How Saudi Arabia is infusing creativity into the economy

The country is positioning itself as a future key player in the culture and creative fields.

How Saudi Arabia is infusing creativity into the economy
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Creativity and innovation are the pillars of a vibrant society, and a successful economy. History has proven that sometimes, the smallest and the most imaginative idea can turn into a reality, impacting millions of people and society.

Today, every industry is being challenged by global dynamics and technological changes. Worldwide, innovators are paving the way to a better, sustainable future across various sectors. 

Saudi Arabia touted to be the world’s fastest-growing major economy in 2022, has been said to outperform the dynamic Asian giants of China, India, and other major emerging economies. The GDP growth is also expected to reach 7.5% this year, which would be the kingdom’s fastest growth rate since 2011. And one of the major contributors driving Saudi Arabia’s growth is the cultural force, providing richness and diversity.

As a land with a rich history and culture, the kingdom sits at the center of the Islamic and Arab worlds. Each region in the kingdom has its cultural identity – its musical style and traditional tales, and Saudi artists and writers express their creativity and emotions by focusing on their heritage. Now, more than ever, the kingdom is witnessing a profound transformation of its cultural and creative sectors.

The cultural and creative industries (CCI) are major economic drivers in developed and developing countries— generating $2,250 billion annually and creating 30 million jobs worldwide.

In Saudi Arabia, CCI generate approximately $15 billion per year. The CCI’s GDP is growing more than 10% yearly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and 13% in Saudi Arabia.

While the CCI has always been thriving in Saudi Arabia, recent developments are expected to unleash significant growth and a profound societal transformation.

To understand how cultural consumption is evolving regionally, focusing on its economic and social importance, leading cultural think tank, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), founded in 2008 as a project by Saudi Aramco, emphasizes innovation, culture and knowledge.

Tanween, Ithra’s flagship creativity season, connects change-making creatives and innovators with global experts to expand ideas and opportunities and nurture the creative potential in an inspiration-fueled environment. 

With this innovative showcase, the creative sector in the kingdom, and beyond, transforms into a global hub for knowledge sharing, creating interest in innovation, developing local talent and creative professionals, and presenting a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors.

The event, which is held between October 27 to November 12 at Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, focuses on the CCI, including pursuits in arts, science and design that are vital in accelerating human development.

Tanween launched in 2018 with the theme, Disruption: A Creative Response to Change, the event has explored various themes over the years. In 2019, the event explored, Play: A Key ingredient to Creativity, while in 2020, the season took on a hybrid model to examine, The New Next: Creativity to the Future. The theme for Tanween 2021 was Tools: Build the Creativity, while Tanween 2022 highlights Collaborate to Create. This edition focuses on a collaboration of cultures for nature, technology, and society.

To be held over three weeks, the Business of Creativity track will explore new ways of creative collaboration, including innovative brand crossovers and how working with nature can arrest climate damage. While the Graphics & Communication track takes a closer look at communication and branding, the Architecture track explores how collaboration with the environment, society and culture can contribute to better design.

The Tanween Hub also hosts several public activities, including interactive creative exercises, where visitors engage in brief, hands-on activities related to architecture, fashion, nature, and technology.

In addition, at the Weaving Wall, people are encouraged to come together to consider the importance of managing textile waste by weaving on large-scale looms using recycled textiles.

The space is open for local and regional creative minds to host meetups. Lastly, the Challenges exhibition showcases the skills of the next generation of designers who have developed practical solutions to real-world issues.

Creativity is the language of this era. And in an attempt to enhance creativity as a vital pillar of Ithra’s vision, Ithra celebrates the Alsharqiya Gets Creative campaign throughout the eastern province in conjunction with its creative conference, Tanween.

The campaign aims to activate the creative spirit of community members in Saudi Arabia to discover and develop talents through various creative initiatives.

With over 2 million visitors and more than 20 exhibitions, Ithra aims to offer an experience that fuels creativity, inspiration, and passion for learning to the creative minds in Saudi Arabia. 


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