Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed: The Middle East’s Greatest Art Patron

Under his guardianship the UAE has progressed in the world of art and culture

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed: The Middle East’s Greatest Art Patron
Yaseen Dockrat

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the second president of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi passed away yesterday at the age of 73. Among the many advancements he oversaw in the UAE, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed will certainly be remembered for his support of the arts. Under his rule the UAE has become one of the leading countries in the world in terms of advancing arts and culture.

The son of the founding father Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa, assumed power after his father’s death in 2004. During his reign, which came at a time of economic and cultural prosperity, the UAE propelled itself to the top of the art world. Many major cultural projects that now make up the country’s vibrant art landscape came to fruition during his rule. This boom in the art space is no more evident than in Sheikh Khalifah’s home, Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is now home to some of the most lauded names in the art world, and its cultural enclave on Saadiyat Island includes Saadiyat museums districts that boast Louvre Abu Dhabi, the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, as well other ventures such as Formula One Abu Dhabi, and numerous other entertainment venues at Yas Island. The late ruler’s influence extends to education, as the city is also home to New York University Abu Dhabi and Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

His influence in art and culture stretches far across the world and bears testament to his influence and support for the world of art in the 19th century situated inside Château de Fontainebleau, which is now named the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Theatre. Located fifty-five kilometres outside of Paris, the previously named Imperial Theatre is the perfect example of 19th-century imperial taste. The theatre fell into disuse and closed for almost one-hundred-and-fifty years until Sheikh Khalifa visited in 2007. Enthralled by the grandeur of the theatre, he donated $11.7 million via the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. The two-phase refurbishment was completed in 2014, and the theatre was renamed after its latest patron from the Middle East.

Through his support of the arts, Sheikh Khalifa brought the UAE to the forefront of the art and culture conversation in the 21st century. His work has been revolutionary and brought about an almost renaissance like birth to a desert city, which is now home to some of the world’s greatest art. Sheikh Khalifa will forever be remembered for his patronising the arts in the words of Sheikh Zayed, “Man is mortal, but his work is not.”


Images: Emirates News Agency WAM