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Beyond Artwashing: An Overview of Museums and Cultural Districts in Arabia

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In recent years many cities have a empted to integrate cultural developments within their overall planning strategy. Within the wider Arab region, the Gulf Arab states have been at the forefront of such developments, which they see as a way of diversifying their economies. Through such initiatives the region is also se ing its sights on claiming the mantle as the Arab world's cultural leader. Large-scale institutions and the smaller spaces of art districts are seen as a way to modernize the Gulf states' local populations and integrate them within a wider cultural context. Yet such approaches have risks such as gentrification and potential marginalization of a larger part of the population who may see themselves excluded from cultural spaces. This paper aims to unpack these issues by situating the development of spectacular museums ('big spaces') and art districts ('small spaces') in the Gulf region within a wider global context. It is structured in three parts. First, a theoretical exploration looks at the changing nature of museums in the twenty-first century, and the proliferation of art districts as a way of a racting creatives and spurring economic and urban development. Second, the paper reviews the global spread of creative districts, distinguishing between planned and organic developments. The third and main part shifts the discussion to the Gulf Arab states, where the proliferation of museums and art districts is presented in more detail, se ing their development within a wider context. The conclusion outlines a series of directives that could lead the Gulf to the forefront of an urban renaissance in the region. Yet for that to happen there needs to be a substantial shift in their overall planning paradigm, including accounting for 'artwashing'.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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