By Hanan Alnufaie
THE Kingdom’s art and culture scene is quickly evolving, partly due to the rapid modernization of Saudi society and the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020. Saudi Gazette sat down with Sultan Al-Bazi, chairman of Saudi Society for Culture and Arts, to talk about the Kingdom’s fast-changing art and entertainment scene and what is in store for 2017 and beyond.
Speaking on the initiatives launched in 2016, Al-Bazi said the society held a record number of events, something he says will continue into 2017.
He said, “2016 was a very big year for us as we had a great number of activities, managed by individual branches but under the supervision of the society. We had the Saudi Film Festival, which is an annual event occurring in March and will be in its 4th edition this year. In general, 2016 for us was a year of change in our work culture and we are evaluating our previous activities and creating different ways to achieve our goals in line with the dramatic changes occurring in the Kingdom and in line with Saudi Vision 2030.”
To better meet the needs of the arts and entertainment scene in the Kingdom, Al-Bazi said the society must become a self-funded association.
“We are moving to create our own income through investing in arts and by holding events that appeal to the public. Ticket revenue is key and the type of events we hold will reflect this. Plays and events and exhibitions that are beneficial to society and at the same time help artists expand and financially grow is the goal,” he explained.
The society’s new plan, announced less than six months ago, will be implemented in the first quarter of 2017.
Al-Bazi said fundamental changes in the association are in the offing, including a pledge to involve 2 million Saudi youths in the events of the society.
“We will witness fundamental changes in the association. For starters, we will have a greater presence in society by holding events and exhibitions and becoming self-financed. We will also seek to meet our pledge to engage 2 million young Saudis, whether through art and promoting it or by getting them to attend plays and different cultural activities or having them enroll in painting, calligraphy and other art classes. We want our youth to express themselves through art and we will have representatives in every city of the Kingdom to initiate events,” he said.
Speaking on the society’s plan for the National Transformation Program 2020, Al-Bazi said the society will develop its website and include an option to submit online applications. Also, key organizational changes will mean branches will work more effectively to create a motivational atmosphere for artists to help them produce their best.
“More training will be given to our staff in all of our 16 branches; we will train a group of people on how to initiate and plan activities and events. Once trained, they will receive our accreditation in properly planning cultural events. All events will be self-funded and accredited event planners will be paid so they will be further motivated to organize events. Also, membership, which currently costs SR100 a year, will be classified into groups and ranked depending on the productivity and contribution of the member. We will rank memberships at three levels: active, cooperative and honorary,” he said.
The society’s plans to enhance productivity lies in a new self-evaluation system that follows a simple rule: The more you work, the more promotions and salary increments you will get.
Representatives can send requests on what they need in terms of courses and workshops and the society will encourage partnerships with the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized businesses that operate in the art and culture fields.
Asked to comment on the changing views of women’s presence in the arts and entertainment fields, Al-Bazi said the opposition to women is related to their appearance in front of male audiences, not their participation in the arts.
“Saudi society does not accept to see women acting on stage, so we created what we call ‘women’s theater’, which means that all the writing, acting, and directing is done by women and the audience is only women and children. I find it a good substitute to the mixed-gender theater. We are proud to say that our singers and actors are well known and liked in our society. Saudi movies and plays have been nominated for many awards; before there was the movie ‘Wajdah’ and last year there was ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’. Our society likes what we do and we promise more quality arts and culture,” he said.
The Saudi Society for Culture and Arts was founded 44 years ago. An initiative by a small group of artists, it was incubated by Prince Bader Bin Abdulmohsin. It later became authorized under the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which at the time was under the chairmanship of the late Prince Faisal Bin Fahad. The organization is considered the oldest civil society organization in the Kingdom. Eventually, all cultural institutions including the society were organized under the Ministry of Information and Culture.
The society now has 16 branches all over the Kingdom and sponsors gifted Saudi youth in all types of artistic ventures, including painting, theater, music, calligraphy, folk art, photography and filmmaking.