With his finger firmly on the city’s cultural pulse, we take a deep dive with Egor Sharay into the city’s booming arts scene
Art season is in full swing in Dubai. While new galleries are popping up around every corner, the emirate is also paving the way for the revival of in-person art events. Art Dubai and World Art Dubai have just wrapped up while several other private exhibitions by celebrated artists are taking place over the next few weeks. Reinforcing Dubai’s status as an international hub for art and culture, Sikka Art Festival, now called Sikka Art and Design Festival, is also returning this year for its 10th edition at Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. It all comes together to transform Dubai into an open art exhibition, inviting citizens, residents and visitors to soak up this creative beat.
Shining a light on the emirate’s penchant for all things creative, we speak to Egor Sharay. A well-known media personality in the city with decades of experience, Sharay was recently honoured with a Golden Visa by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority for his outstanding contribution to the field of arts and culture in the city. He now serves as a cultural analyst and arts consultant, while continuing to make waves in the realm of media.
You have been living here, in Dubai for 15 years. What fascinates you about culture and its role in sustainable urban development?
“For over a decade now, the United Arab Emirates has focused on enhancing the country’s cultural offering. Uniquely positioned between the east and west, the country has emerged as a global junction for the arts. While Cairo, Damascus and Tehran thrived as cultural capitals of the Middle East in the 20th century, they have since faded from the spotlight. Today, open immigration policies together with an innovative economy continue to draw creative minds to the UAE, and collectors and museum professionals have followed, looking to discover new realms of art from the region. The initiatives continue, and an outstanding example of this is the ‘Soul of Dubai – Cultural Experiences’ project, which aims to shed light on the essence and features of the emirate’s rich cultural heritage. The project featured a number of creatives from different nationalities to offer insight into the Emirati culture and its authentic traditions. And there are several other examples. It is this intercultural dialogue that makes Dubai outstanding and a unique place to live and work.”
You are an editor and media personality. How do you have such a deep knowledge about culture and art?
“It starts with admiration. I love art, music and culture. All my life, I worked in media and supported all kinds of art and cultural initiatives and my job has afforded me several opportunities to meet talented artists, writers, musicians. When you are dealing with people from creative industries on the daily basis, you learn a lot and cultivate good taste. Besides, I have a professional cultural background. I have Bachelor’s Degree from the language and literature faculty where Cultural Studies were a must. This helped me understand the complexity of everyday life and the way that habits, texts, objects and beliefs are socially patterned and laden with values and meaning. And this helped set the foundation.”
Why is the UAE, in general, and Dubai, in particular, becoming more known for its innovative and creative initiatives and business approach?
“Dubai is an international tourist destination. The city is changing under the influence of numerous cultural events organised in the city. There is an assumption that creativity is all about individual genius. In truth, the big creative breakthroughs are also a social process, often occurring when a diverse set of the population comes together. Dubai is known for its strong and diversified economy. Country prosperity, rich companies and large sums of money being poured into the economy bring big opportunities. People who amassed wealth over time have more disposable income and free time to be able to enjoy the arts. And this has afforded many the opportunity to express their creative identities through art. Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with brilliant works of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world feel. And this feeling may spur creative thinking, engagement and even action.”
What impact does the creative economy have in Dubai?
“The UAE’s innovation performance ranks 34 out of 131 economies globally in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2020. National Innovation Strategy aims to strengthen the UAE’s position as a global innovation hub. This idea also falls within the framework of Dubai Culture’s strategic roadmap 2020-2026, which seeks to enable public participation and cement Dubai’s position on the global cultural scene. The design industry contributed over AED15.6 billion to Dubai’s GDP in 2019. Dubai’s cultural and creative sector contributed about 4.02% of Dubai’s total economic output in 2019.”
What is your opinion on the creative sector’s contribution to Dubai’s economy?
“Cultural and creative industries in the emirate have left a clear economic and social imprint over the past 20 years. I highly recommend browsing through (it is available to the public) the ‘Creative Dubai’ report to know more about how the cultural and creative industries in the emirate. The size of the creative and cultural sectors’ contribution to Dubai’s economy and the emirate’s GDP documented in the ‘Creative Dubai’ report identifies key cultural and creative sectors in the emirate and examines their ability to support the city’s economic diversification and shape its future.|
Do you remember any recent example of Dubai Culture’s incentives besides legislation work?
“In a bid to support creative talent in the emirate, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority always seeks to establish partnerships with public and private entities to remove the entry barriers that entrepreneurs and creative people face in their journey. One of them is a global technology company Zoho Corp., which provides the operating system for businesses to run all their operations on a single unified cloud-based platform that can be accessed from anywhere. Another example is the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) which enables owners of creative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to benefit from the bank’s smart banking solutions, meet their financing needs and grow their businesses. All these products are exclusively available for creative cluster business and culture entrepreneurs.”
Which are your favourite art and cultural spots in Dubai?
“Alserkal Avenue looks quite unassuming from the outside as it’s in an industrial area, but as soon as you step in through the gate, you are transported into another world of cosy cafés, art galleries, boutique shops and a communal vibe unlike anywhere in Dubai. Recently, the government announced the Al Quoz Creative Zone development project that aims to transform the area into a comprehensive integrated creative zone that attracts talent from across the world. At the infrastructure level, the plan includes the development of the project’s masterplan that will create a specially designed urban space that can accommodate all activities, investments and people related to the project. As part of implementing the vision for the project, a unique model for optimally distributing living, working and creative public spaces will be developed based on a comparative study of similar zones around the world.”