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Expo 2020 Dubai—the Arab world's biggest ever event—now likely to open in 2021 due to coronavirus

Major visual arts programme still planned for multidisciplinary culture and science showcase in the United Arab Emirates

A masterplan rendering of Expo 2020 at night Image courtesy of Expo 2020 Dubai/The Walshe Group

Expo 2020 Dubai, billed as the largest ever event to be staged in the Arab world, is likely to be postponed in light of the coronavirus outbreak. More than 190 countries are lined up to participate in the event which was due to open 20 October and run until 10 April 2021. The Expo, a platform for achievements in art, science, and technology, is considered to be a major cultural diplomacy coup for the United Arab Emirates.

In a message posted on social media, Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, says: “As we worked towards October 2020, something terrible happened to our world. And so our journey must take a different turn. We must adjust our opening dates for Expo 2020 Dubai, and spend the time now with our friends across the globe, banding together, working together, to emerge stronger than ever before."

The steering committee of Expo 2020 Dubai proposed delaying the event for a year. A spokeswoman for Expo tells The Art Newspaper that “we are awaiting the final decision from the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions [the organisation responsible for organising Expos] regarding the potential postponement.”

Tarek Abou El Fetouh was appointed curator of the visual arts programme at the Expo, and announced plans earlier this year to commission 20 contemporary works for the Expo 2020 site (participating artists, mainly from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia region, are due to be announced).

“These works will become integrated permanent landmarks in the fabric of the legacy of Expo 2020, the new neighbourhood known as District 2020,” says Hayat Shamsuddin, the senior vice president for arts and culture, in a statement. Asked if the visual arts programme is due to go ahead, the Expo 2020 Dubai spokeswoman says: “All those involved in the next World Expo remain fully committed to putting on an inspiring Expo.”

Local cultural institutions say they will adapt their programmes accordingly if Expo 2020 Dubai is delayed. The director of the Alserkal Avenue culture hub, Vilma Jurkute, says: “The decision to postpone an event of the scale of Expo 2020 is one that demonstrates strong leadership and responsibility for the greater benefit of our global community… if and when a new date is announced, we will celebrate the city’s innovative and creative spirit and use the Expo platform to enable knowledge exchange in the context of a very different world to the one we had envisioned just a few years ago.”

The theme of the Expo in Dubai is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. The UK Pavilion, organised by the governmental department for international trade, promises to “offer visitors a unique experience, building on previous award-winning installations at Expo 2010 Shanghai (The Seed Cathedral), Expo 2015 Milan (The Hive), Expo 2017 Astana (The Yurt) and Expo 2019 Beijing (UK Garden and Pavilion)”.