The Year in Culture

2020: The year at Ithra

In a year defined by the pandemic, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture expands its audience.

2020: The year at Ithra

Like the rest of the world, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) saw a remarkable change in its operations, moving more from the physical world to the digital as its outreach sought to maintain its cultural influence across the Kingdom and around the world. Still, 2020 proved to be extremely busy as Ithra managed to continue long-running programs and exhibits at its facilities for a good part of the year while also embracing a long list of new offerings.

January — Ithra Incubator


Two Ithra Incubator programs began their operations in Qassim and Ha’il. This sustainable educational program runs from January 2020 to June 2021. The program trained 2,000 teachers and 12,000 students in Qassim and Ha’il through 280,000 learning hours of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) content. A similar program in the northern border region reached 35 schools, and mainly focused on math and robotics, to provide specialized educational programs targeting 21,000 students.

February — Ithra Cultural Days: Vietnam


Ithra held its inaugural Cultural Days program, which involved two weeks of activities showcasing Vietnamese culture. The centerpiece of the program was the Vietnamese circus show, AO, which played to sell-out crowds. The events also included music, performances, food, and crafts. The program attracted 45,000 visitors.

March — Ithra launches Ithra Connect


The physical doors closed at Ithra because of the pandemic, but the virtual doors opened. Ithra responded to the pandemic by preparing an unprecedented amount of authentic new relevant content to serve our audiences online. Content and engagement became the “fourth emergency” service to deal with the stress and isolation of lockdown. Ithra Connect ultimately reached more than 1 million virtual attendees.

April — ‘Your Heroes, the Nation’s Heroes’ campaign


As a tribute to the heroes from the various sectors and fields who worked tirelessly for the health and safety of the public, Ithra launched the “Your Heroes, the Nation’s Heroes” campaign, on Ithra’s Twitter account. The campaign invited the public to participate in recognizing their heroes whose names would be projected onto the Ithra building. The campaign was a success, with more than 10,000 submissions received. 

May — ‘Id Parade


Ithra launched a hybrid ‘Id celebration, including a parade of decorated wagons traveling through cities in the Eastern Province. The parade consisted of four buses that roamed the neighborhoods of al-Khobar, Dammam, Dhahran, Qatif, and Sayhat.

June — Ithra Talks 


As part of the Ithra Connect program, Ithra broadcast live online events with international and regional figures. They were the acclaimed English actor Idris Elba, the American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the international architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, and Ithra’s head of Advisory, Fatmah Al-Rashed.


Ithra also partnered with UNESCO to produce the ResiliArt virtual panel discussion with five leading art and culture professionals. The focus of the debate: “Dystopia to Utopia: Our Changing Cultural Landscape,” examined the cultural landscape and potential paths forward in social, political, and economic terms from the perspective of the Arab World.

July — ‘50 Thousand Photographs’


The Ithra produced Saudi short film “50 Thousand Photographs” was released  in cinemas Kingdomwide.

August — Summer Camp


Ithra Summer Camp 2020 was offered in an online form. The camp offered young people a series of activities covering crafts, stories, and world inventions. The camp had 1,500 participants.

August — ‘Id al-Adha


Ithra offered a series of events for the ‘Id al-Adha celebrations’ indoor and outdoor activities, including a procession that went to various stops; maintaining social distancing. 

September — Saudi National Day


Ithra’s hybrid National Day celebrations featured exhibitions, music and events to mark the celebration. Highlights included a performance by Al Farabi band, accompanied by Abeer Balubaid on piano and singer Ameen Farsi, as well as live poetry by Saudi poet Abdulatif Almubarak, with music. One exhibition examined the famously decorated doors of Najd, and another, Kingdom of Cultures, showcased the Kingdom’s spectacular and varied landscapes. 

October — Tanween


Ithra’s creativity festival Tanween ran its third season, under the theme: “The New Next — Creativity is the Way Forward.” It ran in a hybrid format with content provided both physically to audiences in the Ithra Theater and online. The conference featured more than 35 speakers, including specialists in creative design, data visualization, fashion, and food design. 

November — Memorandum signed with the Egyptian Council of Antiquities


Ithra entered into a two-year partnership with the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities to bring 84 timeless masterpieces of Islamic culture from the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo for exhibition in Dhahran. This was a substantial move in developing future collaboration among museums across the Middle East and Africa. It represented a major stage in cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


November — iRead Ceremony


Ithra’s national reading competition, iRead, concluded its sixth year with a final ceremony at the Ithra Theater. The top 10 finalists from more than 13,000 initial submissions from across the country were showcased. Over 40,000 individuals viewed the virtual stream online in the first 24 hours of the event. The program strives to popularize reading and raise awareness through a variety of cultural programs that encourage knowledge and curiosity.

December — Volunteer Day


Ithra marked International Volunteerism Day with a special event to recognize the contribution of volunteers to the work of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

December — Winter Camp


Ithra welcomed children to its Ithra Winter Camp under the title “A Journey through Time.” The camp offered three different tracks around the themes of the geology of the past, including dinosaurs. The events were aimed at developing educational, analytical, and problem solving skills.


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