As Gulf countries forge ahead with plans to diversify their economies, infrastructure development in the arts and culture sector has brought a whole new dimension to the region’s meetings landscape.
Mindful of the need to preserve and promote heritage, encourage emerging talent and provide a stage for international works, several world-class venues have been built to showcase the best of the best. Truly spectacular venues from the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, the recently-opened Dubai Opera and the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, to upcoming architectural landmarks such as Louvre Abu Dhabi add a dynamic edge to destinations.
The good news for planners in the region is that most of these stunning venues offer truly interesting spaces that can be used to stage a variety of meetings, events, conferences and exhibitions.
Here, showcases some exciting options that will guarantee your next event has some serious cultural credentials.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE MUSCAT
Impressively clad in white sandstone from quarries in Oman, the stunning exterior of the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) complex was inspired by the traditional architecture of Oman’s historic forts and castles, yet is distinctly contemporary in design.
One of the city’s leading landmarks, the complex occupies an 80,000 square-metre plot in a prestigious residential area near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and new upmarket hotels and shops.
A beautifully-designed garden with walking paths, inviting pergola rest areas, and a large green square for events are located on the eastern side of the complex, while a luxury shopping mall and two-storey car park are on the western side.
The ROHM Auditorium is a multi-purpose 1,100-seat facility designed to accommodate all the performing arts – opera, concerts, musicals, theatre, ballet and dance. It is an adaptable, state-of-the art facility and at the flick of a few switches, the Concert Hall is transformed into an Opera Theatre. The Auditorium structure mirrors that of a classic European opera hall like Teatro alla Scala in Milan or the Palais Garnier in Paris, but is decorated in a grand style based on motifs and conventions from traditional Omani and Islamic aesthetics.
The social architecture of the building meets the demands of royal protocol.
Two spacious and handsome entrance lobbies, one for the public and the other VIP patrons, are characterised by marble cladding on floors and columns, fenestration in frosted and leaded glass, great carved wooden doors, and chandeliers in unique Arabian-Oriental styles.
The breathtaking, palatial Grand Hall features a grand double stairway, a magnificent timber ceiling with gilded carving and beautiful zouaq decoration. Like a courtyard, the Grand Hall is overlooked by balconies with gorgeous woodwork and soaring vaulted arches.
The venue is ideal for conferences, product launches, meetings and other events. It offers seven event spaces in total and has capacity for up to 300 guests.
ROHM is fully-equipped with the latest video and audio-visual equipment including an impressive computerised sound board and excellent image projection facilities, along with three large conference rooms, which are fully equipped with AV facilities and large screens. An added feature of the conference rooms is spacious break-out areas with facilities for refreshments.
For conferences or film screenings, the concert stage can be utilised, supported by high-tech acoustic and lighting equipment, while social gatherings, cocktail receptions or coffee breaks can be staged on the Omani-style ‘porches’ and terraces.
The extensive gardens are popular for private receptions or gala dinners of up to 200 people and feature soft lighting during evening events. This area, as well as all of the main rooms in the ROHM complex, are equipped with high-quality speakers for music. The Grand Hall is an impressive space for art exhibitions. Elsewhere a variety of cafés, restaurants, shops and boutiques selling Omani handicrafts also add to the venue’s appeal.
Tours of the grand facility can easily be arranged for planners who are considering the space for their next meeting or event, which will also include a demonstration of the ROHM’s state-of-the-art technology.
For planners looking to for a more comprehensive meeting and incentive-based programme, an event or meeting here can also be paired with a performance. For a true cultural experience, the itinerary can include a trip to other key attractions in and around the city such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, another fine example of modern Islamic architecture, as well as the new National Museum that covers 13,700 square metres and age-old Mutrah Souq. The Bait al Zubair museum complex is also worth a visit. It houses a cultural space and develops projects relating to culture and heritage, the arts and community. The complex consists of five separate buildings – Bait Al Bagh, Bait Al Dalaleel, Bait Al Oud, Bait Al Nahdhah and Gallery Sarah – as well as a garden with a number of traditional features, café and gift shop.
For larger groups, a number of five- and four-star hotels in Muscat also work in partnership ROHM to offer favourable corporate rates.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF RAS AL KHAIMAH
Originally the location of one of the UAE’s earliest forts, the site where the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah now stands has been re-imagined several times over the past 400 years. It has served as a residence to the ruling family on more than one occasion, was a police headquarters and a prison, but was finally converted into a museum in 1987.
Today, the ‘Late Fort’ as it is known is a traditional ‘house’ that is open to the public with galleries that exhibit archaeological, historical and ethnographical objects telling the story of RAK. All exhibition rooms are situated around the inner courtyard garden and can be entered through antique wooden doors with traditional carved designs. These galleries and the courtyard can be hired for corporate events such as exhibitions and launches.
Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival
The Al Qasimi Foundation, established by the RAK government in 2009 to aid the social, cultural and economic development of the emirate, has selected The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah as one of three venues to stage the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival (RAKFAF).
Now in 5th year, the event is designed to showcase the talent and work of local artists, photographers, and filmmakers in a community setting. The festival brings together individuals from across the UAE and around the globe to celebrate art and support the development of the arts in Ras Al Khaimah. To that end, this annual festival showcases the creative spirit of both Emirati and expatriate artists in a variety of categories. In 2016, the Al Qasimi Foundation staged RAKFAF’s red carpet opening night at The Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah; the film night at the Ras Al Khaimah Chambers of Commerce Theatre; and the art showcase at RAK Museum.
The museum was also the venue for the event’s highlight the ‘Visual Art screening’, attended by several celebrities. Around 1,000 people attended RAKFAF during the seven-day event in February. This year, the Al Hamra Convention Centre will also be used as a venue to stage the 2017 edition of the festival.
Districts with a difference
Saadiyat Cultural District
An important artistic destination, the Saadiyat Cultural District is home to venues such as the UAE Pavilion, which hosts some of the country’s premier cultural functions, as well as Manarat Al Saadiyat, an arts and culture centre that stages exhibitions and launches, both popular with corporate bookers.
This district will soon be home to three world-class mega venues, all featuring unique awe-inspiring meeting and event spaces – Louvre Abu Dhabi (opening this year), Zayed National Museum and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Katara Cultural Village
The Katara Cultural Village in Doha’s West Bay is a multi-dimensional venue featuring theatres, concert halls and exhibition galleries, but the focal point of this attraction is the awe-inspiring Katara Amphitheatre, which can seat up to 5,000 people.
Built in the style of a classical Greek theatre, with Islamic features woven into its design, the 3,275-square-metre beachside venue has played host to many of Doha’s most spectacular events since it opened in December 2011. The Katara Hall, also part of the village, is multi-purpose and dividable into three smaller halls with set ups covering U-shape (200 people), classroom (1,035), cabaret (1,200), banquet (1,400), theatre (2,250) and cocktail (2,500). There’s also a majilis, three meeting rooms and VIP rooms. The venue, managed by Mövenpick Hotel West Bay Doha, also regularly stages gala dinners, receptions, press conferences, workshops, exhibitions, brand launches, and more.
Dubai’s urban arts precinct, warehouses here have been transformed into an array of creative spaces, art galleries and venues. They include converted warehouse The Fridge, used regularly for corporate launches, community events and themed parties.
This area of industrial Al Quoz is changing perceptions of Dubai’s venue offering, appealing to “hip clients who would default to this style of venue in any other city”, says Danielle Nay, managing director of Dubai-based special events firm, Transformers. Even designer Marc Jacobs hosted an exclusive Halloween party for media and bloggers at Art Sawa, another venue in this quirky area of Dubai.
THE MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART (MIA), DOHA
The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is a Doha icon and sits majestically on the city’s corniche. This waterfront venue is breathtakingly beautiful. Built on reclaimed land, the white limestone building draws influence from ancient Islamic architecture, most notably, the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo.
The museum comprises a five-storey main building and two-storey Education Centre, which are connected across a central courtyard.
An established cultural landmark in the Gulf, MIA not only showcases artworks dating back to the 7th century, but doubles up as a spectacular meeting and events venue, thanks to a plethora of inspiring indoor and outdoor spaces, from galleries to parks.
For occasions of grandeur, the Atrium’s Grand Hall can hold 2,000 people for a standing reception or 700 seated in a round table configuration, and is regularly used for gala dinners, launches and receptions.
Conferences, lectures, seminars and movie premiers are often held in the Auditorium, which has 195 fixed seats, in-house projection, digital sound, and a cinematic screen. All groups are offered private gallery viewings. Located on the ground floor, the MIA Auditorium Foyer allows for a standing reception for up to 200 guests.
The Western Courtyard between the Education Centre and the main museum building can accomodate 400 people with a round table configuration or up to 900 guests for a standing reception. The Eastern Courtyard, located to the east of the main museum entrance, offers a more intimate option. Here a round table configuration can seat up to 200 guests and up to 700 guests for a standing reception.
For more exclusive meetings, the Majlis near the main entrance of the museum offers a U-shape setup for 22 guests. The MIA Classroom at the Education Centre presents a larger space that can accomodate 40 guests in a similar setup. The Classroom can also host up to 120 guests in a theatre-style configuration. The foyer can cater for up to 100 guests for a standing reception.
Elsewhere, the museum’s perfectly-manicured gardens and outdoor courtyards overlook the corniche and offer spectacular views of the bay. These green spaces are suitable for standing receptions or sit-down corporate events and give any occasion a charming ambience.
