Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector ‘flourished’ in 2020 despite pandemic

Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector ‘flourished’ in 2020 despite pandemic
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Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector ‘flourished’ in 2020 despite pandemic. (Supplied)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector ‘flourished’ in 2020 despite pandemic

Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector ‘flourished’ in 2020 despite pandemic
  • In the wake of health crisis, a broad cultural scene began to take hold in virtual space

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s resilient cultural sector had “flourished” and proved to be a “unifying force” during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a government report has revealed.

Despite the many challenges brought about by the global health crisis, the country’s Ministry of Culture recorded a successful year.
In a report titled, “The State of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2020: Digitalization of Culture,” the ministry highlighted areas of achievement and growth along with setbacks and related recovery programs.
Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said in the study that although the sector had last year faced unprecedented challenges it had also generated exciting opportunities.
“The Saudi people hold a deep-seated belief in their nation’s cultural vision, and over the course of this past year, they worked diligently to transform that vision into a lived reality.
“Despite tremendous obstacles and social distancing measures, culture and creative industries proved their indispensable value as a potent unifying force,” the prince added.
He pointed out that as the sector had looked inward for inspiration, it was met with “ubiquitous creative talent” and “innovative adaptability.”
The minister said: “The cultural sector stands as a testament to the vitality of the Saudi Vision 2030. The Kingdom is dedicated to promoting and protecting national cultural heritage, while exploring new cultural horizons. Proud of our culture, our journey together will undoubtedly continue to flourish.”
Prior to the start of the pandemic, the ministry said a shift toward the digitalization of various industries was already underway in the country, however, the virus outbreak forced the pace of digital transformation to accelerate and, in turn, amplified its importance.
In the wake of health and safety restrictions introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19, a broad cultural scene began to take hold in virtual space. As the world adjusted to holding events online, with exhibitions and conferences hosted on specialized digital platforms and students joining classes on home computers, the ministry began to see the opportunity in speeding up the digitalization process.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Year of Arabic Calligraphy was extended into 2021 to ensure that the event’s significance would not be overshadowed.

• A platform, Al-Khattat, was created to provide opportunities to Saudis to learn new skills.

• The fashion industry bounced back as restrictions began to be lifted and takings had shot up to more than SR9 billion by the fourth quarter of 2020.

• The Ministry of Culture also established the Music Commission to develop and regulate the music sector.

As a result, executive decisions were taken to ensure that the Kingdom’s cultural environment was protected from the worst impacts of the pandemic.
A move to extend the Year of Arabic Calligraphy into 2021 was taken in April to ensure that the event’s significance would not be overshadowed as the world focused on fighting COVID-19. The platform, Al-Khattat (the calligrapher), was created with the support of the ministry and provided thousands of Saudis in lockdown with the opportunity to pick up new creative skills or brush up on old ones via free access to an entire database of calligraphy videos.




Despite tremendous obstacles, culture and creative industries proved their indispensable value as a potent unifying force.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Saudi culture minister

One calligrapher, Marwan Al-Ajami, said: “Personally, Al-Khattat was the highlight of my lockdown. I learned new skills that I used to expand my portfolio, and it gave me something to look forward to when lockdown ended, which was showcasing the new skills when it was safe to hold events again.”

Inevitably, some sectors were hit harder than others, and the ministry has been working to restore them to pre-pandemic levels of success.
The Kingdom’s movie festivals were among the cultural events most disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. The sixth Saudi Film Festival was held online and streamed on YouTube, and the first Red Sea International Film Festival, slated for March of last year, ended up having to be canceled.
There were some bright spots for the Saudi film industry though, with flicks such as the Godus brothers’ “Shams Al-Ma’arif” (“The Book of Sun”) debuting in July after lockdowns were lifted and people were able to attend movie screenings again.
The fashion sector was one of last year’s biggest casualties, as preventive public health measures resulted in a 46 percent decrease in industrial production. Clothing and shoe sale revenues slumped to a low point of SR5 billion ($1.33 billion) in the second quarter of 2020.
But the ministry’s report said that the industry bounced back as restrictions began to be lifted and takings had shot up to more than SR9 billion by the fourth quarter.




The Ministry of Culture and the Saudi Post Corp. on Tuesday launched stamps to mark the ‘Year of Arabic Calligraphy.’ (SPA)

Theater productions suffered significantly with only 68 performances being staged last year, compared to 169 by the same groups in 2019. Many actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers were forced to channel their activities toward virtual events and online workshops.
Hadeel Mufti, theater coordinator at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), held online classes in performance arts.
“This is a dream that the youth of today can work toward,” she told Arab News in July. “What’s great is that there is that push and encouragement from the Saudi Theater (and Performing Arts) Authority and the Saudi National Theater, driving us toward this new field of performing arts.”
The Ministry of Culture also established the Music Commission to develop and regulate the music sector, which it said had remained primarily reliant on amateur and self-trained artists. In a bid to address the shortcoming the ministry this year issued licenses for the first two music academies in the Kingdom.
Recently, the Saudi Standard Classification of Occupations also formally recognized music-related professions, which will make it easier for the country’s musicians to access training and pursue a career in the sector.
The full Saudi culture report is available to read on the ministry’s website at https://www.moc.gov.sa/sites/default/files/2021-03/Executive%20Summary%2...

