Dubai’s impressive arrival as an international design hub owes much to Cyril Zammit, who did sterling work in launching Design Days Dubai in 2012 and Dubai Design Week in 2015. He left at the start of 2017 “for personal reasons” – but now he’s back, and hopefully with a business card large enough to accommodate the title of Expert to the Office of The Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dubai Culture.
The official description of his role is pretty imprecise: “Mr Zammit will be responsible for providing the Authority with industry insights that go toward further strengthening Dubai’s cultural and creative fabric”. His own assessment of the job doesn’t add much clarity – “my aim is to support Dubai Culture’s wide range of initiatives with a new outlook and fresh perspectives”.
But his knowledgeable consultancy work, his international standing, and his extensive contacts book all suggest that he will be able to contribute strategically at Dubai Culture. The authority’s role is present Dubai as a global hub for the creative industries and a cultural destination for the savvy tourist; Cyril Zammit’s background includes stints at HSBC, UBS and TDIC where he looked after sponsorship and funding for a variety of top cultural events – several Art Basel entities, the Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra, the Montreux Jazz Festival – so he’s well aware of the opportunities for matching art and commerce.
Zammit was highly visible at the London Design Festival in September, where Dubai Culture ran the sixth edition of its Dubai Next programme as part of the 2017 UK/UAE Year of Creative Collaboration. Dubai Next had panel discussions and workshops on Islamic design, all centred around the theme of a new Dubai Culture book – the snappily titled Global Perspectives on the Islamic Creative Economy, a collection of essays and expert opinions on how to consolidate Dubai’s position as an international centre of Islamic soft power. Zammit was moderator for a really interesting panel at the Design Museum that featured Salem Al-Qassimi, founder of Fikra and Assistant Professor of Design at AUS; Wael Al Awar from the multidisciplinary Dubai/Tokyo architectural studio Ibda Design; Ahmad Angawi, Associate Director of Al Makmad Foundation and consultant to the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage; and William Greenwood, Albukhary Foundation Curator of the Islamic World at the British Museum.
It was an interesting discussion, all too brief but with a variety of points of view; Cyril Zammit’s role in it suggests that (among other things) he will be an ambassador for Dubai’s push for prominence in regional and then international design.