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Dubai Wins Bid to Host ICOM 2025, the World’s Largest Conference on Museums

The Megapolis Gulf city will host the 27th General Conference of ICOM under the theme of ‘The Future of Museums in Rapidly Changing Communities’


By Rebecca Anne Proctor

As Dubai picks up speed resuming events, conferences, and art fairs as well as the long-awaited Expo 2020 after over a year of postponements, another exciting announcement has placed the Gulf city in the international spotlight. Last week the Advisory Council of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) announced it had elected Dubai to host its 27th General Conference in 2025—the largest conference on museums in the world.


Established in 1946 under the umbrella of the United Nations, ICOM is now dubbed a global organization specialized in the field of museums, their coordination and development, with a membership that includes over 50,000 specialists from around 120 countries, and nearly 20,000 museums around the world.


The triennial event, which held its first edition in 1948, has become a reputed hub for exchange regarding topical issues tackled by museums and proposed creative solutions. ICOM General Conference is held once every three years. Its 25th edition was held in 2019 in Kyoto, Japan, and the 26th edition is scheduled to be held in Prague, Czech Republic in 2022.


During ICOM’s annual meeting that took place in June 2021, three potential candidates were announced to host the 2025 edition: Stockholm, proposed by ICOM Sweden; Kazan, put forward by ICOM Russia and Dubai, proposed by ICOM UAE.


In its presentation the UAE proposed to host the conference around the theme of ‘The Future of Museums in Rapidly Changing Communities’, which would feature discussions around change, recovery, transparency and accessibility.


When the 90th Advisory Council of ICOM gathered on November 18-19, it elected Dubai over the other two cities to host the 2025 conference.


“Our international museums in our beloved emirate and our national museums throughout the country will lead the global debate on the future of museums at this huge international conference,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, in a tweet on November 20. He also emphasized how Dubai’s securing of ICOM 2025, with an anticipated attendance of 119 countries, covering 20,000 international museums, would give a strong incentive to the country’s cultural sector.


His Highness thanked Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairperson of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Member of the Dubai Council, Dubai Culture, Dubai Municipality and Dubai Tourism for their efforts to host the global event.


“The world we live in today is vastly different from the one we used to know not so long ago. A torrent of events — a pandemic, massive protests, natural disasters, soaring inequalities, a technology and digital revolution, to name a few — has changed everything we thought we knew and led to the one thing we can be certain of: tomorrow will be uncertain. We are all trying to learn to cope, adapt, change, progress within a fast-changing environment, with some communities and people better equipped than others to face the changes,” states the ICOM Dubai 2025 theme statement.


It continued to emphasize how the changing nature of museums mirrors the changing nature of our world.


“Our museums have been going through the same process, albeit not always at the same pace. As we seek to transform ourselves and relate to others, so do our museums. And that is the explorative journey we are proposing at the Conference: where might we go next, together—museums and communities, hand in hand, for a better future? We, as museum professionals and members of our communities need to recognize them and find ways to use them to our advantage and to the greater good, reinforcing our role as a social actor—activist, and an agent for changes.”


The topic of change in museums, particularly after the last two years of the global pandemic, will be a focal point at the forthcoming 26th ICOM General Conference taking place in Prague during the week of 20-28 August 2022. There museums from around the world will gather to discuss subjects concerning the direction of the museum sector over the next three years. Topics will focus on position, strength and capacity of museums in building “a free, democratic and educated society,” according to a statement by ICOM, which stressed discussion surrounding the “reactions of museums to the challenges and needs of the 21st century; and the ability to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both societal and economic.”


Dubai’s election to host the ICOM 2025 is key to the Gulf city’s positioning as a nascent global hub for art and culture.


“Dubai’s hosting of ICOM 2025 reaffirms the emirate’s position as a capital of Arab and international excellence and that its investment over decades in pioneering thought, within a competitive race approach, was able to cement its position on the creative and innovation map,” said His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism in a statement.


The UAE megapolis is home to an ever-growing number of museums, ranging from traditional Emirati and Gulf history to private collections, such as the Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 and is the oldest existing building in Dubai. There’s also Etihad Museum, which opened in 2017, and collects and preserves the heritage of the UAE and is historically called Union House, the location where the emirate’s founding fathers signed the declaration that marked the formation of the UAE in 1971, which is now part of the museum complex in Jumeirah.


On the contemporary side, there’s recently launched Dubai Collection, the first institutional art collection in Dubai and for Dubai, developed in collaboration with the Art Dubai Group that continues to be its main point of contact and that runs its full operations on behalf of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. The highly anticipated Museum of the Future, which is slated to open soon.


As always, Dubai dances between its historical past and exciting future. Its host of ICOM 2025 will undoubtedly provide the Gulf city, now a world capital, with another opportunity to discussion how tradition and heritage can marry with the rapidly expanding technology and innovation in the museum world.

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