Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Movement… Drastic Changes, Global Launch

The qualitative leap in the national cultural movement represents one of the most important forms of the big development and civic transformation that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been witnessing since the launch of the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030.

After developing and investing in the archaeological sites that are deeply rooted in the history, and opening them for tourists from all corners of the world, in addition to having institutes and academies for arts with global expertise and cinemas with the latest technologies, and supporting young talents through adoption and granting them scholarships for specialized studies were all dreams and wishes for talented people of various fields, today all these are facts on the ground, which made the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupy an advanced cultural rank among its peers of world countries.

The beginning was on June 2, 2018, with the establishment of the Ministry of Culture under a Royal Order to be headed by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan as the first Minister of Culture, where the ministry is concerned with the cultural scene at the local and international levels and is keen on preserving the historical heritage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and seeking to build a rich cultural future for various types of culture and arts to flourish.

A Cultural Strategy that Covers 16 Sectors

Ten months after its establishment, the Ministry of Culture launched its own strategy that identified, under its vision and trends, 16 sub-sectors to focus its efforts and activities on, which are: heritage, museums, cultural and archaeological landscapes, theater and performing arts, cultural festivals and events, books and publication, architecture and design, natural heritage, films, fashion, language and translation, culinary arts, literature, libraries, visual arts, and music.

Through its first pack of 27 initiatives, the Ministry of Culture reflected its role and the shape of its presence. It translated its strategy via practical steps and a comprehensive plan represented by: King Salman International Complex for Arabic Language, Nomow Cultural Fund, Red Sea International Film Festival, Cultural Scholarship Program, Ad-Diriyah Biennale, National Theater Group, National Music Band, One Stop Shop for Licensing and Permitting, Houses of Culture, Art Academies, Books for All Initiative, Culture Awards, Arts and Literature Magazines, Specialized Museums, National Film Archive, Arts and Literature Sabbaticals, “Tarjim” Program for Translation, Cultural Festivals, Children’s Culture Program, Documentation of Oral Traditions and Intangible Heritage, Annual Contemporary Arts Exhibition, Public Libraries Development, Fashion Weeks, National Culinary Festival, Art in Public Places, Artist Residency Spaces, and Saudi Cultural City, in addition to supporting the National Janadriyah Cultural and Heritage Festival.

11 Cultural Commissions

February 4, 2020 witnessed the approval of the Cabinet’s to establish 11 new cultural commissions that are tasked with administrating the Saudi cultural sector with all its specializations and trends, where every commission is responsible for developing a certain sector, enjoys a public legal responsibility, a financial and administrative independence and structurally connected with the Minister of Culture. The new commissions are: Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission; Fashion Commission; Film Commission; Heritage Commission; Architecture and Design Commission; Visual Arts Commission; Museums Commission; Theater and Performing Arts Commission; Libraries Commission; Music Commission; and Culinary Arts Commission.

Cultural Initiatives

Since its establishment, the Ministry of Culture has offered several qualitative initiatives, the most prominent of which might be naming 2020 the year of Arabic Calligraphy in celebration of Arabic calligraphy and as a gesture of appreciation for the importance it represents in expressing the reserve of the Arabic language and the history and beauty it owns through its engineering, details and shapes. The initiative was extended to include 2021 due to the exceptional circumstances and what the entire world witnessed after the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During 2020 and 2021, the ministry launched several initiatives to serve the Arabic calligraphy, such as a platform specialized with identifying and teaching Arabic calligraphy and published “Calligraphers” series via 10 visual clips that reflect the presence of the Arabic calligraphy in forming the identity and civilization. The ministry also held partnerships with government bodies to activate the initiative through Arabizing the jerseys of players of the clubs of the Saudi Professional League and through the Saudi Cup and wall paintings of Arabic calligraphy, in addition to applying the visual identity of the year of the Arabic calligraphy on the Saudia and Flynas airplanes. In partnership with the Saudi Post, the ministry also issued stamps. Also, the “Year of Arabic Calligraphy” stamp was designed in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior to be stamped on the passports of arrivals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Ministry also organized the international exhibition for Arabic calligraphy, the exhibition of “Scripts and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey”, in addition to launching competitions, interactive programs and the calligrapher platform.

The Kingdom: International gate in the industry of books and publishing

Intellectuals at the level of the Arab world are waiting for the highlight in next October, which is the Riyadh International Book Fair 2021, which constitutes an important cultural event in the industry of books and publication through shedding light on reading, increasing the cognitive, cultural and literary awareness, offering inspiring experiments through stimulating the cultural participation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and stimulating the trade cooperation, so that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can become a global gateway for the publication sector.

The Ministry of Culture had pointed out that the new version of the fair will witness doubling the absorptive capacity in a bid to attract the best local, Arab and international publication houses and offering a distinguished content for the audience of the fair according to high standards that meet the needs of readers, visitors and exhibitors, and put the Riyadh International Book Fair among the top international book fairs.

The Riyadh International Book Fair, for the first time, will include an international conference for publishers with the aim of enhancing communication among local, Arab and international publication houses, activating partnerships among relevant institutions and companies and enriching the regional publishing scene in a sustainable way through a set of discussion panels, interactive activities, workshops and diversified cultural symposiums.

