Future of arts & entertainment brings hope to Saudi youth

Future of arts & entertainment brings hope to Saudi youth

September 23, 2016

By Layan Damanhouri
Saudi Gazette

With recreational and cultural opportunities limited in the Kingdom, there has been a gap between the Saudi citizens’ income level and the standard of wellbeing. This was fervently voiced by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, in an interview with Alarabiya following the announcement of the Vision 2030 last April.

Entertainment outlets and cultural activities are crucial to change the standard of living of a Saudi citizen, the prince emphasized amid a wave of reforms to modernize the Kingdom.

Land suitable for cultural and entertainment projects will be provided and talented writers, authors, and directors will be supported, according to the National Transformation Plan, the first 5-year strategy outline to implement the Vision 2030.


The plan stated that cultural venues, such as libraries, arts and museums, “as well as entertainment possibilities to suit tastes” would be introduced. Such projects aim to contribute to the national economy and create job opportunities, the prince stated. The government aims to generate 1.2 million jobs from the tourism and national heritage sector as well as create five new tourist destinations, 241 museums, 155 archeological sites, and 17 craft centers by 2020.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage also aims to increase the number of registered world heritage sites from four to ten. Festivals and local events around the country are expected to increase to 500 in the next five years. Domestic tourism spending is to increase from SR105 billion to SR174 billion and the number of tourists to 82 million.

The Cabinet approved the establishment of the General Authority for Entertainment in May in efforts to promote local tourism although the authority has not been publicly revealed yet.

“We still don’t know much about the authority and what it will do in terms of promoting entertainment,” says Abdulrahman Sandokji, an executive producer and filmmaker based in Madinah.
“However, I imagine there would be more galleries, museums, exhibitions, other types of exposure for local artists and Saudis in artistic fields. These artists are still not as exposed as we’d like them to be. We would like the authority to promote them more.”

[caption id="attachment_86625" align="aligncenter" width="700"]An art gallery in Riyadh celebrating the Saudi National Day (Arabian Wings) An art gallery in Riyadh celebrating the Saudi National Day (Arabian Wings)[/caption]

“Opening up the realms of culture would enable the youth to make better use of their time as an outlet,” he believes, as it would also serve as a new source of income. “Refined taste in culture and arts reflects on society’s wellbeing. It also creates openness and curiosity to the outside world.”

Sandokji says he witnessed a rapid development in filmmaking in the Kingdom. “Saudi youth are taking over the market with new companies and production houses which was rarely run by Saudis in the past.”

He adds that they are in need of more projects. As for logistical issues, regulations and licensing have improved but they would like to see easier and faster procedures.
Faisal Alharbi, a filmmaker who is also studying radio and television, agrees that licensing and regulations for filmmakers have improved but looks forward to seeing cinemas being introduced.

“We’d like to have an authority to be responsible for this just like in other countries,” he says. “If there’s an intention for introducing movie theaters in Saudi in the near future, there should be an independent body apart that solely responsible for cinema.” 

Locals should have the opportunity to enjoy cultural events and watch Saudi-made films, he argues. “People travel abroad to enjoy cultural events, musical concerts and operas and such. We would like to have that here in the Kingdom,” says Alharbi, who is also involved in theater and a member of the Saudi Arabian Society for Arts and Culture.

He adds, “Investing in entertainment and cultural events will serve as a source of revenue and open more opportunities in the market.”

Asked about his view on the local cultural scene, he describes it as existing but still unclear and unorganized. He adds, “Many of us still don’t know what the entertainment authority’s role is and whether it will play a role in establishing cinemas.”

University student and calligraphy artist Yara Arafsha predicts more exhibitions and galleries will emerge on a larger scale. She says, “Right now there’s a centralization in the capital where the major events for artists are. I look forward to seeing the same quality of events and support for artists in all the regions of the Kingdom.”

On Saudi art on the international scene, she says: “There’s an increasing exposure of artists and Saudi art abroad especially with the government’s support. It’s important to exposure art that reflects on the Saudi culture.”

There’s a general increase in activities and events with more sponsorship, she notes.

Shaker Kashgari, an Arabic calligraphy artist, is also optimistic on the artistic scene. “The Vision 2030 is important to me as an artist because there will be more Islamic museums here in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “This will allow artists opportunities within these new museums.”

He adds, “Supporting artists is something important we would like to see the new generation of young artists to be supported locally and globally to present Saudi talent.”

Efforts by the Saudi leadership are ongoing in seeking partnerships and invite international investors to promote the entertainment industry as well as the arts and cultural initiatives.

In an earlier press conference, the Deputy Crown Prince declared the largest Islamic museum in the world would open in Riyadh, referring to “the scarcity of cultural services” and the need in Saudi Arabia to make use of our strength. He also announced other plans, including cultural centers celebrating historic pre-Islamic civilizations in the Arabian Peninsula.

September 23, 2016