What Gives Dubai Its Edge?

Learn how creating autonomous cultural districts made Dubai a global trailblazer

A sunset view of Dubai Design District (2016)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Truly global cities share several key attributes and yet also each possess that unique quality which gives them their individual character and appeal. Dubai is not the capital city of its nation and yet it holds its own as a metropolis captivating to tourists and businesses alike, and increasingly, known as a leading cultural destination. 

Madinat Jumeirah during Art Dubai (2019)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

In 2021 as the UAE prepares to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, Dubai opens as an Expo city, in a prime position to consolidate and demonstrate its many achievements. 

Visitors of Art Dubai while touring the exhibiton (2019)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Considered a symbol of progress and tolerance, the city prides itself in maintaining its identity whilst being at the forefront of progressive development. 

Narrow alley paved with stones (2019) by Dubai CultureDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Dubai’s character was formed through its trading history and its development as a port. Traditionally it was the fishing and pearl diving activities taking place along its coastline which brought a modest income to the city well before the discovery of oil reserves. 

Abra, a traditional wooden boat (2019) by Dubai CultureDubai Culture & Arts Authority

After the discovery of oil and the immediate rapid growth of its economy as a result, Dubai was propelled onto the world stage. 

Screen printing workshop by Azim Al GhusseinDubai Culture & Arts Authority

 The last decade has seen the city transition from an oil-based industry to a creativity-led economy, as well as becoming the focal point in the region for the business sectors of aviation, trade, logistics and finance. Elements from these early years still play out in the city’s approach to cultural activities and are often responsible for its successes. 

Emirati Malid preformance during Art Dubai (2018) by Photography by: Edward MichaelDubai Culture & Arts Authority

As Dubai grew its creative sector, it was commercial activities which gained the most traction: Christies auctions, international galleries selling at Art Dubai, galleries built up around the business district of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Alongside this, a dynamic grassroots cultural scene was developing, with innovative entrepreneurial ventures flourishing.  Both government and private patronage gave opportunities for new ideas to turn into reality. Now dedicated cultural centres, museums and districts are being built on a larger scale, across the city. 

Al Serkal Avenue (2020) by Jandri Angelo AguilorDubai Culture & Arts Authority

The creation of autonomous cultural districts as urban spaces which encourage public interaction, community building and provide opportunities for showcasing public art and design, such as d3 and Alserkal Avenue have grown to be globally recognized initiatives.

These are being replicated in cities globally, thus proving Dubai’s role as a trailblazer in creative urban planning and infrastructure. 

Jungle_One installation (2017) by Konstantin Grcic’sDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Dubai has already made its name in creating a skyline of iconic, standalone buildings by leading world-famous architects. Today, building spaces which focus on community is key to how urban centres are positioning themselves. 

Global Grad Show Exhibition, DDW 2019, 2019, From the collection of: Dubai Culture & Arts Authority
Museum of the Future, Saj Shafique, 2020, From the collection of: Dubai Culture & Arts Authority
Show lessRead more

Despite its fast-paced character, Dubai does have a clear understanding of the importance of forward-planning on a government scale, going even beyond the global. The Museum of the Future is an incubator for such ideas, a destination for innovators and entrepreneurs to be inspired, to meet and collaborate      

Bidoun Projects by Daniel BozhkovDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Dubai is a place of possibility, where anything can happen and it is preparing for the future, with a sense of creativity and innovation. 

Explore more about the art scene in Dubai:
Art Dubai: Where the World Gathers to Celebrate Arts

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Dubai Culture
Discover Dubai's transformation from a fishing village to a creative capital
View theme
Google apps