The $400 million, Snøhetta-designed King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (or “Ithra”) located in Dhahran is set to open later this year following several delays since its foundation was laid in 2008. “The centre is undergoing its soft opening phase after [it was] officially inaugurated by the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, on 1 December. We’re ramping up for full operations during the first half of this year,” a museum spokesperson told The Art Newspaper.
The 100,000-square-metre cultural hub will showcase a collection in four main galleries, as well as a series of touring exhibitions. As of March, visitors will be able to look forward to halls such as Funoon, which will highlight Saudi and Middle Eastern Modern and contemporary art. As the centre continues its soft opening, diverse facets of regional artistic production will be visible, as with the Kunooz gallery which will offer a look at Islamic design and heritage. Additional highlights include an auditorium and cinema for symphonies through to talks; a 200,000-book library; the Idea Lab offering design exhibitions and workshops; Knowledge Tower, a multi-room venue dedicated to a planned 2000 annual workshops covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as arts, multimedia and various skill-building activities; and archives, which underline the human element of Aramco’s ethos and history.
Striving to foster cultural development and global reach as a key part of its mission, Ithra has initiatives such as Bridges, which over a year ago invited Culturunners – founded by Stephen Stapleton, co-founder of Edge of Arabia, an independent arts initiative developing the appreciation of contemporary Arab art and culture with a focus on Saudi Arabia – to create a cultural exchange programme between Saudi Arabia and the USA. Current programming includes the collaborative exhibition Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, running until 2 April, while early 2017 year saw the Abdulnasser Gharem exhibition at LACMA, as well as a Saudi artist tour of 10 cities across the USA.
Further programme details on Bridges’ Saudi Film Days, talks and exhibitions are yet to be announced.