Qatar’s World Cup Cultural Programme and
its Soft Power Strategy
By Aleksandra Kubacka
Qatar launched a constellation of cultural events and museums to coincide with the FIFA World Cup 2022 (20 November-18 December) — the first to be held in a Middle Eastern country — which aims to further boost the soft power status of the Gulf state. In recent months, Qatar has finalised the transformation of its infrastructure worth hundreds of billions of dollars to accommodate the imminent arrival of hundreds of thousands of international fans and football teams with their logistical entourages and supporting government delegations and thousands of media workers.
The calendar will include events highlighting major aspects of Arab culture and heritage. These dazzling art initiatives are intended to provide a forum for international dialogue and cultural exchange ahead, and on the fringes, of the thrills of the football tournament and boosting its cultural appeal in line with Qatar’s Vision 2030. In this way, Qatar intends to change its image and portray itself as a world art centre.
Reimagining the Museum of Islamic Art
A major part of Qatar’s cultural programme was the reopening of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) on 5 October in Doha after the revamping of its permanent collection galleries by the renowned Chinese-American architect, Ieoh Ming Pei, the Pritzker Prize winner. The MIA now introduces its masterpieces in a new thematic interpretation to involve both local and international audiences. According to the curators, ‘The galleries will be organised according to broad historical and cultural themes, periods and geography, and will explore the great traditions of Islamic craftsmanship. The MIA will also introduce a new section on Islam in Southeast Asia and focus on the connection between different cultures through exhibits on the trade of commodities and the exchange of ideas across the Islamic World and beyond.’
The MIA’s reopening is accompanied by an exhibition at its Temporary Exhibition Gallery entitled Baghdad: Eye’s Delight which will focus on the artistic value of the capital of Iraq under the Abbasid dynasty (750-1258) and its international influence. The exhibition presents Baghdad as a political, economic and intellectual centre and pays homage to Baghdad’s glorious past and highlight the significance of its Abbasid heritage. It also introduces the perspective of Baghdad from the 20th century, described as a period of the development of the modern industry.
Then on 12 October, the Museum of Islamic Art set a new Guinness World Record for the most languages used in a reading relay. The literature selected for the challenge was The Little Prince by French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. During the reading relay, more than 150 participants, of different nationalities, read the novel in as many as 55 languages. This was a form of celebrating the multitude of languages that will be spoken in Qatar during the FIFA World Cup.
Three New Museums
The development of three additional museums is also in the works including: the Art Mill initiative, a new international modern and contemporary art venue in Doha, which is scheduled for 2030: ‘the Art Mill Museum will house an exceptional and completely international collection constituted over the last 40 years with multidisciplinary works of great diversity, dating from 1830 to the present,’ according to the Qatar Museums. 
The preview exhibition entitled Art Mill Museum 2030, held from 24 October 2022 until 30 March 2023, focuses on the space dedicated to art and vision and definition of the museum, conceived by Catherine Grenier, a French heritage curator. The new art venue will be created by the transformation of the industrial flour mill into museum. The architecture of the museum was designed by the Chilean studio Elemental, led by architect Alejandro Aravena, a Pritzker Prize winner. Accordingly, ‘to reflect the transformation of the site and to demonstrate how the Art Mill Museum will be a place for contemporary creativity, artists have been commissioned to create films and photographs establishing parallels between the former flour mill and the future museum.’
Qatar also is preparing to open the Lusail Museum, designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuronwill. The museum was introduced at a special exhibition entitled Tales of a Connected World at the Al Riwaq Gallery from 24 October. This art initiative aims to explore the networks across the Indian Ocean connecting various countries and cultures. More generally the new museum will be devoted to illustrating the impact of Middle Eastern and Islamic art around the world. The exhibition space will host the world's largest collection of oriental art, including paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and applied arts, which includes artworks and archeological artefacts from prehistoric times to the 21st century.
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture, led by another Pritzker Prize winner, architect Rem Koolhaas, has designed a third planned new museum in Qatar, dedicated to cars, as a tribute to significant part of motorised modern culture. The Qatar Auto Museum aims to inspire innovators, designers, engineers and collectors who share passion for cars. ‘The 30,000-square-meter (320,000-square-foot) museum will include permanent galleries and temporary galleries that explore the past, present and future of the automobile and its impact on global life and culture.’
Extension of the Public Art Programme
As part of the preparations for the World Cup, Qatar is also transforming much of its landscape into a space dedicated to art, a so-called “outdoor museum,” aiming to make the art scene more accessible to the public. According to Qatar Museums, the collection of public art will be expanded, with more 40 new installations that will be displayed throughout Doha and around the country in areas such as parks, shopping centres, educational and athletic sites, rail stations, at the Hamad International Airport and at selected stadiums that will host the FIFA World Cup matches.
The new works of public art on display in Qatar include creations by Jeff Koons, Ernesto Neto and Olafur Eliasson, Shilpa Gupta, Yayoi Kusama, Daniel Arsham, Lawrence Weiner, KAWS, Faye Toogood, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Rashid Johnson, Ahmed Al-Bahrani, Monira Al-Qadiri, Franz West and Shouq Al-Mana. ‘These works vary in size and form, and they encompass a wide range of subject matter, but all further our mission to make art more accessible, engage our publics, celebrate our heritage, and embrace the cultures of others,’ according to Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Chairperson of Qatar Museums.
Against this background, Qatar is poised to use football to make a vast international audience aware of Qatari history, art and culture for the first time. By including foreign artwork in exhibits during the tournament, Qatar will herald possible exchanges with foreign museums in the future. The World Cup is set to be a powerful catalyst, transforming the image of the country often viewed in the past as just a strip of sand and skyscrapers to reveal a cultural powerhouse where art is a significant part of daily life.
*Aleksandra Kubacka is a Master in Polish Philology (University of Warsaw).
18 November 2022
 ‘Cultural understanding: Cultural events series’, https://publications.fifa.com/en/sustainability-report/social-pillar/cultural-understanding/cultural-events-series/.
 Qatar Museum, ‘Press Release: Qatar's Iconic Museum of Islamic Art to Reopen 5 October 2022 Following Enhancement Project and Collection Reinstallation,’ https://qm.org.qa/en/press/press-releases/qatars-iconic-museum-of-islamic-art-to-reopen-5-october-2022/.
 Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar Museums, ‘Let the World Read: Guinness World Record,’ https://mia.org.qa/en/calendar/let-the-world-read-guinness-world-record/.
 Qatar Museums, ‘Art Mill Museum 2030,’ https://qm.org.qa/en/calendar/art-mill-2030/.
 ‘Qatar Museums announces 'unprecedented' cultural developments for fall 2022,’ Gulf Times, 29 June 2022, https://www.gulf-times.com/story/720187/Qatar-Museums-announces-unprecedented-cultural-developments-for-fall-2022.
 Qatar Museums, ‘Qatar Auto Museum,’ https://qm.org.qa/en/about-us/qatar-auto-museum/.
 Harriet Lloyd-Smith, ‘Qatar transforms into a museum of public art ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup,’ https://www.wallpaper.com/art/qatar-museums-public-art.