Promoting Saudi Arabia as land of human civilizations and cultures: Prince Badr

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By Faisal Al-Khammash

Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH —
Minister of Culture Prince Badr Bin Abdullah Bin Farhan has reaffirmed that his ministry will not allow extremist ideas to creep into the Kingdom’s cultural sector and disrupt the nation’s progress.

He considered that the ministry’s fight against extremism as a civilized and cultural work in achieving the aspirations of the Saudi leadership.

In an extensive interview with Okaz/Saudi Gazette, he said that the ministry’s objective is to strengthen the Kingdom’s international status and reputation as the land of human civilizations and cultures. He emphasized that the ministry will continue its civilized journey through opening up to the world with full of pride the Kingdom’s past legacy as well as its rich culture and heritage.

“The development of cultural work with all its diverse sectors is a laborious task, requiring much patience to have a better harvest, befitting the status, history and rich culture of the Kingdom,” he said.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Q. The Ministry of Culture has made several big promises in last March and that were well received by the cultural sector. Where are you standing today in the way of realizing them?

A. During the past several months, the Ministry of Culture has institutionalized as many as 27 initiatives that we launched in the end of March, and I have been working with my colleagues to fulfill the aspirations of our wise leadership —Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. They have been extending unparalleled support to the cultural sector.

The ministry has also worked to attract Saudi talent to manage these initiatives, out of our commitment that the people of the Kingdom have top priority in the opportunities to build and develop the sector, the success of which relies on their active involvement. As you have seen, work is in full swing to move forward in a way befitting the Kingdom’s status and culture, and continue in the journey of achieving empowerment and creating environments that stimulate cultural creativity.

Q. But why these initiatives have taken so long time to kick-start? Do you think the announcement about it was too early?

A. Never. In the ministry, my colleagues are working on parallel lines for all the 27 initiatives, 11 entities and 16 sectors announced by the ministry during March. There is a new ministry; an ambitious team and creative projects, and we are inspired to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 through these great initiatives. This is at a time when the Crown Prince is embarking on a big mission to achieve several goals of the Vision.

Ultimately, we aim to achieve the objectives of the Ministry’s vision and orientations in the capacity of culture as a lifestyle that accelerates economic growth and the Kingdom’s international standing. True, these are big goals, but with continuous hard work, we will reach them.

Do not forget that the process of establishing the infrastructure of the cultural sector requires a comprehensive study and structure dealing with all aspects and details. Similarly, the development of cultural work with all its diverse sectors is a laborious task, requiring much patience to have a better harvest befitting the status, history and rich culture of the Kingdom.

Most of the activities in this sector — especially in music and theater — should have to start from beginning and hence we focus on education in view of the fact that it is the basis of any cultural project. We also focus on bringing out a worthy product and not come out with any haste in having a mediocre product at the expense of quality.

However, the efforts of my colleagues at the ministry have brought about many initiatives. At the ministry, from the very outset, we made it mandatory to engage with cultural figures and creative people for all our achievements after considering them as basic partners for success and the capital of the cultural sector. We are also in constant discussions with specialists in many sectors with a confidence about ensuring involvement of Saudi cultural expertise, which is rich in creativity and knowledge.

Q. You have declared about establishing arts academies in two areas: heritage (traditional arts and crafts) and music; why did you start with them?

A. Through this initiative, the ministry has carried out studies about the local market in terms of current and expected educational and training programs until 2030, in addition to studying the expected demand for employment until 2030 according to the aspirations, projects and initiatives of the ministry’s vision and strategy.

It was revealed in the study and the feedback that the ministry had received from intellectuals and specialists through continuous meetings and various communication outlets underlined the need for boosting capacity-building in the sector with a precise identification of the need. It was found that the field of music tops in the list in terms of the absence of academies or institutes offering licensed educational programs and accredited certificates to teach music despite the high demand for this.

Q. What do you mean exactly by the term “Academy of Traditional Arts”? Does it include plastic arts or fine arts or is it only crafts?

A. There are courses for teaching of art as a modern subject in Saudi and Western universities. Teaching of art began in Saudi Arabia in 1960s through the erstwhile Institute of Art Education or through scholarship granted to the pioneers of Saudi art, and there are a number of Saudi universities, which have departments for art education or visual arts or designing.

