190628 shaikh hazza
Shaikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, handing over the Shaikh Zayed Book Award to Professor Jaroslav Stetkevych and Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych at Auditorium Plaza Louvre Abu Dhabi on April 25, 2019. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

As life becomes increasingly complicated with the broadening scope of scientific research and technology, the familiar meaning of ‘award’ turned from being a gift or grant - whether it is conditional or not on the performance of a work - into a prize for a creative achievement. Its goal is to create a spirit of competition and unleash talents among creative persons in all fields of science, arts and social sciences by focusing on work and its outstanding scientific results or aesthetic aspects in order to reach the largest number of recipients.

Indeed, awards focus light on achievers by honouring them with dedication of their standing in the scientific and cultural scenes. More-over, they represent recognition of the value of creativity and its role in life.

The idea of awards was initiated by advanced countries as a way of developing their arts, literature and sciences. Some of the awards are quite specialised, such as those awarded in an exact scientific discipline, or for a specific literary genre such as fiction, short story, or theatre. Other awards are limited to a particular region or country, or to speakers of a language.

There are, however, prizes that do not place geographical or linguistic restrictions and are awarded in the fields of pure science, humanities, literature, social sciences or applied sciences. When the ‘encouraging incentives’ for the awards were strong and multiple, the results were important in raising the level of artistic, cultural and scientific production, and when the opposite happened, production knew a contraction and decline.

This is why when we compare, for example, the enormous budgets devoted to scientific research in developed countries, especially in the United States, as well as the international awards that are unique to American cinema, we recognise the main reason behind the flourishing of scientific research and the spread of the American film.

Consolidation of excellence

In a country such as France, for example, as a leading centre of culture, art, literature, business and other sectors worldwide, more than 1,500 prizes are awarded annually at various levels and sectors at a rate of four awards per day, to consolidate the concept of excellence, creativity and quality as a renewed culture.

In our part of the world, the expansion of Arab space, the weakness of Arab cultural media, and the poor distribution of books, all made it difficult to identify the most profound studies or the most important innovations. Yet, in the context of this, the tradition of creative prizes in the Arab world has emerged as one prize or two, and has spread to dozens of awards.

It is worth mentioning that a few decades ago creation of prizes for intellectual, scientific, literary, artistic and sporting creativity started in the Arab world. The positive and healthy competition has succeeded in creating compelling reasons for participating in the annual or biennial awards, especially those concentrated in the Gulf states.

King Faisal International Prize, Shaikh Zayed book award, Qatar’s Katara Prize for Arabic novel, Abdul Aziz Al Babtain award for poetic creativity, Abdul Hameed Shoman Award for Young Arab Researchers, Al Owais Award for Culture and Art, Dubai Award for Cultural Creativity, Arab Creativity Award, King Abdullah II Award for Creativity, Arkanah International Poetry Award of Morocco and Palestine Cultural Awards, etc are some established names.

More by the writer

More include book prizes organised by the Arab ministries of culture, in addition to state awards for appreciation and encouragement, film awards, sports and popular awards that play a major role in introducing outstanding works to the public. Some of these offer large sums of money, and contribute no doubt to presenting the winning work to the recipients and increasing distribution, while harvesting more returns.

Publishing houses and media institutions need to play their role in valuing winning works, through wide publicity that leads to continued marketing and distribution. Otherwise, the prize will remain a mere bonus.

All said, Arab prizes have been able to stir up stagnant water in the cultural life, adding to the stimulation and encouragement of Arab innovators in various fields.

It is now required, and really necessary, to take into account the importance of the material value of the award. Let us make the prizes generous. Prizes have always received a moral and material lustre that no writer has ever been able to overlook. However, the competition for an award has proved to be tempting for the soul and for ink to flow. Indeed, the moral motivation involved among the participants, we believe, has stimulated creative ‘ink’.

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.