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How can we seed curiosity to harvest ingenuity?
At Aramco, we believe the ideas that drive change can come from anywhere. And it’s only by coming together to collaborate and share knowledge that we can progress, and meet the many challenges and complexities of the world.
It was this passion for creativity and innovation that led us to build the visionary King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra).
Creating a transformative space
The name Ithra comes from the Arabic word for ‘enrichment.’ It is a destination and a world-class platform for art, creativity, and culture.
Work began in Dhahran in 2008, with the building representing three expressions of time; the tower being the future, the ground floor the present, and the underground areas the past. The construction also bridged both modern and ancient architectural techniques.
Its unique outer skin is made of 360km of individually curved stainless steel tubes, specifically designed to counteract the heat of the sun and the effects of wind-born sand. The walls of the interior plaza were made with rammed earth — using compressed natural materials such as sand, gravel and clay to create a fireproof, soundproof, and well-insulated space.
Thanks to innovations such as these, Ithra was awarded a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate.
Ithra in numbers
Ithra opened to the public in 2018, ready to inspire creators in the visual, cinematic, media and performing arts, as well as the inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Central to this vision is Tanween, Ithra’s flagship creativity season.
Tanween offers a unique platform for creatives and innovators to come together to share ideas and redefine what creativity means in today’s changing world.
There is a different theme every year, augmented by a wide range of celebrated local and international speakers from a variety of different fields. Over the years, these have included MIT’s Professor Carlo Ratti, Dr. Sumaya Al Sulaiman, Head of Saudi Architecture and Design Commission, football icon Thierry Henry, Mythbuster’s Adam Savage, restaurateur Alan Yau, and Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney.
Ithra’s creativity and innovation festival
As well as encouraging creativity, one of the goals of Ithra is to develop and empower new talent to make tangible and positive impacts on our world. One example of this is our Creative Solutions program, which offers an annual opportunity for multi-disciplinary professionals to come together to develop original ideas, experiences, and solutions to solve real-world challenges.
The initiative focuses on innovators working on AI, immersive audio, haptics, and virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. Candidates apply to the program, and the chosen few attend a series of immersive masterclasses. Participants then pitch their ideas, with the winning ideas ultimately being developed into working prototypes.
Fueling a passion for reading
Launched in 2012, iRead is Ithra’s flagship community education program. Open to anyone, regardless of age, gender or academic level, the program brings together three core components:
- Reader of the Year – granted to the student who writes the best description and critical reception of books read during the academic year.
- Reading Ambassadors – an annual competition for teachers, to promote a culture of reading among their students.
- Content Creators – a competition open to Saudi citizens and residents interested in making and enriching Arabic content.
By nurturing people’s passion for reading and the pursuit of knowledge, we hope to inspire a million new readers by 2030.
Giving artists a global platform
To help celebrate contemporary art and artists, we founded one of the most prominent art funds in the region. The annual Ithra Art Prize is open to artists from 22 Arab countries, with the winner receiving up to $100,000 to bring their idea to life, and a place in Ithra's permanent collection for their finished artwork.
The annual Ithra Art Prize event
Unlocking potential during COVID
When the COVID pandemic forced Ithra to close its doors, our response was to create Ithra Connect — UNESCO-recognized online initiative delivering access to over 50 ongoing programs.
From podcasts and quizzes, to video series, exhibitions and seminars, the platform brings a virtual world of art, reading and learning to communities, young and old.
One of the highlights was the 'Ithra Talks: Up Close With' speaker series, which delivered live interactive sessions with illustrious speakers such as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, actor Idris Elba and architect Kjetil Thorsen.
Cultivating the creative economy
Another key ambition of Ithra is to celebrate cross-cultural creativity. With this in mind, we have collaborated on projects with international organizations including the National Geographic Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, and the Arab World Institute, also located in Paris.
This supports the aim of achieving our vision of establishing Saudi Arabia as an international beacon for knowledge and creativity.
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