However, the ministry, through this academy, would focus on developing our arts and meeting the needs of the present day market. This academy, which is focusing on traditional arts and preserving the Saudi national identity, is the first of its kind in the Kingdom. We boast a cultural and artistic heritage that date back to thousands of years. We are proud of having diverse arts and artifacts that were excavated from great sites in Saudi Arabia, such as AlUla, Al-Faw and Thaj or those rock carvings in Jubbah and Abar Hima. These monuments and arts are tangible proof of the depth of our practice in arts.

The Academy will support Saudi artwork, including local art, craft or traditional performing arts that need to be conserved or developed to be a marketable Saudi art product on international platforms. The institute will also revive the teaching of Arabic calligraphy in a systematic style as it is one of the most important arts in our culture and history.

My colleagues will work to enrich the level and quality of Saudi traditional arts, enhance public awareness and promote culture nationally and internationally with these local arts by providing distinctive educational programs in various cultural fields in which we would strive to develop and preserve tangible and intangible heritage.

Q. Why do you give such significance for music now?

A. The study confirmed — as I mentioned — the high demand for qualified specialists to take up the employment opportunities that are available now and will come up in future in the music field. We do not forget that the Saudi songs have crossed the extent of their influence and spread out of their local periphery, and reached the entire Arab as well as the global listeners.

In the Kingdom, we have several model figures who made their way and earned name and fame in the fields of song and music with their hard work and relentless efforts. It is high time now to create local capacity-building platform for creative talents in the field, whether through playing, singing or other complementary roles in the music sector, as well as developing a local heritage of performing arts such as the diverse folklore arts in our country.

Q. What is the main objective of the Ministry of Culture in setting up of Arts Academies?

A. Emphasizing the Ministry’s mission to empower and encourage the Saudi cultural sector, the most important elements of which are investment in capacity-building in the cultural and arts sector. We want the Saudi cultural product to show its full range of identity reflecting our culture. We also want to create job opportunities for creative people in all fields of the arts so as to contribute to the cultural building of the country.

Q. When will we see an extensive foreign scholarship program in the cultural fields in view of the fact that scholarship has been behind many Saudi cultural and creative productions over the past decades?

A. We are now giving finishing touches to the goals of the Cultural Scholarship Initiative. This focuses on qualitative scholarship for specializations in cultural field and supporting promising talented people. But at the same time, the ministry started implementing another initiative, called “Establishing Artist” initiative, which was launched by the ministry with a package of initiatives in March.

The initiative’s objectives also include making available of training opportunities and exchange experiences between Saudi artists and their international counterparts within the Kingdom and outside. The ministry will start the initiative by sending two artists to France at the end of September to start studying the arts related to artificial intelligence at the Loughnoy School in Tourcoing, France. The ministry also reached out to some of the best training and educational programs in the world to choose what suits its vision and orientations.

Under the cooperation agreement between the ministry and the Loughnoy School, artists will be sent during the period from 2019 to 2021 to study there, with each group completing their studies in two years. Each artist will receive a master’s degree. The ministry will also send artists to other international schools to study and train in the field of artificial intelligence and other science branches in six-week scientific programs as part of the initiative.

Q. The “Winter at Tantora” was an exceptional event, and, it is said that “You created surprises there.” Will we see surprises in Janadriyah similar to that you gave in AlUla?

A. At the “Winter at Tantora,” they were only the beginning. In the Janadriyah National Cultural and Heritage Festival, we will strive to present a qualitative leap befitting the mammoth heritage and cultural event. I will not make promises, but as we have scheduled, we will now focus on enriching the visitor experience through cultural content during the next edition of the festival. Our colleagues at the ministry are working out strategic improvement plan for the next three years in order to put Janadriyah on the map of the most important tourist destinations.

Q. The Riyadh International Book Fair is usually a subject of anticipation inside and outside the Kingdom. What will be the ministry’s new additions and what is the secret behind its early announcement this year with a change in its date of opening?

A. The status of Riyadh International Book Fair is prestigious among Arab exhibitions, as it ranks first among the Arab countries in terms of sales. As the sky is the limit for the ambitions of our leaders, the goal is to strengthen the fair’s international status. Book fairs are a component of the publishing and information industries. The early announcement of the exhibition is to ensure realizing its objectives as a place that brings together officials, experts, writers, authors, publishers, producers and commercial agents in both the traditional and digital publishing and information industry, in addition to its role as a platform for companies, institutions and individuals working in the information and publishing industry to display their products and services.

There is more than one reason for a change in the date of the exhibition, most importantly to avoid a clash with the dates of the international exhibitions ranked among the top 10 exhibitions in the world such as the London and Paris exhibitions.

