Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa

We catch up with Bahrain’s Minister of Culture to discover what’s happening at Bahrain Spring of Culture

Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa

What is it that drives you to preserve and foster culture as you do?
Bahrain has a particularly rich and unique history, with an archaeological heritage going back 6,000 years. It is our duty to protect it and to make it accessible to the public. Now’s no time to be complacent. Many ancient sites in Bahrain are of immense universal value, and if we don’t act now they will be destroyed by ignorance and the current wave of real-estate expansion. The same goes for much of our traditional architecture and urban fabric, which is in danger of being completely erased unless immediate action is taken to protect it.

Has your new role as Minister of Culture changed your focus?
It has given me a much wider portfolio than before because, in addition to culture, I oversee media and tourism, which we are trying to bolster now. In terms of cultural activities, it’s given me the opportunity to raise urgent issues such as the preservation of archaeological sites and the promotion of our Bahraini heritage at the highest level.

What inspired you to create the Spring of Culture?

The need for such a festival was always apparent to promote openness to new ideas and an exchange of knowledge, and also inspire Bahraini artistic creativity.

What are the highlights in this year’s line-up?
I am particularly delighted at the international programming this year; we have performers coming from as far afield as Cuba and Benin. But the festival hasn’t lost its local and regional touch, featuring as it does Egypt’s Adam Henein, a formidable artist, as well as Bahrain’s own Ebrahim BuSaad. The many children’s events include American group Dan Zanes & Friends and the Salzburg Marionette Theatre.

What have been your greatest festival hurdles and high points?

Getting the logistics right for the first and second festivals was difficult, and even now, no matter how hard you work and plan, at the end there is always a period of manic activity. Yet there is nothing like the satisfaction of events successfully completed and an audience enjoying itself. The festival has built up a real momentum now and it’s nice to know that there is a real desire and demand for it both here and regionally.

It’s been interesting to watch the Sheikh Ebrahim Centre evolve over the last few years too. Why is this cultural centre such a passion for you?
My grandfather, Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, was a central cultural personality in Bahrain in the early 20th century. His weekly majlis famously brought together Bahraini and international men of politics, culture and science to debate issues of the day. The Shaikh Ebrahim Centre was founded not only to continue this legacy but to preserve traditional Bahraini architecture through the restoration of traditional houses in Muharraq and Manama.

What other projects have you got lined up for this year?
At the ministry, we’re working on a number of large architectural projects, including the National Theatre, a Pearl Heritage Trail planned in Muharraq, and a project to protect the large burial mound fields that are so unique to Bahrain. We will also be starting work on the A’ali Burial Mounds Museum and the Al Khamis Mosque Visitor Centre, and hope to continue the tradition of an annual blockbuster exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum. By increasing the number and diversity of cultural events, we hope to attract an ever wider audience, especially younger visitors, and to make culture a way of life.

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