In early 2007, writer and theatre director Michael Schindhelm was appointed by the Dubai authorities as consultant on a projected opera house, and in early 2008 found himself with a broader remit as director of the newly founded Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.
In early 2007, writer and theatre director Michael Schindhelm was appointed by the Dubai authorities as consultant on a projected opera house, and in early 2008 found himself with a broader remit as director of the newly founded Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. His diary of 2008 is a partly fictionalized account of his first twelve months of both working and living in Dubai. It is a meditation, from a cultural perspective, on the nature of this extraordinary city and its project to reinvent itself according to new rules of its own devising. From the outset there were profound cultural issues to be faced. Can essentially alien art forms be transplanted effectively? Can they be imposed top-down by the authorities? Can high culture ever be financially self-supporting? In a society run like a business by a tiny, unaccountable elite, in which freedom of speech is limited and 90 percent of the inhabitants are transient, expendable expatriates, can the arts realistically be nurtured as a form of social expression and self-examination? The author's efforts to create projects were undermined by misunderstandings over the nature and purpose of the arts - in his employers' conception, little more than a marketing tool to boost Dubai's brand as a premier global tourist resort. His woes were compounded by the lack of clear distinction between government and private enterprise, and by the very Arabian custom of bringing in privileged outsiders to advise on, and occasionally to compete with, schemes supposedly under his direction. Ultimately, his projects were undone by the global financial crash of late 2008. Despite such travails, the author is able to see the funny side and retains some sympathy for the Dubai project. He remains optimistic, seeing in Dubai and other Gulf States a glimmer of hope for international cultural dialogue, leading to increased understanding between the Arab world and the West.
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"Michael Schindhelm's year in charge of the Gulf city's cultural life inspires a harrowing tale, Dubai has become a good gag, the most perfectly formed paradigm of boom and bust, its glassy skyline a spiky warning of how it can all go wrong if you try to build an economy on little more than speculation. Like all bubbles, there was a moment when Dubai seemed to present an opportunity, a chance to see what a new type of city could do. There was a sense that its summary dismissal by so many was a case of snobbery, of the West's incessant assertion of the supremacy of its own established model as the only way that cities could ever get built. Dubai High is the story of why the cynics, unfortunately, were right. It is supposed to be part fictionalised but, apart from the names, which have been changed, at no point does this book read like fiction. It would be easy to describe the book as Kafkaesque: the impenetrable layers of administration, the all-but-invisible rulers, the anonymous offices and the vague sense that any moment could be the beginning of the end pervade the book. But ultimately it's only culture. No one's life was threatened; everyone moved on to different jobs. Dubai is still there and Abu Dhabi still bankrolls it. It is an intriguing episode and it looks destined to remain a parable of our time." - Icon Magazine July 2011 Featured prominently in the Saudi Gazette.
Dubai High by Michael Schindhelm
Used - Like New
Medina Publishing Ltd
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