The cultural conversation: Ithra study finds positive cultural participation in KSA and wider MENA region despite systemic challenges


Dharahn, Saudi Arabia: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), a leading cultural think tank in the region, commissioned three reports to better understand the evolution of the cultural and creative industry in the Saudi, regional and global context. The research takes the pulse of the public on their creative and cultural experiences at a time when the sector is undergoing a radical transformation and is slowly recovering from the effects of COVID-19. It consolidates Saudi and global experts’ perspectives, highlighting key insights on the production, consumption and role of government and other enablers of the sector.

The three reports by Ithra titled “Culture in the 21st Century”, “Charting the transformation of the Saudi cultural and creative industry” and “How COVID-19 is impacting the cultural and creative industry” uncover several theme-specific trends related to cultural demand and consumer preferences across the MENA region, with History and Heritage emerging as the most popular theme, followed by Film and Television.

Despite the overarching positive cultural participation across the region, the research points to accessibility as a key barrier to cultural engagement. Fatmah Alrashid, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at Ithra, stressed the importance of activating cultural participation in the region by focusing on “making cultural participation available to all” in terms of quality and economy, providing the necessary platforms, and contributing to the implementation of initiatives that will make culture part of the public education programs and curriculum.

Given the above barriers to cultural engagement and general Cultural Creative Industry trends across the MENA region, the study recommends several directions and policy measures to accelerate cultural participation, including:

  • Policymakers and service providers need to focus on making cultural participation more inclusive by addressing information barriers and supporting the participation of low-income groups
  • Governments and communities may implement initiatives to promote life-long cultural learning (e.g., through greater emphasis on education curriculum)
  • Cultural institutions in MENA can learn from each other’s distinct strengths to help boost participation across the region