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In 1971 the UAE was born, and with it, a new cultural vision. From the very beginning, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – the founder of the UAE, endearingly named Father of the Nation – wanted to engage the country in cross-cultural dialogue with the wider international community. 

A pioneer who looked at a changing world through eyes that imagined a prosperous future, Sheikh Zayed firmly established the UAE as a crossroads for various cultures, with his vision revealing the nation’s welcoming openness, tolerance and hospitality.

Committed to creating an environment conducive to cultivating and elevating minds and touching the world, the UAE’s leadership passed a law that year to set up a cultural body that would nurture heritage and the arts in the fast-developing nation. With keen insight, the late Sheikh Zayed envisioned a modern cultural institution that would serve as a vital building block for the fledgling state’s society. He envisioned a place from which a cultural awakening would spring forth, starting at the nation’s new capital, Abu Dhabi, and eventually impacting the rest of the UAE and, finally, the world. Over time, this grew to encompass the protection and promotion of the nation’s valued traditional culture and heritage, safeguarding them for future generations. 

The Cultural Foundation brought these visions to life. At the time of its opening in 1981, it housed the first National Library, along with a performance auditorium and an exhibition centre.

The formal establishment saw the launch of a series of groundbreaking programmes celebrating local and regional culture, showcasing a variety of art forms and encouraging cross-cultural exchanges on many new fronts.

Since then, the Cultural Foundation has gained regional and international acclaim as a world-renowned venue for culture and the arts. The building itself has gained prominence as a modern heritage landmark, registered as one of Abu Dhabi’s cherished cultural heritage resources. From its inception to the time of its extensive renovation and beyond, the Cultural Foundation has remained true to the original aspirations of the late Sheikh Zayed, fulfilling one of his ambitious and far-reaching visions for the UAE and its people: to share the nation’s timeless, inestimable endowment of cultural heritage and art with the world.