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Dubai city profile | city data

Dubai is first Arab city to join the World Cities Culture Forum!

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 4,357 sq. km
  • Total population: 2,327,350
  • Percentage of total national population living in the city: 24.9%
  • Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 31.80%
  • GDP (PPP) million: $337,907

Since the mid-1960s, when oil was first found off the coast of Dubai, the emirate has developed into a global city and major international and Middle Eastern business and trade hub. This economic boom has gone hand in hand with huge population growth over the past four decades (a rise of over 300% between 1968 and 1975 alone), driven by an influx of workers and immigrants from across the world. Today, Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and continues to be one of the fastest growing in the world. It is also highly diverse, home to over 200 nationalities and multiple languages. The city is successfully taking steps to diversify its increasingly dynamic economy and is enjoying a steadily growing GDP. Creative industries are seen as an important element in this diversification. Dubai thus provides good access to internet and media infrastructure as well as support to media start-ups and low entry barriers for developing digital content to support innovative and digital companies.

The tourism and cultural sectors are seen as further important elements in diversifying Dubai’s economy. Tourism has been steadily increasing in recent years and numbers are expected to double by 2020. This is developing hand in hand with the cultural sector, with Dubai seeing an increasing demand for a diversified cultural offer from both local residents and tourists. In answer to this, the city has made recent major investments in the city’s cultural infrastructure, with the aim of broadening its cultural offer “across events, attractions, infrastructure, services, and packages”. Bolstered by this, city marketing strategies are focusing on cultural tourism as a key way to attract further visitors to the emirate, positioning Dubai as the “first choice for international leisure and cultural travelers”.

In addition, Dubai’s cultural and creative sectors are also considered as important in supporting the city’s position on the international cultural and political stage. Cultural diplomacy is seen as a key tool in helping Dubai “become a magnet for talent” and to “play a more active role in the international cultural exchange scene”. Closer to home, the City views culture as a valuable social tool, supporting developments in areas such as residents’ quality of life and the promotion of “social cohesion, societal tolerance and identity”, by contributing to community engagement and empowering communities to harness their creative potential.

Dubai’s growing cultural sector has been particularly driven by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (DCAA). DCAA is supported by a range of government institutions (e.g. the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development; the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing); private organisations such as commercial cultural businesses and private foundations; and international/regional institutions such as UNESCO. The cultural sector is growing organically, with DCAA seeing itself as a catalyst and partner to other private and public initiatives in the sector. This is showing success – over two thirds of the city’s cultural activities are sponsored or owned by other entities, and only 12% are directly owned by DCAA.

Nevertheless, Dubai’s creative and cultural sector also faces some key challenges to its further development. It is felt that the city shows a lack of focus on developing its non-commercial cultural infrastructure, as well as providing inadequate support for artistic creation. This goes hand in hand with a limited availability of training in the arts, crafts and heritage sectors, where an increased provision of “both academic and vocational training is needed to develop a vibrant cultural sector, including creative industries such as crafts and design”. Addressing these gaps is made more difficult by current challenges in “acquiring funding for cultural projects and programmes that are primarily non-profit”, as well as the limited collaboration between the public and private sectors. Other challenges originate in Dubai’s strict visa and customs policies, which pose limitations on visa sponsorship, make it difficult for artists to work in Dubai long-term, and cause delays in importing artworks. Such factors present major obstacles in attracting and retaining international talent to Dubai, exacerbated by the fact that expensive fees are imposed on all events performed in the city.

Despite these challenges, Dubai continues to ambitiously drive and promote the development of its cultural and creative sector. The City’s overarching aim is to become a platform of diverse regional and global cultural exchange and innovation, and “to enrich the cultural scene by maintaining a sustainable cultural ecosystem while preserving the Emirati Heritage and nurturing talents to enhance cultural diversity and social cohesion.” Alongside continuing to build new world-class arts institutions such as Dubai Opera, due to open in 2016, there has been a noticeable recent increase in the awareness of the importance of conserving the emirate’s heritage and cultural identity. This in part relates to the city’s aim to “increase cultural participation and engagement of its community and residences”, as well as its plans to “strengthen Dubai’s position as the region’s leading cultural destination”. The recently opened Etihad Museum is thus dedicated to the story of the nation’s development. In addition, plans were recently approved plans to rejuvenate the oldest part of the city around Khor Dubai, with the aim to transform the area into a leading culture and heritage centre. The hope is that this will both raise awareness of Dubai’s rich history as well as allow locals to reconnect with their history and strengthen their national identity.

Alongside this, other key projects particularly promote the creative industries, which are seen as supporting the city in “forming a unique identity for the cultural sector in Dubai”. The Dubai Museum of The Future is currently under construction, to act as “an incubator for ideas, a driver for innovation, and a destination for inventors and entrepreneurs from around the world.”

“The world is entering a new era of accelerated knowledge and great technological revolutions. We aim to lead in that era, not to follow and lag behind. The Museum of the Future is the first step of many to come, marking the beginning of great achievements.” (His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum)

Dubai Art Season, an umbrella arts initiative which includes a range of outdoor art projects, interactive initiatives, workshops and exhibitions aims to highlight the Emirate’s growing creative landscape internationally. In 2020, Dubai will also be hosting the world expo under the theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, which will particularly focus partnerships and cooperation and “will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise around shared challenge”. With 25 million visitors expected, the vast majority of whom will come from outside the city state borders, the hope is that this will further “serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for Dubai for the coming decades”.

Perspectives on the city taken from World Cities Culture Report 2015