The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

VERDICT: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – aptly named Ithra, for ‘enrichment’ in Arabic

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – aptly named Ithra, for ‘enrichment’ in Arabic – is Saudi Arabia’s leading center for all things creative and cross-cultural. Ithra opened its doors to the public in 2018 as an ambitious Aramco initiative to empower and celebrate creativity through workshops, performances, and events based on the key concept of celebrating culture, community, creativity, art, and learning. The goal is to turn Saudi Arabia into a beacon of culture.
As a nod to the source of wealth that ultimately made all this possible, the Center is situated at the historical location of the Kingdom’s Prosperity Well – in Dhahran, located in the Eastern Province.

Ithra’s impressive structure consists of three giant, hi-tech rocks surrounding a 110-meter (361 ft) tower, and a fourth rock suspended between the tower and one of the rocks on the ground. It was designed by a Norwegian architectural firm – Snøhetta – and received the American Concrete Institute’s Excellence in Concrete Construction Award in 2019. The building encompasses 100,000 square meters (1,076,391 sq. ft.), surrounded by a 350,000 square meter (3,767,368 sq. ft.) landscape.
It hosts a museum with five galleries dedicated respectively to contemporary Middle Eastern art, Saudi culture, Islamic art, the natural history of the Arabian Peninsula, and an archive gallery. There is also a children’s museum, the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia; a 900-seat theater, where live local and international productions are staged; an impressively futuristic library with over 315,000 books; and a cinema, where the Saudi Film Festival is held every year, and where Ithra originals and Ithra-funded productions (currently at 22 films) are regularly screened. The cinema also hosts the events of the forward-looking Ithra Film Society, where filmmakers discuss and network their film projects.

Ithra Academy was created as part of the talent development project of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, with a mission to build capabilities and talents in six fundamental areas of Saudi Arabia’s flourishing creative and cultural industries, worthy of competing on the global market: namely, literacy (from storytelling to content creation), art and design (from calligraphy to designing characters for picture books), science and technology, creative leadership (from launching a business to event management), film and performing arts (from writing to character development and voice-overs), and music.
Ithra Academy courses are offered at three progressively complex levels: Immerse, which offers beginner courses that last from one to five days; Broaden, which involves longer intermediate sessions of three to eight days each; and Emerge, which are 12- to 20-day advanced sessions where the participants profit from the presence of top-notch experts in their relative fields. Almost all courses are held in-person at the Ithra Center in Dhahran, although some of the more advanced courses adopt a hybrid approach that also includes online meetings with experts.
–Caren Davidkhanian