Rooted deep within the United Arab Emirates’ original foundations, the vision for a national cultural centre was there from the start.
From the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the concept for a cultural centre and a national library was discussed by the National Consultative Council as far back as 1971, the very year the nation was born. The aim was to raise awareness about art and heritage, engaging the community in a culture of open dialogue – something that was not only initiated with the birth of the Foundation but that has remained an enduring theme from its inception.
So important was the plan for the Cultural Foundation that it was actually entrenched in the country’s original legal framework in the second law ever passed in the country, Law No. 2 of 1971.
There was more to this idea than a mere wish. The concept came from deep reflection: Qasr Al Hosn stood proud as a historic and political centre, representing the memory of the nation. The Cultural Foundation became the heart of the city – and eventually the community as a whole.
As a symbol of advancement and cultural development, the Cultural Foundation became the first central institution to host cultural activities in the United Arab Emirates. The vision started to bear fruit and within a short space of time, the Foundation became regionally and internationally renowned for its wide range of cultural activities, stretching from literature to visual and performing arts as well as the hosting of cultural events.
The Foundation building also housed the National Library and the Institute of Culture and Art.
The National Library in Abu Dhabi became the first library on this scale to be opened in UAE, geared to accommodate up to 68,000 volumes, including manuscripts, periodicals and audiovisual material. Aside from its high security archives department, the National Library contained a children’s library on the main floor, along with a play area. A book-binding and restoration workshop was set up on the ground floor, and the Cultural Foundation began to function as a publishing house, promoting UAE and regional authors.
Aside from the National Library, the Cultural Foundation also housed the Art Workshop - Al Marsam Al Hor - which offered a large variety of visual art courses. In addition to art classes, its Talents & Creativity Centre ran classes and activities related to the performing arts including ballet and music.
It was here that the first theatre in the city was established, catering for classical arts such as opera and ballet, in addition to traditional arts. An outdoor theatre provided the perfect venue for children’s performances.
Innovative programs such as Bait Al Oud and Shaer Al Million, along with the hosting of many international artists and performers set the stage for the Cultural Foundation’s rise to fame as one of the most important cultural centres in the region – not confined to the city or the United Arab Emirates but also beyond its borders.
From the early years of including the dream in the country’s planning processes, and eventually in its legal framework, the far-reaching vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was kept alive through broad and persistent actions that brought the vision to fruition. The Cultural Foundation stands as a testimony to his insight and determination to shape a meaningful and culturally relevant future for the people of the UAE and to reach out beyond its borders to the world.