New York, London and Paris have long enjoyed their titles as the old-world centres, however competition seems to be looming.
Doha and Abu Dhabi have taken on cities like New York, London and Paris to claim the cultural capitals crown, according to scholars looking at the global surge of significant cultural structures over the past 30 years.
They say the two Arab cities, as well as China’s Shenzhen, are among the cities building the most cutting-edge new museums, opera houses, and theatres to compete with the old-world hubs of New York, London, and Paris.
These cities have lofty aims and vast pockets, according to a report by The Art Newspape, which has exclusive access to a study that is now being conducted at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
The study predicts a “geographical shift from the established cities of high culture” in the west towards Asian metropolises, driven by the Gulf and China.
Two of the researchers conducting the study, geographers David Gogishvili and Martin Müller, wrote in an upcoming academic publication, “our analysis allows us to see a batch of new global cities of culture emerge.”
Data from 438 “major” cultural buildings that debuted in 58 nations between 1990 and 2019 are used in their research. This is done to avoid the anomalies of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The structures were classified as “major” if they cost at least $100 million, based on dollars in 2019, had a footprint of at least 20,000 square meters, or had a minimum seating capacity of 1,500 for performing arts venues, the report detailed.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Gogishvili and Müller view the spread of such mega-structures as proof of “the global rise of cultural capitalism.” They believe that intentionally outstanding cultural structures, frequently created by a small number of “starchitects,” have emerged as major emblems for cities fighting in the global race for “attention, reputation, tourists, and investment.”
The researchers claim that China’s “unparalleled” construction boom is expected to last well into the 2020s, with Shenzhen alone constructing at least ten museums and cultural structures worth an estimated $3 billion. The Gulf countries, however, are just getting started and want to use culture to increase their global influence and diversify their oil-based economies, the report argued.
Although only 14 significant arts venues opened in the region between 1990 and 2019 according to the report, a number of new projects are expected to be completed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia by the end of this decade.
During the “intense period of globalisation” after 1990, according to Gogishvili, the number of these major arts venues has skyrocketed.
An eastward movement that started in the west has gained momentum thanks to the conclusion of the Cold War and China’s quickening economic reforms. According to the analysis, Europe accounted for the largest proportion of major projects in the early 1990s, with ten of the 24 major projects undertaken globally over that five-year period, compared to seven in Asia and seven in North America.
But since the middle of the 2000s, Asia has seized the initiative. Between 2015 and 2019, 150 significant venues opened, of which 84 were in Asia, compared to 32 in Europe and 30 in North America.
This movement has been mostly driven by China, which holds a commanding lead, completing 131 structures, or 30% of the sampled projects, over the study period. The United States is in second position with 74 buildings, or 17% of the total.
Asia’s belief that bigger is better is motivated by both pragmatic and political considerations. In China and other countries, the state owns urban land, accelerating development.
Seprately, the researchers suggest that the construction of massive buildings like the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, designed by Zaha Hadid, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the result of a bilateral agreement between France and the UAE, was motivated by authoritarian governments’ desire for “soft power and regime legitimation.”
However, it would be considered premature to declare that this global surge in capital investment marks a change in the cultural axis, the report argued.
The University of Lausanne’s team received data from the director of AEA Consulting, Adrian Ellis, who claims that Asian and Middle Eastern towns hoping to currently expand significantly are still in the “catch-up” phase.
It will be years before they have as many public museums and performance spaces as cities like London, Rome, or Paris, Ellis claimed.
Spotlight on Qatar
Qatar has rapidly developed its infrastructure over the years, including cutting-edge highways, a metro system, universities and a range of museums.
Qatar has expanded its cultural sphere in particular and launched a tremendously ambitious museum expansion programme.
The National Museum of Qatar, created for an undisclosed sum by French architect Jean Nouvel, opened its doors in 2019 for the public, revealing pieces that showcase the country’s history in a capturing story-telling style.
Now, authorities are rallying to complete Qatar’s newest cultural venture and region’s most prominent art-hub, the Art Mill Museum, set to open in 2030.
Meanwhile, Doha was given the title for 2023 by the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism on 13 December.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said Doha has witnessed an unparalleled increase in tourism as a result of the region’s first-ever hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
The CEO said the world’s perspective of Qatar and the entire Arab world has transformed as a result of the FIFA World Cup’s successful hosting, reflecting the region’s genuine, positive identity and opening the way for a thriving tourism sector.