Q. You have announced the Red Sea International Film Festival; Will we witness a new era for the nascent Saudi cinema there?

A. Through this festival, we aim to create an impressive and competitive Saudi cinema industry sector. We have Saudi creative artists who can compete internationally, the latest of which was the announcement of the name of the Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour among the names in the competition of the recently-concluded Venice International Film Festival in Italy. Similarly, screening of the Saudi director Shahad Amin’s film was also held at the festival itself, which is clear evidence that our beloved country abounds in creative artists. The Red Sea Film Festival will create cultural, employment and economic opportunities beneficial to the Kingdom.

Q. Have you celebrated the arrival of the Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour to an ancient festival such as Venice representing Saudi cinema? Will the ministry support Saudi filmmakers?

A. We have remarkable experiences in filmmaking, despite the absence of cinema from the Kingdom for a long time, and this proves the ability of Saudis to cherish their creativity under all circumstances, and that the experiments of Saudi Arabia has reached international forums. It is true that our experience in filmmaking is short compared to international experience, but its output is encouraging, and over the passage of time it will be more competitive.

Personally, I am very optimistic about the creative output of Saudi artists. In my meetings with the international film industry experts, I usually invite them to watch the Saudi creative works. We will definitely encourage them and work with them to create broad horizons and best environment for their creativity. The ministry will support all forms of Saudi arts and facilitate their participation in international festivals. It supported Saudi artists in the 58th Venice Biennale, and the Artificial Intelligence and Intercultural Dialogue Exhibition at the Hermitage Museum in Russia. We will reach out to every creative artist. As I always repeat, the ministry is opening its doors to its partners and stakeholders and by this, I mean Saudi intellectuals and artists.

Q. The Ministry hosted several events in cooperation with international cultural institutions, such as the La Scala Opera and Christie’s Auctions and Private Sales. What’s the advantage of such a move and is there any plan to continue it?

A. Our objective in the ministry is to strengthen the Kingdom’s international status, in view of its capacity as the land of civilizations and cultures. The Kingdom is opening its doors to the world, and will extend its cultural bridges to friendly peoples. We are of the conviction that we are a great, important and strategic country, which is not emerged all of a sudden in a day. Our history extends to the depths of human civilization. We believe in the historical and cultural responsibility of Saudis and therefore, we strive to contribute to the delivery of Saudi culture to a place befitting our great country. We are keen on opening to other cultures in building bridges with others.

Q. China ... the other world ... You have been present in a number of popular social networking platforms in China, being the first Arab minister in doing so; What is the purpose of it?

A. China is a country of civilization, industry, economy and future, and the launch of my (Twitter) account is a window to introduce the Kingdom, the land of cultural and archaeological treasures, and I try to contribute personally to the delivery of our message of culture in the Kingdom by building bridges of communications with China. It is our duty to take advantage of all possible windows to build cultural bridges between the Kingdom and the peoples of friendly countries.

Q. The Crown Prince has declared war on extremism, and you know that the repercussions of extremist ideas have affected the cultural scene in Saudi Arabia. Where have you reached in your fight against extremist ideas as well as in freeing the cultural sector from those repercussions?

A. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has declared war on extremism and extremist ideas. I am sure that the Kingdom is winning this war. Saudi Arabia has dried up the sources of extremism in its enduring journey to confront terrorism and hate speech. At the Ministry of Culture, we stress that our fight against extremism is a civilized and cultural work so as to create a natural climate for our generations and our culture.

In the Kingdom, we did not have any knowledge of extremism or terrorism until after the emergence of movements that are “exploiters of Islam for political purposes,” and its beginning, as stated by the Crown Prince, was with the Khomeini revolution of Iran in 1979. I want to quote from the words of the Crown Prince: “We will return to moderate Islam, with an opening to all religions.”

It is true that the cultural sector has been hurt by the fires of extremism for many years. However, creative production continued without any break. Moreover, Saudis succeeded in defeating extremism and obscurantist ideas. We will continue our civilized journey that believes in opening up to the world with pride in our past as well as in our heritage.

We are not prepared — as the Crown Prince said — to waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with any extremist ideas. Extremist ideas seem to have reached the stage of despair and suicide in the Kingdom and they are trying to distort Saudi achievement and reforms. At the Ministry of Culture, we will not allow these ideas to disrupt our progress towards achieving the goals and aspirations of the leadership.


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