Cultural kudos: Saadiyat Island

With luminary architects designing outposts of the world’s most famous arts institutions, Saadiyat Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a cultural beacon for the UAE

With innovative spherical buildings, bionic towers and carbon neutral cities, Abu Dhabi is forging a reputation for ambitious yet environmentally sensitive development on a grand scale. But it’s not just technological progress that attracts the eye in this glittering jewel of the desert. With man-made Saadiyat Island emerging from the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi fully expresses its bold cultural ambitions. Here the emirate is building an impressive arts quarter, a cultural symbol of the modern world, incorporating architecture from design heavyweights.

Over the next decade Abu Dhabi is set to open the doors to Jean Nouvel’s Louvre in 2015 and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in 2017, while Zaha Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre and Norman Fosters’s Zayed National Museum will also be launching. In the meantime, Saadiyat is already courting visitors with a carefully constructed programme of events.

In November 2012, at the opening night of cultural calendar highlight Abu Dhabi Art, a live panel discussion with the Pritzker prize-winning architects responsible for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum discussed the role of architecture in cultural change. The high-profile event was part of a wider strategy to generate interest and excitement for the forthcoming opening of Saadiyat.

Central to the ongoing development of Saadiyat Cultural District is a series of public discussions. The programme has been designed as a place of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange and incorporates workshops, eco talks and architecture seminars.
In May, a ‘Talking Art’ showcase for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will comprise public panels, screenings, workshops and demonstrations by several leading contemporary artists.

Meanwhile, the Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibition has launched Birth of a Museum, the second exhibition showcasing a selection of the museum’s collection acquired to date. Running until 27 July at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Cultural District’s art and exhibition centre, 130 art works will be available to view. Central to the ethos of this museum is global understanding through art: the collection has come from across the world but will highlight shared human experience transcending geography, nationality and history.

“The aim of this exhibition is to evoke the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ambiance and aesthetics, and to begin to tell the story of the birth of this museum,” says HE Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. “Even before opening its doors, Louvre Abu Dhabi is setting its precedent as a place of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.”