September 13, 2020
Four Reasons Why the Arts are a Vital Asset
Human history is marked by art and creative expression. From the earliest cave paintings to the Mona Lisa and the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, art is a monument to our heritage. When you think of the most famous and influential people in human history, names like William Shakespeare, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vincent Van Gough, and Emily Dickinson may come to mind. Theater, music, painting, and literature stand the test of time when all else is forgotten or becomes obsolete. Creative expression is our most valuable resource. Through it, we can learn about our past, understand our present, and anticipate the future. Art encapsulates what it means to be human.
On February 6th, the Al Qasimi Foundation will launch the 9th annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival (RAKFAF). Curated around the theme of Hope, RAKFAF will help kick-start the 2021 UAE art calendar by exhibiting the work of 111 artists from 49 countries at Al Jazirah Al Hamra Heritage Village and our surrounding sites. As a community art festival, RAKFAF serves the Emirate by providing local artists with a platform and residents space to connect and unwind. From the perspective of the Foundation, we see are arts as a vital asset for four primary reasons:
- Stimulate Learning
One of the most significant social benefits of art, whether visual or performance, is its impact on education and community development. In a recent policy paper published by the Al Qasimi Foundation, Katherine Hennessey pointed out that engagement with the arts can increase students' scores on standardized tests and develop their social skills. It can help improve students' public speaking, promote tolerance by exposing them to others' perspectives, and reengage at-risk youth in school by contributing to the decrease of behavioral problems. Similarly, in 2018 Elizabeth Derderian argued that art programs could significantly contribute to community life in the UAE by enhancing education impact outside of the classroom, promoting civic engagement, and increase university test scores, therefore elevating the opportunities available to young residents.
- Improve Health and Wellbeing
Research has also shown that the arts directly impact a community's health and well-being. Almost 60 percent of people are more likely to report good health if they have recently attended a cultural event. The arts not only reduce stress and make us more empathetic but they also positively impact health conditions such as dementia and major depressive disorder.
For some people, the arts provide an escape. During COVID-19, especially, people turned to arts and culture to leave the confinements of lockdown and help them feel less isolated. The arts also strongly contribute to a person's sense of community and belonging. In the UAE, places like the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi and Alserkal Avenue have created reliable and close-knit communities, either through initiatives like memberships and community dinners or reoccurring community events like Alserkal Lates. It is already apparent that such organizations have dramatically increased the standard of living across the UAE. While the long-term impact is not known, it is feasible to imagine that, with a higher standard of living, residents are likely to remain in the UAE longer, ensuring the retention of their skills and experience and reducing professional turnover.
- Further Cultural and Societal Development
Art encapsulates what it was like to live in a specific moment of time, preserving history not just through written record but also through living memory. By experiencing the artwork, we feel the life of its creator. Art is a repository for collective memory that can be communicated throughout time, language notwithstanding.
Consequently, art is a force for social change and societal influence, translating experiences and instilling values in communities beyond the capabilities of language and conversation. Art is a vital means of communication and societal cohesion. It provides a voice to the disenfranchised – a means to have their needs heard. Without art, we are not a civilization but a society of isolated communities. The cohesion that art provides allows for humanity's social, cultural, and economic development.
- Build the Local Economy
Globally, the arts have a significant economic impact on society, reaching far beyond the value of initial government and private investment thanks to indirect and induced multipliers. For example, in the United States, the non-profit arts and culture industry contributed $166.3 billion and 4.6 million jobs to the economy in 2015. Furthermore, the most recent research conducted by Arts Council England indicates that every £1 of salary paid within the arts and culture sector generates an additional £2.01 in the wider economy.
To provide a local example, in 2021, RAKFAF is inviting more than 40 businesses and vendors from across the UAE to its weekend events, providing on-the-day sales as well as connecting business with new, potential long-term customers. RAKFAF is also invested in promoting Ras Al Khaimah tourism and has partnered with RAK Hospitality and the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), a collaboration established to meet common goals outlined in RAK Vision 2030, including attracting 2.9 million tourists annually and adding 24,000 new jobs to the economy. RAKFAF has also furthered the tourism sectors' goals by rejuvenating Al Jazirah Al Hamra, contributing to its listing as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site, and Ras Al Khaimah receiving the 2020 Gulf Tourism Capital award.
Only a few kilometers south-west of Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah serves as an example of how recognition as an arts hub can sustain the broader economy. Sharjah's ranking as one of the BBC's five most creative cities in the world will undoubtfully make it a more appealing destination to international tourists post-pandemic. Investment in the cultural sector can consequently provide cash flow to the tourism, hospitality, and other sectors, not just in Sharjah, or whichever Emirate invests, but across the entire country.
Unlike other industries, the impact of the arts sector is not always directly quantifiable. A publisher knows precisely how many books they have sold and can calculate their revenue; the arts' full impact is seen across the entire economy, often generations into the future. Its effect on education quality and health will create a higher-skilled workforce and a happier, more productive population, and its cultural impact will establish a more socially engaged community. Through education, community, and cultural development, the arts have pushed countries to the forefront of global affairs. Places like Broadway and the Tate Modern, and their regional counterparts, have shaped the United States and the United Kingdom and provided generations of cultural capital, influence, and progress. It is time the UAE does the same.
The 9th Annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival runs from February 6th to April 3rd, 2021, at Al Jazirah Al Hamra Heritage Village, Jebel Jais, and Al Marjan Island. It is organized by the Al Qasimi Foundation and presented by Marjan. Visit rakfinearts.ae for more information, and to see the full schedule of events, workshops, and talks.
Ethan serves as the Al Qasimi Foundation's Communications Specialist and manages the English Media, Communications, and Arts Outreach for the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival. Before joining the Foundation, Ethan worked as the Marketing Assistant for The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. He holds a BA in Theater and Film & New Media from New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. During his undergraduate studies, Ethan studied in Abu Dhabi, New York, and Sydney where he helped develop various short films and worked on staged productions as a writer, director, stage manager, and producer. He is the Managing and Co-Creative Director of Exit 11 Performing Arts Company.