It wasn’t the two hours of incredible singing that was the most memorable part of Plácido Domingo’s riveting performance at the soft opening of Dubai Opera last Wednesday night. It was the 75-year-old Spanish tenor’s short speech to the 2,000 strong audience. “Dubai is now a city of culture,” he said.
Domingo – who has recorded over a 100 operas – knows more than most people about culture. And Emaar, for whom the $330m spent on developing Dubai Opera is the final piece of its $20bn Downtown Dubai jigsaw, may well see it as one of the most lucrative.
Dubai Opera is more than a spectacular arena. If all goes to plan, it will bring rich cultural, economic and social dividends to the city.
“Dubai Opera is our tribute to the positivity and vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to firmly underline our city as a vibrant global cultural hub that attracts talent from around the world,” says Emaar chairman Mohamed Alabbar.
“Great performing art venues are cultural catalysts,” Alabbar adds. “They increase the sense of collective identity, connect people to build social capital, strengthen the values of diversity and tolerance, encourage members to participate in the arts, and promote neighbourhood cultural diversity.
“The iconic Dubai Opera complements the Dubai Tourism Vision announced by His Highness to welcome over 20 million annual visitors by the turn of the decade, and supports the cultural ambitions of Expo 2020 Dubai, which is expected to host over 25 million visitors. It also fulfils the central pillar of the Dubai Plan 2021 to build a city of happy, creative and empowered people by providing rich cultural experiences,” Alabbar says.
With Dubai fast becoming a global arts hub with a remarkable increase in the number of art galleries and arts events, Dubai Opera could well catalyse the growth of the creative industries in the city. And there are huge financial benefits, with Alabbar confident that Dubai Opera is creating a vibrant growth engine for the Dubai economy.
Dubai Opera’s impact is defined by three dividends: Cultural, Economic and Social. “The performances hosted by Dubai Opera generates a huge cultural dividend for Dubai by positioning it as one of the global hubs for the performing arts industry,” says Alabbar. “The dividends are direct and indirect – the first from the benefits associated with hosting world-class events, and the second as a result of the various economic activities that support the event.”
“The economic dividend of Dubai Opera is far-reaching. Cultural events are a stimulus for tourism and in turn contributing to the aviation, hospitality and allied sectors. With its year-round calendar of high profile events by world-class performers, Dubai Opera will further attract visitors to Downtown Dubai, which has already delivered on its promise as ‘The Centre of Now.’”
Typically, the economic value of Dubai Opera will come from four channels, explains Alabbar.
“The first channel is revenues from the performances and from F&B and other retail at the precinct; and the second are revenues from tourism – resulting from visitors travelling into Dubai to watch the shows.”
Aviation, hospitality and retail outside the venue comprise the third revenue stream; while the fourth is the local cultural ecosystem of local production houses and support agencies that create thousands of new jobs for creative professionals.
Legends such as Placido Domingo, serve as magnets for cultural tourists with fans travelling wherever he goes. Cultural tourism is today one of the fastest-growing areas of global tourism. It is estimated that cultural or heritage activity is the sole purpose of nearly one in five European tourists, while culture forms a key feature of the trip of 80 per cent of US travellers.
Alabbar has clearly seen the figures in other countries. Today, creative industries are seen as powerful growth drivers for economies the world over. Large-scale cultural productions account for 4.5 percent of Europe’s GDP and 8 per cent of its employment.
A 2015 report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis states that creative industries in the US contribute $698 billion to the national economy and provide jobs to more than 4.7 million people. In the UK, the creative scene that includes film, television and music is estimated to be worth $116.7 billion per year in terms of contribution to the national economy.
At the micro level, individual creative enterprises have recorded invaluable economic impact. A report by Deloitte states that the Sydney Opera House contributes $775 million to the nation’s economy every year, and has generated 8,439 full-time jobs. The study says that it has a cultural and iconic value of $4.6 billion, with over 1.4 million annual visitors with nearly 2,000 performances.
Many cities today regard cultural policy as economic policy. For example, the Pennsylvania Cultural Data Project, analysing the impact of the cultural sector of Philadelphia, identifies that arts, culture & creativity are an economic engine generating US$3.3 billion in jobs, household income and tax revenue.
Just how much will Dubai benefit in the years to come? Emaar has no shortage of mega- projects to boast of, but the Dubai Opera – for a relatively small scale investment of $330m – could prove to be one of its best ever.