King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture
AAM Conference Expo
Everyone knows the United Arab Emirates are going through some serious development. Dubai first captured my imagination when “The World” was featured (years ago) on Vh1’s Fabulous Life Of series. Currently Abu Dhabi and Qatar (not an emirate) are going head-to-head to see who can build the most and more lavish museums. In Doha, Qatar, there is the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei, and the National Museum designed by Jean Nouvel. In the other corner is Abu Dhabi where a whole island of museums is being constructed. Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island (now just a glorified sandbar) will get not only a Performing Arts Centre designed by Zaha Hadid, and a Foster+Partners-designed Zayed National Museum, but also a branch of the Guggenheim (designed of course by Frank Gehry), and a branch of the Louvre (also designed by Nouvel). I wrote a piece about an artists’ boycott of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi over immigrant labors rights, or lack thereof. You can read the whole story here.
Less than 300 miles away, another huge architectural monument is being constructed for another oil-rich country. The King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia is going to be a major rival of the developments in the UAE and Qatar. The massive structure, designed by Swedish design firm Snøhetta (their doing the SFMOMA addition too), will house not only a museum, but also a library and children’s center. Who is building this massive center you ask? The world’s most valuable company: Saudi Aramco. The oil company is building the center at the nationally important location of Dammam Dome, the site of Prosperity Well No. 7, the first well to yield commercial quantities of oil in Saudi Arabia. The King Abdulaziz Center is scheduled to open sometime this year, and they are hiring! How do I know this?—Because they were recruiting at AAM. In fact the King Abdulaziz Center was one of the major sponsors of the AAM conference. I guess that means they’re allowed to set up a very impressive display at the conference expo and attempt to lure museum professionals halfway around the world. When I say the impressive display, I mean the biggest one at the conference expo. Complete with architectural renderings, and a very sleek model of the center.
Some very pretty and very personable (Saudi?) female attendants offered me snacks and Arabic coffee, while telling me about the potential benefits of working in Saudi Arabia. The tax incentives are amazing. Most jobs in that part of the world offer these incentives to potential expatriate employees. I could probably make more working there (pay less taxes) and have a more interesting job then I could if I stayed in the states. I could be willing to move to Saudi Arabia or to Abu Dhabi to jump start my career and then move back to the states after a few years. Sounds like a plan.
A friend who was with me at AAM told me she has a friend who is going to work for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Right now her friend is working in New York, in a space that “looks like a front for the mob,” because it is so empty. I am totally okay with that. And a desert climate sure beats a blizzard-filled winter, ahem Chicago. I don’t mind being tan year-round. Plus, the King Abdulaziz Center already has a facebook, so they’re totally hip to social media. Sold.