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An evidence-base for the growing Gulf festivals sector

New skills research in the Gulf Co-operation Council States

​Festivals - and the cultural/entertainment/tourism sectors more broadly - are an important growth area in the Gulf. As each of the six GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE)) work to diversify their economy and grow opportunities for their significant youth populations, festivals are gaining increased recognition as potential significant social and economic contributors.

Over the course of 2018/19, we have worked with the British Council to research current skills needs and provision for the GCC festivals sector to enable festival development in number, scale and quality. The research aimed both to provide GCC festival stakeholders with its first evidence base about the regional sector, and to support the British Council’s Gulf Culture and Sport Programme develop exchange and opportunities for collaboration between the Gulf and the UK.

The research highlighted many commonalities across the six GCC nations: large youth populations, limited formal training offers in arts or arts management, extensive government funding and direct involvement in festival delivery, a burgeoning independent events management sector, as well as strengths in cultural heritage programming. Each country, however, also has its own individual strengths and faces unique challenges: these are explored in depth in the report.

Following extensive research and consultation our key findings include:

  • Opportunities for cultural management training within GCC have up until now been limited, with cultural managers typically studying abroad
  • There is very little infrastructure to support festivals as a sector – no networks, training or specific support
  • Some countries share a wish to develop their programming and curatorship to keep local audiences interested, develop their festival identities, attract more tourists and ensure festivals can be sustained
  • Government funding for festivals has already / is expected to fall in several (though not all) countries; there is consequently an interest in new sources for income for festivals
  • Most of the skills needs identified for festivals are part of the wider skills needs of the cultural / creative / entertainment sectors in the region – through supply chain links (e.g. venues) and because there is not enough market demand to sustain a division of labour.

A key report recommendation was that regional networking events could build a shared understanding of the sector’s key needs and enable collaboration. In response, the findings of this report have now been discussed and ratified by GCC sector stakeholders during a GCC Festivals Symposium – the first such event in the region - hosted in Muscat in February 2019, funded by the British Council and facilitated by BOP Consulting. We are thrilled to see this evidence of the positive impact that research can make in sectoral development.

Full report is here.

- Poppy Lawrence Carr, Researcher; Rebekah Polding, Senior Consultant

Image credit: Sharjah Light Festival, Shalika Malintha (Flickr - Feb, 2018)