Qualitative Leap for Music

The year 2020 witnessed an unprecedented qualitative leap for music after the establishment of the Music Commission that started operation through cooperation with a specialized company and launched Abde’a platform that grants licenses for practising cultural and arts professions and provided three licences for playing music, managing musical sounds and practising musical production, in addition to providing a platform for licensing training institutes, which resulted in issuing the first two licences for musical training in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Commission has launched a virtual training program for making music that includes educational and training courses in several musical specializations, and announced the start of receiving applications from musicians interested in joining the National Music Band, and presented a gift of “equestrian music” for the Jockey Club in the second version of the Saudi Cup, in addition to a cheering song that was presented to Saudi football national team as part of its journey in the qualifiers of the World Cup in 2022.

Culture with International Dimensions

The goals of the new cultural commissions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia mixed between the local and global dimensions, where at the local level, they focus on serving intellectuals, researchers and creative people in all the fields of arts, literature, while at the global level, they tell the world about the creativity of Saudis and the ancient historical heritage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, upon its establishment, launched an initiative to enrich the Arabic content and enhance cultural exchange between the Arabic language and its peers in the world through the “Tarjim” initiative that is considered one of the first pack of initiatives that the Ministry of Culture announced during the launching ceremony of its vision and trends. The ministry then announced the second track of the “Tarjim” initiative, which is the “Translating academic journals” project, through which the Commission seeks to enrich the Arabic cognitive content through translating academic journals in the cultural, social and humanitarian fields. The ministry also launched the Arab Translation Monitor with the aim of unifying Arab efforts in the translation field and supporting its process, in addition to announcing the establishment of the Saudi Publishing House and organizing a series of virtual literary meetings in 2021.

Registering 624 Historical Sites

For its part, the Heritage Commission accredited the registration of 624 new archaeological and historical sites in the National Antiquities Register during the first quarter of 2021, increasing the number of archeological sites that have been registered in the registry since its establishment to 8,176 sites in various regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Heritage Commission also resorted to come up with the “archeological registry”, which is a technical process to document moveable and immoveable archeological pieces, historical sites and folklore with the use of a form of collecting information, forming a digital registry for national antiquities that is connected with a digital archaeological map, where the registry includes detailed information, maps, photos and reports about the registered archeological and historical sites.

However, the top achievement of 2021 was the success of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in registering the Hima Wells site, which is considered among the most important archeological sites in Najran and a road extending between six stone wells, through which commercial caravans coming from the south of the Arabian Peninsula used to pass to the north to supply with water. The site has more than 13 locations with drawings for herding and hunting scenes and other drawings for man shapes that were drown in sizes bigger than the normal size and wearing head covers and necklaces while holding knives and blades, as well as dances with musical instruments. This site was added to other sites that were registered to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, where the other sites are: Hegra, Al-Turaif District in Diriyah, Historic Jeddah, Rock Art in Hail and Al-Hasa Oasis.

Cultural Investment for Archeological Sites

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has embarked on tourist and cultural investment of prestigious tourist sites, such as Al-Ula that houses an urban heritage dating back to 7,000 years through establishing the Royal Committee for Al-Ula. The Commission organizes a wide variety of tourist activities in Al-Ula Governorate, including the Hegra site, Ikmah Mountain and Kingdom of Lihyan (Dadan), in which a team of archeologists is implementing wide excavation works to discover more about that mysterious period of time of the human history in Al-Ula. While visiting the Hegra site, tourists get engaged with a unique experience to discover the old life style of the Nabataeans, where the visit sheds light on the most important archeological sites in the Hegra, such as the Tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza, Ithleb Mountain, Jabal Al Ahmar, and Old Dadan, which is the capital of the Empire of Dadan and Lihyan and the most advanced city during the first millennium BC.

Rehabilitation of the Creative People

The new cultural strategy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia focused on the aspect of rehabilitating and training creative and talented people through launching the Cultural Scholarship Program, under which talented students in arts and literary fields are granted scholarships to pursue their studies in the world’s most prestigious universities, such as the Columbia University, Georgetown University, the University of Paris (Sorbonne), in addition to University College London, Carnegie Mellon University, Parsons School of Design, University of California, Berkeley, Northwestern University, Manchester School of Architecture, Pratt Institute in the US, Royal Holloway at the University of London, and University of Michigan.

These students study in specializations that include literature, languages, linguistics, archeology, culinary arts, architecture, filmmaking, libraries and museums, fashion, theater, visual arts, music and design.

Also, the “Experts” Program was launched with the aim of training 30 Saudis and rehabilitating them to join a network of experts accredited in international cultural agreements and programs, so as to increase the number of Saudi experts specialized in administrating and preparing candidacy files at international organizations and develop their capabilities and knowledge according to the mechanism followed by UNESCO.

At the local level, the Royal Institute of Traditional Arts offers intensified training courses in the arts of wicker, weaving, hand embroidery and pottery.

Digitalization of Culture

The Ministry of Culture had also issued the executive summary of its annual report specialized in detecting the status of the Saudi cultural sector in 2020, titled: “Report on the State of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2020: Digitalization of Culture”. The report included an analytical description for the movement in the various cultural sub-sectors that see active movement by Saudi artists and intellectuals, which are: heritage, museums, cultural and archeological sites, theater and performing arts, books and publishing, architecture and design, natural heritage, films, fashion, language and translation, culinary arts, festivals and cultural events, literature, libraries, visual arts, and music.

The Ministry of Culture chose the theme “Digitalization of Culture” as a title of the report on the state of culture for 2020 due to the fact that digitalization was the most prominent feature for the year after the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that contributed to moving the cultural activity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the entire world from the real world to the virtual world. The report provided a description to this status with an observation to the digital transformations that affected the cultural sector and reflected on the nature of activities and events that were offered by Saudi individuals and cultural institutions during 2020.