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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia in recent years has staked a claim as the world’s latest creative powerhouse, attracting international interest in giga-projects such as The Line and NEOM, winning awards for art festivals such as Noor Riyadh, and developing a growing fan base for its annual Soundstorm music festival.
With innovation integrated in the heart of many industries, Saudi creativity has become its own brand.
Now the Athar Saudi Festival of Creativity, the largest gathering of creative marketing industries in the Kingdom, has brought together leading experts, creators, marketeers, influencers, musicians, and students, from Nov. 13-16 in Riyadh.
Mohammed Al-Ayed, vice chairman of the festival and CEO of Trans-Arabian Creative Communication Services, told Arab News: “It’s always known that a society that has lost touch with its creative side is an imprisoned society. What we’re trying to do today is three things: We are trying to celebrate the past, challenge the present, and co-create the future.”
Forming a community of creatives strengthens problem-solving skills, but no industry comes without challenges. Entrepreneurs may face difficulties with firm direction, adaptation, and proactivity, for example.
To combat this, Al-Ayed suggests that “focus, communication, and depth” are essential to successful creative branding and marketing.
“Creativity is a journey, and it doesn’t stop. Saudi Arabia is a big machine that is generating passion. It’s generating empowerment. It’s generating creativity. It’s generating positivity. And we just have to keep this engine going,” Al-Ayed added.
The festival aims to further the discourse between local creatives and international experts. The diverse panels explore all aspects of the industry, including unleashing creative thinking, making creative impact, navigating the metaverse, potentials in creative careers, influencer marketing, and leveraging the Saudi music industry.
Princess Loulwa bint Yazeed, founder and CEO of +966 and CEO of RiseUp Saudi, kicked off the festival with a talk titled “A New Saudi” in which she discussed the exciting times ahead for the local creative industry, opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups, and her experience as a woman in the field.
She shared advice for aspiring creatives, noting that key values for entrepreneurs include creating connections, harboring patience, and maintaining a clear vision.
“The bravery of taking the first step is what we lack here,” she said.
In line with the country’s vision, the festival is carving a space for students and younger generations to explore the offerings of creative industries. Through the Young Talent Academies program, six schools take part in three days of immersive learning and a 24-hour hack competition to further their drive toward the country’s future-forward economy.
The training program is focused on bridging knowledge and creativity to various fields, including PR, copywriting, innovation, branding and design, social communications, and planning.
Reema Saad Al-Saif and Haya Abu-Ghazaleh, both students from the International American School of Riyadh on the cusp of graduation, said that attending the festival offered a great opportunity to integrate creative aspects into their future fields.
Al-Saif, who is planning to pursue a finance degree, attended a panel titled “Influencers in Saudi Arabia, Best Practice for Brands,” which featured social media personality Ahmad Aljar. The student said that she was drawn to the session for its out-of-the-box account of people as marketable brands or businesses.
“There’s so much going into (influencing) that we don’t see,” she said.
Al-Saif told Arab News: “In our business management class, usually we’re looking into businesses and their products and how creative they are, and that’s also a field I want to go to — maybe open up my business in the future. You have to be creative for that and be different from other competitors.”
The future graduate has witnessed how broadly the country has opened up its horizons for immense economic growth — and more career choices for upcoming talents.
“We’re separating from just relying on oil. We’re seeing different avenues like tourism, new companies brought up. And all that creativity, with The Line for example. It’s such a creative idea and there’s more coming. I’m so excited for the future.”
Abu-Ghazaleh, who hopes to pursue international business with an interest in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, said about her experience at the festival: “You slowly realize that creativity is in everything.”
She told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia has always had that talent, but no one’s really discovered it or talked about it as much. But now everyone’s coming here. I know my country is here to support the coming generations for that, so I feel very hopeful.”
The students were met with a wide range of internship opportunities, alternative advertising avenues, and the incorporation of artificial intelligence and robots into some of the sessions.
Careers that were deemed restrictive in the region decades ago today charter a new age for creative pathways.

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