The culture of now: Shaping Dubai Culture’s purpose
The Dubai Arts and Culture Authority was founded to promote and shape Dubai’s culture. Although established back in 2008, its brand awareness, recognition and perceived impact were still low. Working with Bellwether, Dubai Culture developed a new brand identity, which helped highlight its initiatives, enabled it to stand proud as an authority and empowered it to reflect Dubai’s national identity. The rebrand won the organisation the ‘Best overall visual identity’ Transform Award.
If one thinks of Dubai, the first things that pop to mind are shopping, the world’s tallest tower, and 365 days of warm weather and sandy beaches. No one immediately thinks of culture. Dubai Arts and Culture Authority were created to change that. However, a decade since its establishment, the organisation only had 23% of awareness among Dubai residents. When assessing Dubai Culture, Bellwether encountered a number of challenges, including the lack of a clear definition for culture in Dubai. In addition, the city did not differentiate itself well from the neighbouring cities of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
“The research we conducted amongst citizens of the UAE showed that Dubai’s culture perception was mostly being shaped by shopping and events, such as music festivals,” says Pierre Lategan, a partner at Bellwether.
In addition, within the authority itself, it wasn’t clear how much emphasis should be placed on which key drivers of culture, such as heritage, museums, arts, music or theatre. Bellwether needed to define the authority purpose, its values and core priorities.
Lategan and the team at Bellwether saw the solution to the challenge in one simple concept: creativity. As the culture authority, Dubai Culture’s role was to continue to grow a culture that allows, promotes, and supports an environment where creativity can thrive. “We realised Dubai’s culture was about enabling and being an incubator for creativity, making the environment within Dubai as conducive to that as possible. We envisioned it as the culture of now rather than the culture of the past or the future,” says Lategan.
By developing a new purpose rooted in creativity, Bellwether was able to align Dubai Culture’s purpose with that of the Emirate. In this way, the institution would not only nurture a culture relevant to Dubai, but one unique within the whole region.
“Dubai has the essence, the DNA, the charisma, to shape the culture of the now. This concept was fundamental in defining the authority’s role within the greater ecosystem that is Dubai,” Lategan says.
With a new brand intent, came new priorities for Dubai Culture, including enabling the next generation of talent, making culture available to everyone and contributing to the economy.
With a new purpose, based on the ‘culture of now,’ and a set of clear priorities, Bellwether set out to align the team internally. “The organisation had a somewhat divided culture. On one hand, there was part of the institution that was more conservative and heritage focused, on the other, there was a part which was more focused on creativity and the new arts,” Lategan says.
Bellwether turned inwards, holding workshops to help the institution collectively define a set of values that would be shared amongst the organisation. The new values were rolled out in an internal campaign to enable the new purpose and allow everyone to be on the same page. They focused on four areas: being guardians (of heritage and culture); being explorers (of the future); being connectors (bringing people together around culture and creativity); and being achievers (having the highest standards of excellence and ethics as an organisation).
Portraying the newfound purpose and sense of brand unity through the visual identity was no easy feat for Bellwether. The existing logo had to remain the same because it ties the institution to the overarching Brand Dubai logo, whilst the colour purple was retained for recognisability for Dubai Culture & Arts Authority. However, Bellwether began thinking outside the box, looking for other visual cues that would help Dubai Culture stand out and become its own institution. The solution came in one single element, the first character of the Arabic alphabet, the Alif.
Something so small and seemingly indistinguishable was turned into the central symbol for the whole institution. The ‘Culture One Alif’ united all of the brand’s facets together while also further rooting Dubai in its national identity, which is inherently linked to the Arabic language.
“The Alif became a framing device, but also an inclusive graphic device that enabled us to strengthen the communication and the brand touch-points,” says Lategan. “It brings ownership and movement to everything Dubai Culture does.”
The Alif acts as a thread, weaving everything within the Dubai Culture together. It is flexible and interactive, creating cohesiveness across the whole brand identity and informing every brand element. Whether it is wrapping itself around the local point of imagery, flowing through videos, or becoming a container for content, the Alif is present.
The Alif-centred visual identity swept up three Gold trophies in three different categories at the Transform Awards Middle East and Africa. It also took home one of the most coveted trophies of the night, the 'Best Overall Visual Identity' award. Judges described the project as an excellent attempt to stand out and be different from other, more well-known Dubai government departments. They particularly appreciated the extraction of the Alif character, which one judge described as a ‘stroke of genius.’
“Obviously it’s fantastic to win awards, but Transform is more than just golden butterflies. It’s the opportunity for clients to be recognised for their courage, hard work and determination,” says Lategan.
“Most agencies only see the trophy, but we see the RFP, the proposal, the awarding, the kick-off, workshops, research, debates, board meetings. The messy journey that brand building is. We see the journey we went on and the results we achieved. Each trophy is a story and journey that we feel proud to be part of,” he adds.
Bellwether’s creation of a visually compelling and memorable brand identity allows Dubai Culture to stand out and shapes the meaning of culture in relation to Dubai. This gives the city a strong national identity. Dubai Culture helps the city live in the present and project itself in the future, through creativity and the culture of now.