Interview: Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Culture
How can the deepening of cultural ties between countries enhance regional cooperation?
PRINCE BADR BIN ABDULLAH BIN MOHAMMED BIN FARHAN AL SAUD: We are pursuing one of the most significant cultural renewal programmes in history. Arts, culture and heritage have lacked a dedicated portfolio for the past generation. Now, under the leadership of a new Ministry of Culture and with a dedicated cultural vision, we are putting that right. The Kingdom is a major G20 nation with a pivotal place in the world economy. We take our regional and global responsibilities seriously, and as we revitalise our arts, culture and heritage, we are seeking to build bridges of shared understanding.
Cultural dialogue and exchange are profoundly important to us. Therefore, we are developing platforms for artists to learn and engage with their international peers, and for the global audience to experience unique Saudi creativity. For instance, in 2019 we supported a group of Saudi artists as they travelled to Argentina to participate in BIENALSUR, the Southern Hemisphere’s Biennale. Additionally, as part of our partnership with Russian cultural institutions, two Saudi artists exhibited at the State Hermitage Museum in an international exhibition on artificial intelligence in modern art.
Our aspiration is for Saudi Arabia to become a global cultural leader by creating strong and lasting relationships with countries that will embrace and appreciate its unique identity, rich heritage and cultural ambitions. We are also delighted to play an active part within UNESCO, where Saudi Arabia was recently elected to the executive board for the first time.
How can foreign investment contribute to the longterm goals of Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector?
PRINCE BADR: Our goal is for culture to contribute more than $23bn to our economy by 2030 and to create over 100,000 jobs. The commitment to inward investment and economic diversification set out in the country’s Vision 2030 will help us to achieve this growth by opening up the sector to inflows of capital and ideas.
We are welcoming unprecedented numbers of visitors, many of whom are travelling to Saudi Arabia for the first time. We expect the contribution of tourism to our economy to increase greatly as global brands seek to expand their presence in the Kingdom.
Culture and tourism are intrinsically linked, so naturally we also expect to see investment flow into the cultural ecosystem, particularly as we develop global partnerships. The development of the cultural sector is about creating meaningful and rewarding work, encouraging entrepreneurism, and creating a public and private sector that work together to allow creators to market their cultural products.
In what ways can Saudi Arabia’s economy benefit from its cultural and historical sites such as Al Ula?
PRINCE BADR: Vision 2030 clearly sets out how cultural and historical sites will help us diversify our economy and develop sectors such as tourism, and Al Ula is a great example of this. The Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) has a long-term plan to develop the area in a responsible, sustainable and sensitive way. It preserves the area’s natural and historic heritage, while establishing Al Ula as a vibrant location to live, work and visit.
Several infrastructure projects are currently under way. These include the expansion of the recently constructed international airport to accommodate almost 500,000 passengers every year, positioning it as a key regional hub for passengers and freight. RCU is also working closely with international partners to expand hospitality infrastructure. Conservation work is also under way to position Al Ula as a cultural and ecological destination. For example, the excavation of the ancient city of Dadan and ranger training programmes are helping to preserve our unique wildlife and heritage. Lastly, and most importantly, local communities are placed at the heart of our vision for Al Ula. Training and job-creation initiatives will ensure that local people contribute to and benefit from the region’s growth.
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