5 Things I Learned From Hosting a Think-Tank Conference in Dubai

When you get creative change-makers from across the world in one hotel together, great things happen.

Marriott International recently staged its latest event in the Cultural Game Changers series at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. Part think tank, part salon, the hour-long discussion among influencers from the fields of contemporary art, design, fashion, film, and social media focused on innovation and craft. Here's what I learned.

Big ideas don't have to come from the dais

Cultural Game Changers was first held at the London EDITION last July, which featured a panel including James Gay-Rees, the Oscar-winning producer of the Amy Winehouse documentary Amy. Panel discussions are dominated by individuals, but it is just as inspiring to hear from creative visionaries and forward-thinkers working in different fields gathered around a lunch table.

Dubai and nearby Abu Dhabi are cultural hotspots

In less than 20 years, these cities have been transformed from deserts to sophisticated urban capitals with skyscrapers, luxury shopping malls, and some of the world's finest hotels. They're also new cultural capitals catering to an expanding audience of people interested in contemporary art, fashion, independent film, and design. Our talk coincided with Art Dubai, which, in its tenth year, is to the Middle East what Art Basel is to Miami. Soon Abu Dhabi will be home to the world's largest artistic area, which will include the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi—planned to be 12 times the size of its New York flagship. 

Women are on top in the UAE's creative world 

When we set out to create the panel of speakers, our intention was to find the most interesting cultural change-makers in the Emirates. They just happened to be women, like art patron Dana Farouki and Kinda Ibrahim of Twitter MENA. As a woman creating new luxury and lifestyle travel experiences, I am thrilled to provide a platform for women to exchange ideas and to explore ways to support and partner with them.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, has 5.91 million followers on Twitter 

Social media has transformed the way leaders connect to their constituents and also how our growing portfolio of luxury and lifestyle brands engages with its guests on their terms. 

Home-grown fashion is having a moment

The Dubai fashion scene used to be dominated by international brands. And though the Dubai Mall remains a second-to-none luxury shopping experience, young Dubai designers are on the rise. Khulood Thani, one of our panelists, is the first UAE national to hold a degree from ESMOD, the Paris fashion school. The studio for her brand, Bint Thani, is in Dubai's thriving Al Quoz art district, and her bold, architectural, and modern designs are inspired by traditional Emirati craft, historic Japanese costume, and Elsa Schiaparelli haute couture.

Tina Edmundson is the global officer of luxury and lifestyle brands at Marriott International.

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