Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center For World Culture Prepares For Summer Launch
By Julee WJ Chung
The long-awaited cultural development project King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, has announced that it will have a soft opening phase over the next six months. Under the auspices of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and funded by the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), the landmark project broke ground on May 20 in 2008, and was inaugurated in early December 2017. Located along the Persian Gulf in the Saudi port city of Dhahran, the mammoth cultural center is expected to be fully operational by the summer, according to The Art Newspaper.
The USD 400 million cultural center, designed by the Norwegian architecture and design firm Snøhetta, is the first large-scale cultural think tank in the Saudi kingdom. It is lining up arts and pedagogical programs for local and international audiences.
With 100,000 square meters of operational space, the bulbous stainless-steel clad building will house an auditorium, cinema, library (with 220,000 books), exhibition hall, museum and archive. The Center’s museum comprises four galleries, including the Kunooz gallery that will focus on Islamic design and heritage, and the Funoon gallery, set to open in March, that will be dedicated to Middle Eastern modern and contemporary art. Another component of Ithra, the Knowledge Tower, will attract visitors interested in STEM subjects by hosting 2,000 annual workshops in science, technology, engineering and mathematics on top of its arts programming, extending the institution’s reach.
Ithra is active in promoting and cultivating the culture and arts of Saudi Arabia, launching the Bridges initiative that promotes national talent in global cultural institutions. The project, which joined hands with the Culturunners initiative led by British artist Stephen Stapleton, has previously facilitated an exhibition of Saudi conceptual artist Abdulnasser Gharem at the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art in 2017, as well as spearheading a multi-city tour of the United States for Saudi artists, bringing around a dozen visual practitioners, including Ahmad Angawi and 2017 Abraaj Group Art Prize shortlisted artist Sarah Abu Abdallah, to spaces such as the Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco and the Bates College Museum of Art in Maine. At New York’s Brooklyn Museum, Ithra also co-organized Ahmed Mater’s exhibition “Mecca Journeys,” which is on view until April 8, 2018.
Julee WJ Chung is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.
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