Growth of the Arts in the Middle East


How brands are unlocking the power of the performing arts in the Gulf

Ben Lee, Account Director

The performing arts in the Middle East have always played ‘little sister’ to global sporting events, with most events in this space to date primarily concerned with western, superstar music artists that sell out the same venues. However, the performing arts, including events showcasing regional culture and heritage – and ‘The Arts’ more generally – have commenced a quiet revolution.
Critical to this recent development are the many new and unique venues that have been recently completed in the region or that are currently in development. These include the Louvre and Guggenheim galleries in Abu Dhabi, The Dubai Opera and La Pearle in Dubai and the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, all of which offer new live event spaces within their make-up. These recent projects have started to bring both regional and international art & culture to Gulf societies – reflecting the changing outlook of the region, and providing new commercial opportunities for brands, venues and promoters. The Gulf is also becoming more comfortable celebrating regional cultural heritage whilst at the same time embracing western influences, resulting in a sharp rise in popularity and attendance of live performances. This growth in interest has, in-turn, shaped the development of even more world-leading performing arts venues across the Gulf (GCC) and the wider Middle East, thus creating a self-fulfilling circle that can only be positive for the region. 
Historically, support for the arts has primarily been limited to local brands, government support and royal patronage. Examples can be found in the UAE with Mubadala’s sponsorship of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the Al Habtoor Group’s backing of La Perle. Yet, despite the growth in interest, the private sector has only very recently begun to see the arts as an opportunity as a marketing platform through strategic brand partnerships.
The development of large, multi-purpose facilities, however, has created a platform for a diverse array of international and regional acts to perform across the Middle East, with all the major GCC cities now having a cultural hub containing a performance space either in existence or in development. Many of the older event spaces are poorly equipped for big stage productions, but the new venues with state of the art equipment, as can be found at the Opera Houses in Dubai and Muscat, can justly attract some of the world’s biggest shows. The challenge for the venues in this space has always been how they can attract the biggest shows and artists that will in turn unlock engagement from brands without sacrificing the integrity synonymous with the arts. 

Internationally, the world of the performing arts has been fertile ground for brands for decades, and therefore should represent a big opportunity for promoters and venues in the region. This can be clearly seen in some hugely successful partnerships in this sector across the globe. Telecoms giant O2 have seen a flourishing 11-year partnership with naming rights of The O2 Arena in London and 12 regional entertainment spaces branded the O2 Academies. In NYC the world-famous Maddison Square Garden has undergone a branding overhaul with Hulu – subscription-streaming giant – lending their name to this entertainment icon. Two examples amongst hundreds that dominate the arts in Western cities.
The recent and quick development of the arts across the region means that commercially it remains a relatively uncluttered landscape, with huge potential to own varied real estate with a uniquely diverse audience. The same venue may host the Qatari Philharmonic Orchestra one night and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ the next; both are emotionally engaging, but they play to a very different audience. The region is also extremely seasonal, with sport and outdoor music venues traditionally operational 6-7 months of the year. The physical nature of these performance venues overcomes this barrier of engagement and creates another positive for any potential brand looking for year-round activation opportunities.   
Several brands in the Middle East - including Mastercard, Van Cleef and Rolex - have sensed early on the opportunity that the world of performing arts presents, with the financial services sector unsurprisingly 11 times more likely to put up a sponsorship dollar than any other sector. Brands must be smarter when it comes to brand presence in the arts compared with sport, where traditional branding inventory often isn’t available. Venues often employ ‘clean’ sites, so brands must engage their audience through targeted engagement on-ground and effective pre- event digital communications, amongst other things.
Jaguar, who has a significant presence in Dubai, is one of those that saw the opportunity to embrace and support the performing arts at an early stage, in their case through a partnership as the Official Vehicle Partner of the year-old Dubai Opera. Over the past two years we have been developing a strategic campaign for Jaguar, planning all aspects of sponsorship including hospitality, rights management, PR and experiential activation.

We have been working with Jaguar and Dubai Opera to develop an integrated marketing campaign, targeted and relevant to the audience but also in keeping with the highly polished and refined nature of both brands. The integration of the Jaguar brand into the Opera experience through activities including a customer valet service, the Jaguar ‘Play Me’ piano, and a premium roaming photo experience, have proven highly successful, and the Opera partnership has provided a perfect backdrop for some iconic content creation used across social, digital and ATL campaigns in the Middle East.
Through the partnership with Dubai Opera, Jaguar has been able to engage with a variety of different audiences and generate a huge increase in sales leads passed to the local retailers. Dubai Opera based social posts are among the most well-engaged and they have reported a spike in positive customer sentiment from benefits provided to them as part of the partnership.
In summary, the brands that embrace the growth of performing arts in the Middle East will help shape the platform and will benefit from this rich, culturally relevant medium. Once they take an early foot hold in this world they will be hard to shift as the scope of opportunity increases. The venues will become more sophisticated, the audience further reaching and ultimately, the price tag will go up.
For more information on the work we undertake in the Middle East please contact Ben Lee