Unlocking the potential of arts and culture in the GCC

03 May 2023 Consultancy-me.com 5 min. read
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The arts and culture sector holds tremendous potential to boost the economic growth of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries but remains largely undervalued and underdeveloped, writes Patrick Samaha, a principal at management consultancy Kearney.

According to a United Nations Development Programme report, the sector can contribute up to 5 percent of a country’s gross domestic product. Yet, in the GCC region, the sector’s contribution remains low, as illustrated by the 2021 World Bank data, which showed that it contributed only 1.7 percent and 2.6 percent to the GDP in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, respectively.

Despite its significant potential, the sector needs more investment and support from both the public and private sectors.

Unlocking the potential of arts and culture in the GCC

The GCC countries must focus on investing in infrastructure and talent development to unlock the economic potential of the culture and arts sector.

Cultural centers, museums and galleries can provide a thriving cultural environment that attracts local and international artists. The UAE, for example, has prioritized its culture and arts sector through initiatives such as the “Year of Cultural Authenticity and Heritage” in 2021 and the creation of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Office in 2020, showcasing its unique cultural identity and drawing in talent.

Supporting local talent through education and training programs can also cultivate a thriving community of artists and cultural organizations, spurring economic growth and creating new opportunities.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, is investing in developing cultural academies in fields like film, theater and music to cultivate local talent and build a strong cultural sector.

The economic impact

Creating a creative and innovative culture is also critical to increasing the sector’s contribution to GDP. By encouraging creative thinking and innovation, GCC countries can foster a dynamic cultural landscape that draws talent and investment worldwide. This can be achieved through supporting local arts and cultural organizations, promoting cultural events and exhibitions, and investing in education and training programs.

Dubai’s Future Foundation, established in 2016, exemplifies the UAE’s efforts to foster innovation.

Cultural tourism is another critical aspect of boosting the contribution of the culture and arts sector to GDP. The GCC countries boast a rich cultural heritage, with historical sites and landmarks attracting tourists.

By promoting this cultural heritage, GCC countries can attract millions of visitors and create new economic opportunities. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s 90-day visa program for visitors without a sponsor in 2019 and the “Season of Culture” initiative in 2020 demonstrates its commitment to cultural tourism.

In addition, investing in cultural tourism infrastructure, such as hotels and transportation, can also help create a thriving tourism industry that supports the growth of the culture and arts sector.

The culture and arts sector has the power to transcend borders and bring people together, and international cooperation is vital to unlocking its full potential.

International collaboration

By collaborating with other nations and organizations, GCC countries can tap into a wealth of expertise, best practices and supportive networks. The result? A thriving cultural scene that drives economic growth and enriches communities.

The 2020 cultural agreement between the UAE and France is a shining example of the benefits of international collaboration in the culture and arts sector. This partnership promotes cultural exchange through events, exhibitions and festivals, showcasing the sector’s power to unite people and drive positive change.

In 2019, cultural exports accounted for 4.5 percent of the world’s total exports, according to the World Trade Organization, valued at a staggering $509 billion.

This underscores the need for continued investment and support in this area nationally and internationally. International cooperation holds the key to unlocking the full potential of this vital sector, and it’s time for us to seize this opportunity.

The public sector contribution

Finally, the culture and arts sector offers great growth potential, and the public and private sectors can collaborate to unlock it. GCC countries can establish cultural funds in partnership with private companies, similar to the US National Endowment for the Arts, which provided $155 million in grants in 2020.

Tax incentives for companies investing in the cultural sector, like Canada and France, also drive private sector involvement and investment. A Canadian government study in 2020 found that such incentives led to a 12 percent increase in cultural organizations. By utilizing public and private resources, the culture and arts sector can experience significant growth.


In conclusion, the GCC countries have a unique opportunity to increase the contribution of the culture and arts sector to the national GDP. By investing in infrastructure and talent development, fostering a creative and innovative culture, promoting cultural tourism, encouraging international cooperation and collaborating with the public and private sectors, GCC countries can create a thriving cultural landscape that drives economic growth and develops culture and arts.

With its rich cultural heritage and a strong commitment to action, the GCC region is well-positioned to become a global culture and arts sector leader, driving economic growth and creating new opportunities for artists, cultural organizations and communities. Just imagine the next Van Gogh or Shakespeare born in the GCC, bringing fame and fortune to their home country. The potential is endless, and the GCC can make it a reality with the right investments and support.