What does the UK/UAE 2017 Year of Creative Collaboration mean?

Two global leaders in creativity – the UK and the UAE – are joining forces to implement some of the most pioneering events of cultural exchange, spanning film, art, theatre and literature. Katie Boucher takes a look at what’s in store

If art is food for the soul, then 2017 is looking like a feast of a year. January marks the start of the UK/UAE Year of Creative Collaboration, an initiative being spearheaded in the UAE by the British Council to celebrate and strengthen the relationship between the two countries through culture. “It’s definitely culture in its broadest sense,” says Hannah Henderson, Head of UK/UAE 2017 at the British Council. “So while there is a focus on arts activities and programming it’s also going to feature content in education, society, sport, science and trade – so it’s really about the bilateral relationship.”

Far from being a solo effort, the British Council is partnering up with scores of organisations both within and outside the UAE, from government entities to cultural institutions to individual artists, to deliver a rich and multi-faceted programme of events across the country. All of them draw on the exchange’s three main themes of ‘next generation’, ‘community’ and ‘inclusion’. “We’re trying to keep creativity and innovation at the heart of the programme,” says Henderson, who was previously Director of Operations at the Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation (ADMAF). “It’s building closer governmental collaboration and understanding, institutional collaboration and understanding, artistic collaboration and understanding, but it’s also building wider general audiences and providing access to skills development and education opportunities and linking in to trade. So it’s operating on so many different levels.”

The programme is so far a work in progress, with many more events due to be announced in the early part of 2017.

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AL AIN, ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - November 07, 2016: Students from the Centre for Musical Arts along with a duo from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, perform during the launch of the UK - UAE Year of Culture at Al Jahili FortImage: Copyright: Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

The highlights of the schedule so far:

Welsh National Opera (WNO) performing Madame Butterfly (March 2-4) and La Boheme (March 9-11) at Dubai Opera

The roaring success of Dubai Opera continues with these world-class performances of Puccini’s classic works. Alongside the shows audiences will be able to engage with the musicians in a programme of workshops, learning activities, masterclasses and open rehearsals.

BBC Proms Dubai with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers (March 21-24) at Dubai Opera

A British institution comes to Dubai in the form of the Proms performed by one of the UK’s best-loved orchestras. This is the second time that the festival will be performed outside of the UK in 122 years, following BBC Proms Australia in April 2016. The performances are supplemented with a robust programme of educational activities, which will enable audiences to interact with and learn from the musicians.

Craft Makers at Design Days Dubai (March 14-17)

The sixth edition of the Middle East’s principal design fair, Design Days Dubai, will host 11 of the UK Craft Council’s Craftsmen. A parallel educational programme will be hosted by the American University Sharjah, American University Dubai, Zayed University Abu Dhabi and Sharjah Women’s Business Council.

Science Strand at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (March 3-7)

Leading British scientists and personalities including Lucy Hawking, the journalist, novelist and daughter of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, science communicator and populariser Emily Grossman, New York Times bestselling author Jo Marchant and comedian and science enthusiast Ben Miller, will speak at the festival.

UK Musician in Residence (May)

Though the artist is yet to be announced, the residency programme will enable them to explore ways to connect with UAE audiences and collaborate with homegrown talent.

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Shop Fronts (November)

British architects will work with Emirati students to create unique art installations in the shop fronts of up to ten different retailers. The initiative follows on from the success of the RIBA Regent Street Windows Project in London.

Art in the Public Realm (November)

One of the most exciting strands of the Cultural Exchange is this programme of participatory art installations, which will see UK-based artists create works in public spaces such as shopping malls and parks across the UAE.

UK / UAE Short Film Festival (November)

Another mainstay of the programme is the short film festival, which will feature screenings all over the emirates and bring established and emerging UK and Emirati film-makers together in conversation to discuss trends and opportunities in the international film industry. “[The Film Festival] is a really good example of how we’re going to go out and try and reach and engage with diverse communities through content that’s relevant to them,” says Henderson.