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Updated 20 April 2021

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RIYADH: The National Culture Awards Ceremony kicked off with a bang in Riyadh, honoring 32 Saudi cultural figures in 14 categories.

A part of the Quality of Life program of Vision 2030 the Ministry of Culture announced the first annual National Cultural Awards winners in a ceremony on Monday evening in the Cultural Palace of the Diplomatic Quarter.

Sponsored by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman over 14 categories were awarded in cultural pioneering, youth cultural, cultural institutions, film, music, fashion, national heritage, literature, theater and performing arts, visual art, architecture and design, culinary arts, publishing, and translation.

In January 2020 the Ministry of Culture began the completion process and received over 15,000 submissions online and began deliberating the top submissions into October and chose the final winners in December.

The Vice Minister of Culture Hamed M. Fayez spoke on behalf of the Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Farhan Al-Saud in a speech addressing the ceremony stating, “ Culture, with its civilizational value, its social weight, and its effective developmental role today occupies the place it deserves. Thanks to the inspiring and ambitious national vision, the Saudi Vision 2030, which restored culture as a basic pillar in building society.  Anchored by the national identity and aspects of pride in the history and civilization of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Although the Minister of Culture was not in attendance he applauded the winners of the awards for their role in preserving and promoting the Kingdom's Culture stating, “ These intellectuals and creative minds are our cultural capital. With whom we will reach, with them and with their help, a cultural renaissance fitting the stature of our country.”

Dana Awartani one of the winners of the visual arts award from Jeddah, brings to life traditional geometry and historical themes in her art pieces.

“For me it is a huge honor first of all finally being recognized for the creative industry as a whole and all of the work that we do you know the past few years since the ministry has formed it has been completely different for us in getting support and recognition.”

“This is the first ever awards ceremony recognizing different arts which for me is a an honor to be a part of and it’s everything we have been working for, for the past my whole career has been summed up in today’s award and it is also great to see its  recognition from my own community, from my own country in a place where I grew up and where my art started,” Awartani shared with Arab News”.

Arwa Alammari a fashion pioneer of over 7 years and one of the winners of the fashion award shared her sentiments with Arab News stating,

“Being a part of such a cultural celebration of our heritage in such a way and it coming from my country means a lot to me, I have been working in this field for a very long time and I have been awarded internationally but when it comes from my country it means that we are all going toward the cultural changes that is going to be exported to the world.”

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“There is no doubt that it is a very excellent and wonderful step.  That establishes a cultural approach for this country that affirms its high and sublime position in all forums.” 

Prince Bandar thanked the Crown Prince for sponsoring the awards, the Ministry of Culture, and members of the ministry for organizing the event, “I hope that we will all succeed on other occasions to come, so that we will be at a high level in all our events, as much as tonight.  I thank you and hope every year you are well. Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you.”

14 cultural awards winners:

  • The Cultural Pioneer of the Year Award: H.E. Shaikh Mohammed Nasser Alaboudy
  • Youth Cultural Award: Winning first place is Shahad Saeed Amin for her films including “Lady of the Sea” and “Scales” that Saudi Arabia’s film authority nominated for best international film in the Academy Awards.
  • Cultural Institutions Award: First place in the private sector track is King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), First place in the Non-Profit sector track is Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, and winning first place in the Social responsibility track is the Ketabi Lak Application.
  • Film Award: In first place is Shahad Saeed Amin
  • Fashion Award: In first place Lomar, in second place Yousef Mohammed Akbar,and in third place Arwa Abdullah Alammari
  • Music Award: In first place Zaina Emad Swelleh,in second place Akram Ibrahim Almattar, and in third place Reem Fahad Altamimi.
  • National Heritage Award: In first place Abdulaziz Abdullah Aldakheel, in second place Dr. Hisham Ali Mortada ,and in third place Torathuna Social Responsibility Company.
  • Literature Award: In first place is Abdulaziz Saleh Alsagabi, in second place Magbool Moussa Alalawi, and in third place Amal Saleh Alharbi.
  • Theater and Performing Arts Award: In first place Sami Abdullatif Algamaan and in second place Yasser Yahya Madkhli.
  • Visual Arts Award: in first place Lolowah Abdulrazzaq Alhomoud ,in second place Danah Abdulrahim Awratani, and in third place Ahmad Sami Angawi.
  • Architecture and Design Award: A winner was not selected as the submissions did not meet the requirements. 
  • Culinary Arts Award: In first place Rakan Ibrahim Aloraifi, in second place ZADK Culinary Academy, and in third place Norah Abdulwahab Albadran
  • Publishing Award: In first place was Obeikan Publishing and Translation, second place Kadi and Ramadi for Publishing and Distribution, and in third place Dar Athar for Publishing and Distribution.
  • Translation Award: In first place Abdallah Mohammed Idris, in second place Sultan Nasser Almujaiwel, and in third place Bander Mohammed Alharbi.

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