Sikka Art Fair 2019. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Festivals can captivate audiences far and wide with their ability to generate excitement, connections, and ethereal experiences. Since time immemorial, festivals have been an intrinsic part of our social and cultural fabric, proving just how relevant they are in modern times.

We are witnessing a surge of cities successfully branding themselves as ‘festival cities’, such as Dubai, London, Edinburgh, Venice, and Bergen. Such cities are distinctively positioned as patrons of the arts and the coveted abodes of creatives. A quick tour will elucidate their reverence for urban design and beauty, chiefly adorned by creatives of all kinds. Furthermore, it is also evident that support for the creative industries is a top priority for governments wishing to attract a vibrant cosmopolitan creative community. Festival cities also cater to a multitude of target audiences, ensuring a constant stream of events are offered throughout the year.

Interestingly, urban planning experts affirm the impact of such amenities on the general wellbeing of local communities, in addition to fostering social cohesion and enhancing community pride. Festivals are also great platforms for people to solidify connections with their heritage whilst also embracing a more globalized world.

Festivals are thriving economic engines and pose a number of important advantages. Positioning cities as ‘festival cities’ is a fantastic tourism driver, luring domestic and international visitors to experience one-of-a-kind events. Depending on a festival’s capacity, cities can hope to attract a sizable number of tourists, boosting local consumer spending, attracting investments, bolstering trade, creating jobs, supporting local enterprises, and attracting foreign talents to migrate. Furthermore, cities can focus on branding themselves according to various creative fields, such as music, visual arts, or heritage.

The map of the world is aglow with exuberant festivals, with themes covering music, arts, food, film, nature, sports, or culture. One of the oldest festivals to still capture people’s attention is the annual carnival of Venice, dating back to the 13th century. Today, the carnival still possess a particular enchantment around its history, culture, and literature. The city of Venice is adorned every February with myriad festivities, including a costume parade, gala dinners and masquerade balls, classical music concerts, mask-making workshops, live opera performances, and traditional romantic Venetian serenades sung by gondoliers.

The mesmerizing Chelsea Flower Show is held annually in the city of London and is deemed the leading flower show in the world. First launched in 1913, it continues to attract a sizable domestic and international audience. This much-admired show is a testament to natural beauty and enables gardeners and landscape designers to showcase their unique flora and fauna breeds, whimsical garden designs, gorgeous landscaping schemes, and ravishing flowers that are sure to enthrall. The programme of activities is filled with fascinating talks, workshops, afternoon tea experiences, flora-inspired dining experiences, and charming shops. The show is indeed a much-loved event, receiving a lot of publicity and regularly being attended by members of the British Royal Family.

Up north in the city of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh International Book Festival continues to garner impressive numbers of visitors. Held at the manicured and historic Charlotte Square Gardens, this yearly literary festival is the largest of its kind in the world. The program includes over 900 literary events targeting bibliophiles, children, and adults and reaching up to over 250,000 visitors. Alongside the festival is a children’s festival, an international film festival that showcases the very finest in international cinema, a science festival with discussions and exhibitions, an art festival that celebrates art throughout the city via exhibitions and artist talks, and an international storytelling festival that features mesmerizing storytelling performances.

Japan’s cherry blossom festival has garnered much devotion, attracting over 63 million domestic and foreign tourists a year to witness this evanescent beauty at play. Visitors can experience many fascinating activities, such as boat cruises passing by famous cherry blossom spots, dainty picnic setups with beautifully packed bento boxes under dreamy cherry blossom spots, cherry blossom-themed afternoon teas at stylish cafés and glitzy hotels, and a sumptuous dining experience consisting of many cherry blossom-inspired delicacies.

The Dubai Art Season, running between February to April, offers an exciting range of artsy festivals, such as Art Dubai, the Sikka Art Festival, the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, the Middle East Films and Comic Conference, and the Dubai International Jazz Festival. Each of these festivals offer visitors amazing experiences, such as performances, talks with creatives, autograph sessions, and workshops for arts enthusiasts.

For example, the Sikka Art Festival is held at the nostalgic venue of Al Fahidi Historical District, where the gorgeous heritage buildings set the scene for imaginative exhibitions from the worlds of visual arts, poetry, storytelling, live music, and film. Meandering passageways are adorned with twinkling fairy lights swaying from end to end, luring visitors into secretive alleys. Open courtyards host live bands and an open air cinema with flamboyant cushions lying around. Artists curate striking, thought-provoking artworks; from comic-style depictions of life in Dubai to fusion art collages of contemporary versus traditional life. Along the way, visitors also see arrays of antiquarian libraries and painting workshops, inviting them to spend an afternoon lost in a surreal world.

Celebrating our creativity in the fields of the arts, culture, music, or film is a universal and essential part of our human experience. Festival cities are indeed special in their abilities to offer a spectacular selection of events that will always invite visitors to etch more memories.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature