Dubai: 178 and counting – believe it or not, that’s the number of museums that the UAE is currently home to. And no, they are not places where some forgotten objects find display.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview on Sunday, a day after the UAE was elected to host the 27th International Council of Museums (ICOM) Conference in 2025, Rashad Bukhash, Chairman of ICOM in the UAE, said: “The UAE undertook a survey and we found that there are 55 government museums and 123 private museums, taking the total number of museums in the country to 178. And more are on their way.”
Rich and diverse offering
From archaeological treasures and rich Emirati heritage to eclectic collectibles and modern, futuristic experiences, UAE’s museums are a reflection of the country’s history, diverse culture and character. These museums spread all across the emirates.
Bukhash said, “Besides large government museums like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s Shindagha and Al Ethihad museums or even the 18 government museums in Sharjah, the UAE also has many smaller private gems like the Cricket Museum, Sand Museum and Maritime Museum. There are 33 private museums in Ras Al Khaimah too.”
He said a new museum is coming up every few weeks lately, with the Madame Tussauds Dubai and a museum at NYU Abu Dhabi being the latest additions. “The Museum of the Future by the Dubai Future Foundation will also be coming up soon.”
When it does, the Museum of the Future will provide visitors a chance to reimagine the future, like never before.
The 2025 ICOM in Dubai will be held under the theme ‘The Future of Museums in Rapidly Changing Communities’, reinforcing the UAE’s position as the hub of creativity and innovation, he said, adding, “By 2025, even the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum will be ready.”
Bukash said the UAE’s first museum – the Al Ain National Museum – was set up way back in 1969. “This was followed by Dubai Museum which came up in 1971.”
While the 1980s saw the establishment of museums like Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi, Ajman Museum, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, Dubai, the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah and the Dubai Police Museum, the 1990s gave shape to the likes of the Fujairah Museum, Sharjah Archaeology Museum, Bait Al Naboodah, Sharjah Sharjah Islamic Museum, Sharjah Science Museum and the Naif Museum in Dubai.
But the real impetus for the growth of museums in the UAE came in recent years.
Why are museums important?
Bukash said, “Museums are important because, among other things, they help preserve heritage and culture. In just a couple of hours, a visitor can get the summary of a country’s history, culture and traditions. Specialised museums also provide you with an opportunity to learn about specific subjects while having a good time.”
He said modern-day museums provide an enriching, fun and interactive experience, with a range of activities designed for visitors, unlike the past. “In fact, in the coming days, we have planned a series of lectures from experts in the Arab region who will discuss why many people don’t want to visit museums. They think museums are old and boring. But today’s museums are changing that perception through innovation.”
He said UAE’s selection as the host of the 2025 ICOM conference, among other things, is testimony to its infrastructural strengths and capabilities as a MICE destination.
He said this is the first time that an Arab city has won the rights to host ICOM.
“Countries in Europe and elsewhere have a long history with 4,000-5,000 museums. We are relatively young with far fewer museums, yet we were able to compete with others like Kazan and Stockholm, which had applied to host the conference. We won with a nearly 54 per cent vote, which is remarkable. It just goes to reflect Dubai’s standing on the global map.”
He said the conference will bring together 6,000 experts from over 160 countries under one roof.