Dubai Next talk during London’s Shubbak Festival highlights creative economy as key driver of cities

Guests from around the world gathered in London at the close of the Shubbak Festival to hear from leading cultural figures on how to cultivate the perfect creative city

The undulating curves of Zaha Hadid’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery, in London’s Hyde Park, proved the ideal backdrop for a productive discussion on how cities can best be creative which took heed from cultural leaders from around the globe, as well as an animated audience. 

Guests mingled to the strains of Karim Sultan on the oud before the discussion, ‘Dubai Next: Creativity and City Culture’, took place. Organised by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, in association with Vision magazine and Brownbook, the event was attended by Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority.

On the panel were four leading cultural figures that represented the true diversity of the cultural and creative sectors. Scott Cain, in his role as Chief Business Officer at London’s Future Cities Catapult, helps innovators turn ingenious ideas into working prototypes that can be tested in real urban settings. Cain previously co-founded Global Entrepreneurship Week, which involves over 10 million people in pro-entrepreneurship activities in over 120 countries each year.

Watching what happens globally and replicating it is not necessarily the most effective way of doing things. You have to modify and have context

Rashid bin Shabib, Co-founder, Brownbook

Paul Owens, Managing Director of BOP Consulting, one of the UK’s leading consultancies on the creative industries, also serves as Director of the World Cities Culture Forum on behalf of the Mayor of London – a collaborative project between 25 major cities examining their future.

Cyril Zammit is the Fair Director of Dubai Design Week and Design Days Dubai, a fair dedicated to collective and limited edition design, and the first of its kind in the Middle East and South Asia.

The fourth panellist, Rashid bin Shabib, is the Co-founder of Dubai-based arts and culture title Brownbook alongside his twin brother Ahmed. The brothers are also behind the interdisciplinary practice Cultural Engineering, which seeks to elevate the role of Middle Eastern culture on a global stage.

The conversation over the next hour took many turns, shifting from walkability: “Important, but not exclusively so, to a cultural city” commented Cain – to the significance of permanence, and the effect of multiculturalism on a city’s creativity.

“Our cities’ cultural activities already make up 5 to 10 per cent of their economy and the projection is that growth will continue,” said Paul Owens. “This trend is part of a broader movement towards knowledge economies, but it is also about how we make our cities more liveable and more empathetic.”

Asked to identify the common denominator shared by the world’s most culturally vibrant cities, panellists agreed it was a carefully calibrated balance of state support and private enterprise.

Rashid bin Shabib
The bin Shabib brothers in conversation with guests during the Dubai Next event

“A common thread that links creative cities such as London and Dubai is a shared vision between both artists and the authorities,” said Cyril Zammit, who suggested that state support for the arts was an important catalyst for cultural activity. “People need to feel free and comfortable to create.” Using Dubai’s new Alserkal Avenue creative district to illustrate his point, Zammit described it as: “A perfect mix of political vision and private initiative.”

Multiculturalism, an attribute shared by London and Dubai, was also identified as key propellant of creative activity.

“Multiculturalism leads not only to a sense of curiosity but also to a celebration of difference where, like a magpie, you take the aspects from each other that you want,” said Scott Cain. “That is probably the single greatest driver of innovation and creativity.”

Panellists also highlighted the importance of cultural and creative authenticity in a globalised world. “Watching what happens globally and replicating it is not necessarily the most effective way of doing things. You have to modify and have context,” suggested Rashid bin Shabib.

Taking this context into account, it was nevertheless agreed across the panel that the creative vibrancy that results from multiculturalism was essential to the ‘city project’.

“It’s really important to have a healthy cultural life in the city because [cities are] an extremely challenging social experiment,” said Owens.

“Every individual having the chance to express their individuality, while being part of a broader civic culture, is key to the future success of these massive cities we are building.”