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Towards Intellectual Renaissance …A Look into the Saudi Ministry of Culture

By : Taha Sakr

The Saudi Ministry of Culture is the ministry overseeing the cultural sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was affiliated with the Ministry of Information and then separated from it to become an independent ministry by royal order from King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2018.

It is headed by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud. It aims to develop and revitalize the cultural work industry in Saudi Arabia and make it supportive to the economy in the Kingdom.

Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud said that “culture is an essential part of the ambitious national transformation pursued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the trustworthy Crown Prince His Royal Highness Prince Muhammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud “may God preserve them”. 

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 states that culture is “one of the components of the quality of life.” It also stresses that the Kingdom needs to increase its cultural activity as it has a rich heritage, ancient and varied traditions that belong to 13 regions. There are innovators from various fields, many of whom won international prizes. Their actions are in different international forums.

 In March 2019, the Ministry launched its general strategy, which contains 27 initiatives, including the establishment of the King Salman International Complex for the Arabic language, the establishment of the ” Nomow ” cultural fund, the launch of the cultural scholarship program, the development of public libraries, the establishment of the Red Sea International Film Festival, as well as the sponsorship of the National Festival for the “Janadriya” heritage and culture.

The Kingdom has been interested in developing the culture and arts sector within the Saudi Vision 2030. It is a founding and supportive member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in addition to obtaining a seat on the UNESCO Executive Council in the November 2019 elections, and is occupied by the Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Farhan as a representative of his country.

History of the Ministry

The Ministry of Culture was established by royal order on Ramadan 17 1439 AH corresponding to June 2, 2018 AD. The first Minister of Culture is Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Farhan Al Saud. Before the ministry was established, it was linked to the Ministry of Information and its name at that time was the Ministry of Culture and Information.

Objectives of the ministry

The Ministry has set its goals within its announced strategy in 2019, which are: culture as a way of life, culture for economic growth, and culture to enhance the Kingdom’s international standing. The ministry also tacitly works to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

Mission

The Ministry’s tasks are based on four basic pillars: leadership, support, care, and development, as it leads the cultural movement in Saudi Arabia, exposes the cultural aspects of it, defines and nurtures the heritage property of the Kingdom, sets up the necessary regulatory and legal frameworks for the development of sectors, nurtures the cultural heritage, develops talents and facilitates initiatives.

Sectors

Within its general strategy, the Ministry has identified 16 sectors that are served by the initiatives launched by the Ministry and on which it focuses its efforts and activities, namely: language, heritage, books and publishing, music, films, and visual performances, performing arts, poetry, visual arts, libraries, museums, natural heritage, cultural and archaeological sites, food and culinary arts, fashion, festivals and events, architecture and interior design. It decided to establish 11 cultural entities to develop the specified sectors.

Methodology and Mechanism of Action

The Ministry organizes a limited number of major events, while other bodies organize most of the events within the cultural system, such as exhibitions, artistic activities, and performances.

It provides several partnerships and cooperation opportunities with agencies and bodies concerned with cultural affairs, in addition to supporting and developing activists in the field.

Its slogan contains 13 lines colored in the colors and lines of the heritage weave, indicating the number and diversity of Saudi regions, about the ministry’s service to all segments of society.

Recent Initiatives

In its general strategy in March 2019, the Ministry of Culture announced the launch of 27 initiatives, namely: the establishment of the King Salman International Complex for the Arabic language, the establishment of the ” Nomow ” cultural fund, the launch of the cultural scholarship program, the development of public libraries, the establishment of the Red Sea International Film Festival, the establishment of the National Film Archive. The cultural sabbatical program, the child’s culture program, the Tarjim program, art academies, literature and art magazines, the Saudi Contemporary Art Exhibition, the National Band for Music, the National Theater Company, a unified center for cultural services and licenses, cultural houses, cultural festivals, documentation of the oral and intangible heritage, Cultural Awards, Diriyah Biennial, Specialized Museums, Book for All Initiative, Fashion Weeks, National Cooking Festival, Art in Public Places, Artist Visa, Saudi Culture City.

In July 2019, the Ministry of Culture announced the launch of the first national competition to document “industrial heritage” in the Kingdom. The Industrial Heritage Documentation Competition aims to discover the most important features expressing this heritage in all cities and governorates of the Kingdom from remnants of ancient industrial culture, whether technical, social, or architectural.

 It consists of buildings, machinery, factories, mines, refining sites, warehouses, and the competition prize is awarded in three tracks: the first is for the discovery of industrial heritage sites, the second track is for recording stories and details of events that have affected industry and social life, and the third relates to documenting the story of the industrial site through a research effort that includes the history of the site and its impact on industry and society.

In December 2019, the Ministry announced the launch of the “Popular Folklore Competition” as part of its national project to document the intangible heritage in Saudi Arabia. 

The competition aims to list all aspects of the various oral and performance expressions that characterize the regions of the Kingdom. Prizes for the competition are awarded in three tracks: folk dance, music, Folk Tales and Legends.

 It also announced the launch of The “Light” competition to support Saudi films within the quality of life program is one of the programs to achieve the Kingdom’s vision 2030. 

The competition aims to empower national talents active in the field of filmmaking through four tracks that include supporting scripts, developing them, and supporting film production, in addition to supporting films of Saudi students studying Filmmaking is specialized in international institutes and universities.

At the end of December 2019, the Minister of Culture announced the launch of the first cultural scholarship program in the history of the Kingdom. It provides quality educational opportunities for Saudi male and female students to study cultural and artistic specializations in the fields including archeology, design, museums, music, theater industry, film literature, visual arts, and culinary arts. 

The minister stated that the scholarship will be according to three main tracks: the first includes Saudi male and female students who are currently studying on their account abroad in cultural and artistic specializations.

The second track is for those who have applied for scholarships to study culture and arts and have an admission from accredited universities.

 The third track is for male and female students who wish to apply for new applications to join the cultural scholarship program to start studying in 2021.

National Cultural Awards

It is an initiative announced by the Ministry of Culture on June 30, 2020, to honor creators in the Saudi cultural fields, and encourage cultural production that serves the ministry’s 16 sectors. The awards fall into 14 categories: Cultural Personality of the Year Award, Youth Culture Award, Architecture and Design Award, Culinary Arts Award, and Cultural Institutions Award, in addition to the award for films, literature, publishing, translation, fashion, music, national heritage, visual arts, theater and performing arts.