The non-profit, Saudi-based foundation Art Jameel is expanding its empire, announcing plans to open a vast new culture complex in north Jeddah next year. The new 17,000 sq. m, three-storey venue, designed by the Dubai practice Ibda Design, is known as Hayy: Creative Hub, the Arabic word for neighbourhood. The multi-disciplinary cultural initiative is the latest high-profile arts project under development in the strict Middle Eastern state.
The country’s Vision 2030 plan, a strategy aimed at the diversifying the economy and softening the country’s ultra-conservative image, calls for more cultural activities. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has launched an artistic arm of his philanthrophic Misk Foundation known as the Misk Institute, while the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture will be publicly accessible in the eastern city of Dhahran by the summer.
“Programming [at Hayy: Creative Hub] will include world-class local and international exhibitions of Modern and contemporary art,” a project statement says. Participating artists are yet to be announced. In a bold move, 12 unnamed partner organisations, such as commercial galleries and design studios, will also come on board.
“[Hayy: Creative Hub] will bring together and nurture Saudi Arabian artists, playwrights, photographers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and others, along with the enthusiastic audiences that support them,” the statement says. Art Jameel’s director Antonia Carver explains that the purpose of the project is to nurture Jeddah’s fast-growing but disparate creative community.
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati political commentator and the founder of the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation, says however that the Saudi cultural scene has existed for decades, citing the open-air sculpture museum on Jeddah’s Corniche built in the 1970s and the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh, completed in 2015, as examples of key culture projects. “Culture is not new to Saudi Arabia as some seem to think; there simply is an acceleration of the pace of cultural developments and an increase in public and private investments which should be welcomed by everyone,” he says.
Art Jameel, meanwhile, keeps growing. The organisation behind the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize for Islamic art announced last year its intention to expand with a permanent space in the United Arab Emirates, known as the Jameel Arts Centre Dubai. The new complex in Dubai Creek—which will house an open-access research centre and library, events space and an outdoor sculpture area—is scheduled to open later this year.