019, granting a 10 year visa to cultural professionals and talents to reside and work in the UAE.
* Al Burda Festival:
In 2018, the Al Burda Award, a 14-year award program for Islamic Arts was redesigned to be more inclusive of wider interpretations of Islamic arts and culture in contemporary times. Al Burda grew to encompass 3 streams - Al Burda Award, Al Burda Festival and Al Burda Endowment - becoming a multidisciplinary platform dedicated to celebrating diverse facets of Islamic arts and culture, through promoting creativity and experimentation in Islamic art practices and fostering critical discourse between experts, institutions and communities on the past, present and future of Islamic culture.
* Year of Tolerance:
The UAE named 2019 as the Year of Tolerance to ensure these values are acknowledged, practiced, and protected and to promote community wide awareness of cultural diversity and its importance for all societies. This year has witnessed major policy accomplishments, with the introduction of a process to license houses of worship for all religious denominations and the announcement of the Abrahamic Family Houses project which includes a construction of a Mosque, Church, and Synagogue in architectural designs that celebrate their similarities yet respect their uniqueness. The Abrahamic Family Houses project will be complete by 2023 and will include a research center of inter-religious dialogue.
* The State of the Arabic Language and its Future:
This is a research project that started in 2019 with the aim of assessing the global state of the Arabic language over the past decade (2010-2020) and putting an action plan to protect and nurture, and ensure that it finds a place in our future. The report is intended to serve as a reference point on the current state and future of the Arabic Language and to positively influence the narrative on the Arabic language, inspiring and informing policymakers, researchers, educators, journalists, and members of the public. It will be launched in December 2020 and is the result of a year-long research effort of a team of Arabic language experts from across the region.
* The National Creative Relief Program:
The National Creative Relief Program was an initiative launched in May 2020 to support creators and cultural businesses affected by COVID-19 Pandemic. The program offered grants to cover 100% of financial obligations for one month and allow creators to sustain their work and continue to carry out their businesses. The program was designed based on the results of a comprehensive survey launched to understand the challenges faced by artists and small enterprises operating in the cultural and creative sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
* Summer Camp:
Summer Camp is a yearly program offered by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, and in 2020 it was implemented online with many talks, workshops, and training programs to give children and youth an opportunity to explore culture and the arts. 2020 has seen wider participation from the region, beyond the UAE.
* Cultural Councils (Arts, Heritage, and Cultural and Creative Industries):
Three Cultural Councils were established in 2018 to ensure collective planning for culture in the country and to ensure inclusive decision making. All Emirates are represented, as well as the private and non-profit community in the UAE.
In 2018 the UAE, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Iraq signed a historic agreement to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq. The 5-year project has a budget of 50.4 million USD, contributed by the UAE. The project will rehabilitate and reconstruct Mosul's historic landmark Al Nouri Mosque, its leaning Al Hadba Minaret, the adjacent buildings in the mosque complex, and Al Tahera and Al Sa'aa Churches. Further, it will include the building of a memorial/museum site, to serve as a memory and to display pieces of the Al-Nouri mosque. The project will include community and educational spaces, for reflection and to gather the community.
* Cultural Dialogues:
Cultural Dialogues have been activated with countries that have a strategic partnership with the UAE, such as France and South Korea. This initiative elevates the cultural domain of such partnerships through fostering mutual understanding and knowledge exchange not only on a governmental level, but also on an institutional and individual level in the cultural and creative world.
The Culture agenda 2031 was able to put the first roadmap for the cultural sector in the UAE and unify all efforts across the country. Since 2018, many policy initiatives and programs have been successfully implemented as highlighted above.
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COVID-19 has changed the international narrative and the cultural sector in the UAE has had to reorder its priorities over the next few years. To ensure sustainability, continuity, and the creation of livelihoods in the cultural sector, support for the creatives will be prioritized in the next few years. A few initiatives are considered an absolute priority now, and they include:
* assessment of the IP system and its impact on the creative sector;
* policy and regulations support for freelancers and workers in the creative sector;
* ensuring a sustainable and diverse funding framework to support the creative sector.