the urbanist: dubai

The Skeptic’s Guide to Art and Culture in Dubai (Yes, It Exists)

Dubai Street Museum. Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

From galleries tucked inside budget hotels to surprising street art installations in Satwa, here’s where local art and design buffs go for their culture fix.

Dubai Street Museum
“In 2016, street artists were invited to use 16 of the buildings lining 2nd December Street in Satwa as a blank canvas, creating murals that celebrate the Emirates’ cultural heritage. The public art initiative was called ‘Dubai Street Museum,’ and the head-turning results include enormous falcons, Emirati children, fishermen, and even balls of wool painted several stories high.” —Rachael Brown, creative director of the boutique arts consultancy Capsule Arts

Cabin. Photo: Courtesy of Cabin

“Here you can see work by local and international artists, grab a bite, and shop for cool gifts all at the same time. The space has beautiful, minimalist interiors, a concept store, a public studio, a gallery space, and a kitchen. Run by British artist Jonathan Gent, it’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon.” —Nawar Al Qassimi, a specialist in fundraising and audience development at the nonprofit arts institution Sharjah Art Foundation

Meem Gallery
“Meem is hidden in a warehouse near the auto repair shops of Al Barsha. It’s worth battling the traffic to see one of the city’s premier venues for modern Middle Eastern art. Past exhibitions have featured works by groundbreaking Iraqi painter and sculptor Shakir Hassan Al Said and Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata. If you’re lucky, you might get to see acrylic paintings by one of Iraq’s greatest artists, Dia Azzawi.” —Danna Lorch, arts and culture writer

Mural by Ruben Sanchez. Photo: Ruben Sanchez

Murals by Ruben Sanchez
“This Spanish street artist left his colorful fingerprints all over the city during a three-year residency in Dubai with important local arts hub Tashkeel. Look out for his ‘Bicycamel’ on a previously blank wall on Jumeirah Beach Road, inspired by the Spanish fairy-tale Los Caballeros de Los Peces.” —Rachael Brown

Cuadro Gallery. Photo: Cuadro Art/Facebook

Cuadro Gallery
This DIFC gallery is a calm respite from the surrounding steel jungle of overachieving executives. Curiously, the space often features work with earthy roots, such as the soulful land art of Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. Afterward, stop by La Petite Maison for a late-afternoon flute of Champagne.” —Danna Lorch

East Wing in the Dubai Design District. Photo: Courtesy of East Wing

Dubai Design District
“Dubai’s fledgling design district, a.k.a. D3, is home to lots of interesting design galleries [including contemporary art gallery Citizen E, creative incubator AR.Gallery, and photography gallery East Wing]. Wander around and take in the majlis-style seating and interactive spaces and sculptures, or try one of the many creative workshops happening each month.” —Rachael Brown

Alserkal Avenue. Photo: Iain Masterton/Getty Images/arabianEye

Alserkal Avenue
“Housing dozens of galleries, art spaces, cafés, a cinema, and even a chocolate factory, Alserkal has become Dubai’s cultural hub, with programming and exhibitions year-round [including The Fridge concert series, January’s Quoz Arts Fest, and the Good Vibes Market].” —Shannon Holden, independent curator with a focus on contemporary African art

Coffee Museum
“This quaint Emirati home at Villa 44 in Al Fahidi has been transformed into a private museum dedicated to the history of coffee and coffee brewing in the region. Displays include antique tools from the Middle East, and there’s a coffee bar with weird and wonderful brewing contraptions from around the world.” —Nawar Al Qassimi

XVA Art Hotel. Photo: Richard Nebesky/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

XVA Art Hotel
“I like to bring my notebook, order a lemonade with fresh mint, and eavesdrop on the typical mix of artists, locals, socialites, and tourists at expat Mona Hauser’s XVA Art Hotel. The small gallery is tightly curated. Ask to see the work in the back — everything from Emirati photographer Lamya Gargash’s abandoned villas to Simeen Farhat’s surprisingly conceptual calligraphic sculptures.” —Danna Lorch

Burj Khalifa
“Conceived at a time when budget had no ceiling, the beauty of the Burj Khalifa for any architect lies in the detail. Finished in mirrored glass and brushed stainless steel, you can only appreciate the high level of intricacies and commitment to the conceptual form when you see it up close. Having said that, to truly understand the sheer scale of the building, you have to pull away. There’s a fantastic viewpoint at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, a 15-minute taxi ride from downtown Dubai. Go around sunset to witness a postcard-like scene as the light casts a grapefruit pink glow over the Burj Khalifa’s mirrored façade.” —Jonathan Ashmore, founder and director of architecture practice ANARCHITECT

The Skeptic’s Guide to Art and Culture in Dubai