The Park, which is MIA’s largest outdoor space (at 280,000-square metres), is one of the most popular parks in Doha and regularly stages large-scale local and international events.
The park features a 24-metre-high sculpture, the work of internationally-acclaimed American artist Richard Serra, the steel artwork that sits proudly at the far end of the park.
The MIA partners with an extensive list of accredited event service providers in the city, while a professional events team and in-house catering team is responsible for making all the necessary arrangements. It’s worth noting that there is a flat fee in place for venue hire but all packages are bespoke.
For the ‘wow’ factor, the events team can arrange for guests to arrive by sea on a traditional Arabian dhow or luxury yacht, which can dock at the western outdoor courtyard.
MIA can also arrange complimentary tailor-made museum tours for corporate clients that include exclusive access to certain galleries.
Meanwhile the comprehensive culinary offering includes contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, designed with an Arabic twist to present a true sense of place.
The iconic dhow-shaped Dubai Opera, which opened last year, is a masterpiece of contemporary design, and a stylish tribute to the city’s maritime history.
The building’s design, by architect Janus Rostock, gives the venue the exceptional ability to transform the auditorium into three modes – from a theatre into a concert hall, and into a ‘flat floor’ mode, becoming a banquet or event hall.
This seamless flexibility enables Dubai Opera to host a wide variety of performances and events including theatre, opera, ballet, orchestras, concerts, fashion shows, live entertainment, conferences, galleries and art exhibitions.
Dubai Opera is located at the heart of ‘the most prestigious square kilometre in the world’, Downtown Dubai. It is the focal point of The Opera District, one of the city’s up-and-coming arts and culture hubs.
In this format the space is suitable for large-scale drama productions, musicals, ballets, lectures, and conferences, seating up to 2,000 people, depending on configuration.
In this mode, a series of towers and reflectors on stage and overhead are designed to create an acoustic shell around the orchestra, enabling an impeccable acoustic environment for a perfect sound quality. The building’s unique architecture also lends itself well to a variety of events such as weddings, trade shows, art galleries and exhibitions, receptions and parties, using its ‘flat floor’ mode.
Dubai Opera also boasts several additional venues, including a stunning rooftop restaurant and sky garden, which offers views of The Dubai Fountain and the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. This space is ideal for cocktail receptions or pre-banquet drinks.
BAHRAIN NATIONAL THEATRE
One of Bahrain’s most striking cultural icons is the Bahrain National Theatre, which not only overlooks the sea, but due to its unique design, appears to be actually floating on the water.
It takes its design inspiration from Bahrain’s sailing traditions with the auditorium’s modern curves and elm-covered walls resembling pearling dhows of the past.
It’s not only the kingdom’s first national theatre, but the third largest theatre in the Arab
world. The auditorium can accommodate 1,001 people, paying homage to the tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights.
There are also two balconies and a smaller auditorium that can seat 100 people, as well as a foyer area, for up to 200 guests.
The foyer and the theatre at Bahrain National Theatre have hosted several cultural activities, including the 39th Annual Bahrain Fine Arts Festival, Korean fashion show and many corporate events.
BAHRAIN NATIONAL MUSEUM
Founded in1988, the Bahrain National Museum is one of the first museums to open in the Gulf and sits
adjacent to the National Theatre on the edge of the sea.
Contemporary and dramatic in design, the museum features nine exhibition halls showcasing artefacts that take visitors on a 4,000-year journey through time, part of Bahrain’s ongoing efforts to preserve the nation’s heritage and history.
The museum’s outdoor space on the waterfront can stage events for up to 500 guests. An Art Centre and Cultural Hall adjacent to the building can also be used for exhibitions, conferences, product launches and other corporate events.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Library
UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, recently revealed plans to build a giant book-shaped library housing more than one million books, which is set to open in Dubai this year. The 66,000-square-metre Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Library will be shaped like a large open book and located in the Al Jaddaf area of the city.
The venue will include a stage, cinema and a visual and auditory library and play host to live presentations and lectures. For groups, the library is the ideal place to stage presentations, conferences and launches.
National Museum of Qatar
This upcoming museum will “give voice to Qatar’s heritage” while celebrating contemporary life. It is being designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel with the structure built using several interlocking discs, inspired by Qatar’s unique desert rose sand formations.
Beyond its galleries the National Museum of Qatar will also feature a grand 220-seat auditorium – a future venue for conferences and other corporate events.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Due to open this year, Louvre Abu Dhabi, part of the Saadiyat Cultural District, will make its mark as the first universal museum in the Arab world, displaying art, manuscripts and objects of historical, cultural and sociological significance from all over the world. This dome-shaped icon, built over the water, has also been designed by Pritzer Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, and will feature a sequence of large galleries with “strict geometry and high ceilings”.
These, says Nouvel, “offer exceptional spaces for the displays of works” and will no doubt become sought-after venues for exclusive events.