Ithra Year in Review

Ithra closes successful year with local and international awards and a push for the future

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture looks ahead to an exciting 2022 buoyed by announcements in film, STEM learning, architecture, and digital well-being.

Ithra closes successful year with local and international awards and a push for the future

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is encouraged by the achievements of a successful year and vows to build on its increased impact in 2022. Ithra enriched the lives of more than 500,000 people over the course of 2021, with 7,000 programs attended by physical and virtual visitors, leading to the center’s recognition of five international and local awards. 



Ithra’s awards in 2021 included:

  • Cultural Institutes Award in the private sector track by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture
  • Three prestigious accolades from MarCom, one of the largest and most respected creative competitions in the world, including platinum in the “Team Achievement” and “Pro Bono” categories, and gold in the “Social Content” category for its efforts on World Book Day
  • Recognition by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development for being the first volunteer unit to implement the national volunteering standard, the first center to introduce volunteering in the private sector, and a Gold “Mowaamah” certification for accessibility and support of those with special needs.

Ithra impact regionally

Ithra’s landmark research project, Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) Index that shows cultural participation regionally is on the rise. One of the most comprehensive studies mapping the cultural and creative landscape of the Middle East and North Africa, the study published earlier this year comprised three reports that collectively point to a vibrant sector catering to increased interest among the public. 


A key finding of the study emphasizes the expansion of cultural activities on digital platforms and the role technology plays in boosting cultural participation and awareness – the basis of Ithra’s complementing research into digital well-being. Conducted as part of Ithra’s flagship Sync program, a multi-year initiative to support and promote efforts to prioritize digital wellbeing, the project canvassed 15,000 people in 30 countries,  with the results of the study informing Ithra’s Sync project.


The importance of advancing responsible internet usage was highlighted at Tanween’s Social Sorting Experiment. One of the main features of Ithra’s creativity and innovation festival, the Smartphone Orchestra sorted the public based on the data they provide themselves in this interactive and immersive activity, allowing the audience to experience personally how their data can be misused by big tech companies.

Another highlight featured mass drone swarms that interacted with the audience in one of the largest co-created drone/human light paintings ever made. Held under the theme Crafting Creativity, Tanween 2021 attracted more than 25,000 visitors over the course of three weeks. 

Currently on display at the first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Ithra Art Prize-winning piece (E Pluribus Unum  — A Modern Fossil) underlines the new Pan-Arab direction of the Prize. This is the first year one of the most significant art prizes in the region is open to regional artists, while simultaneously representing a homecoming for the award which was presented at Art Dubai for its first three editions. 

Ithra’s investment in the future saw the announcement earlier this month that the F1 in Schools program is coming to Saudi Arabia. Formula One’s global educational initiative will see some of the Kingdom’s brightest young minds join peers from 26,000 schools in 51 other countries as they showcase their creative skills and compete to reach the Aramco F1 in Schools World Finals in 2022. 


Challenging and channeling young Saudi talent

The world’s largest science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) challenge highlights Ithra’s mandate to champion creative potential and inspire innovation among Saudi talent and youth.

Challenging visitors to channel their creativity towards Islamic heritage, Ithra launched an opportunity for people to reimagine mosques during its recently concluded conference The Mosque: Innovation in Object, Form and Function. The first forum of its kind, the three-day gathering featured global experts exploring the history, art and architecture of Islamic cultures and culminated in the announcement of the Mosque of the Future challenge. 


The conference complemented the ongoing exhibition Shatr AlMasjid: The Art of Orientation. Featuring the largest collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in the Kingdom, it is the result of unprecedented partnerships on international and national level, including with the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities. 


In another first, this year marked the opening of Ithra’s most international art exhibition yet. Featuring 26 artworks by 20 artists, including site-specific installations and commissioned pieces created specifically for and at the Center, Seeing and Perceiving explores how observers perceive artworks in different ways. 


Testament to Ithra’s support of local talent, Saudi open call winner Walaa Fadul’s piece Light Upon Light, a composition of six hologram fans and 3-D holographic visuals, is exhibited alongside some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world.


Using contemporary art to serve a bigger purpose, Ithra partnered with environmental sustainability leader Arcadia Earth for its Terra exhibition. The exhibit harnessed the power of art to create memorable experiences while taking a localized view on global challenges such as water scarcity, air quality and plastic pollution.

Learning Beyond and film

While Ithra’s Learning Beyond program highlighted best practices in the education sector by harnessing innovative, accessible and diverse resources to deliver a tangible impact on students’ development, the inaugural Creative Solutions program was designed to boost Saudi’s creative economy through empowering digital content creation in immersive technologies. 


Similarly, Ithra also launched this year its inaugural scientific communication program PiCon, which provided an opportunity for creative people and those interested in science and technology to participate in a series of inspiring talks, experiments, and interactive scientific presentations over a three-day conference. 


Ithra also cemented its reputation as a leading Saudi film producer with roadshows at the 74th Cannes international Film Festival and at the Red Sea International Film Festival, the Kingdom’s first international film fair. 


Produced under the Ithra Film Productions banner, celebrated Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy’s Sea of Sands and Saudi award-winning independent filmmaker Khalid Fahad’s Valley Road are both scheduled for release in 2023. 


The feature-length documentary film Anti-Cinema, meanwhile, is currently in post-production and is expected to hit the international film festival circuit shortly. Winner of the Ithra Content Commission Initiative, Ali Saeed and Hassan Saeed’s film brings Saudi Arabia’s film history to the big screen.


Furthermore, Ithra is excited about the opening of registration for Sea of Sands’ shadowing program, linked to the Center’s commitment to nurture and develop talent across the Kingdom’s creative industries. The training program is designed to take Saudi’s film industry to the next level, and will see 10 aspiring filmmakers joining the production of the film and learn from well-established filmmakers and crew.


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