When I decided to move to Abu Dhabi, one of the frequent comments I got was how could I move to such a cultural wasteland. This from my friends and acquaintances in L.A., which may seem ironic to some of you who have the same perception of L.A. However, just as L.A. is a lot more than the beach and Sunset Strip (one of the largest collections of museums in the world,the Walt Disney Center, the L.A. Times Festival of Books and so on), Abu Dhabi is a lot more than oil and camels.
In fact, I’ve probably been to more global scale cultural events here than in any other single year in my life–events people in cities from Washington, DC to Paris to Sydney have paid $100 to attend, and not even for the best seats in the house. Best seats in the house in Abu Dhabi? Same price as the worst seats. Free, just please come and take a seat–that’s the policy here. Most of the events take place at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, built in the early 80s, making it one of the old buildings in the country (yes, I mean the 1980s)
My favorite event has been the Paco Pena Dance Company, with Paco Pena being considered one of the best flamenco guitarists in the world and the dancers were just wow (I admit I’m not a good reviewer of the performing arts, so wow just really means “wow, how can he move like that”). Other amazing performances by global acts have been Habana Son Music Club, Yamandu Costa (considered the top Brazilian guitarist), Richard the Third in Arabic (which debuted at the Kennedy Center), and WOMAD (the international music festival that brought Robert Plant to town amongst several other world renowned performers). Somehow I and whomever I’m with get pushed along in the crowd until we end up with one of the best seats in the house, and it’s always a nice break from work and life.
All this of course is Abu Dhabi building up its reputation as an art epicenter, a warm up to the opening of Saadiyat Island in 2018, which will be the home of the new Louvre and Guggenheim and several other cultural institutions. And if gets a little too high brow at times, there is always the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai to escape to.