From the best concerts of the year to art exhibitions that didn’t quite hit the mark…

Another year over, a new one just begun (well, almost) and don’t worry the John Lennon lyrics will stop there. As 2018 comes to a close, we round up some of our cultural highs and lows.


Jameel Arts Centre

Dubai’s first non-profit art institution opened on November 11 in a wonderfully understated building on the Creek. 10 gallery spaces and a library make this the city’s number one spot for art aficionados

Surf House Dubai’s Ocean Film Festival

This low-key film festival in the courtyard of Dubai’s one-stop surf house saw four times as many guests to previous year’s movie screening nights all in the name of a good cause: saving the oceans.

Rag N Bone Man

When we learned that breakthrough Brit sensation Rag ‘n’ Bone Man would perform at the Dubai Opera in March 2018 we were excited. How could his gravelly, heartfelt voice sound like anything other than gritty perfection in the acoustically fine-tuned venue? We were right, and his sellout gig was one of the highlights of the musical calendar. It won What’s On best concert gong at the What’s On Awards 2018.

Co-Lab exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi

One for the culture vultures. This exhibition was the result of a two year collaboration between UAE-based artists and French manufacturers. It showcased four very cool artworks but was also an important milestone: the first time Emirati art was displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Dubai Fitness Challenge

With a brand-new app, bigger and better fitness villages, this year’s Dubai Fitness Challenge outdid itself by making it even more enticing – and easier to take part. People across the city came together for the 30×30 challenge (30 mins of exercise for 30 days) and the most inspiring part was how many continued to do so even after the challenge ended.

Backstreet Boys 

Not only did they put on a stellar gig at Dubai media City Amphitheatre but they also headed to Meydan super club White Dubai where they put on an impromptu performance for club goers.

Bait 15

Abu Dhabi’s Bait 15 is one of a kind. Run by three local artists, the place functions as a studio, gallery space and community hub for creative people. When it opened in in early 2018 in a residential area downtown, the turn out proved the appetite for such places.

Wadi Bih Run

This event used to hold a reputation for only the ultra-dedicated and super-fit but this year saw a wider variety of participants who made their way up the mountain and down the other side. Taking in the stunning outdoor scenery, this year, more than ever the event was a resounding success.

Rain Room

Queues were around the block on the opening weekend of Rain Room in Sharjah’s art foundation. The ultimate refreshment in the desert environment is standing under a torrential rain shower. Here, experience such refreshment without actually getting wet. We love both the novelty and the underlying message about mechanising our society.

SM Town Live

Some of Korean pop music’s biggest stars came to Dubai to perform at SM Town Live at the Autism Rocks Arena in April. The four-hour spectacle saw top K-pop musicians Exo, BoA, Super Junior, SHINee, Red Velvet and more perform their hit songs


DUCTAC closing 

A veritable institution for performing arts and culture, Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre was part of the very fabric of our society. When it announced in June that it would be permanently closing down, we were very sad. The centre had been a hub for art and creativity in the emirate since 2006.

The Highway Gallery

In February, Louvre Abu Dhabi announced the opening of a radio-guided motorway gallery. The premise was that as you drove down the road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, your radio would inform you about the artworks plastered on posters on the side of the road. Sadly, the technicalities didn’t really work with the crackly radio tuning in sometimes after the poster was already out of sight.

Dua Lipa

We were all looking forward to seeing chart-topping performer Dua Lipa sing at the Louvre Abu Dhabi one-year anniversary celebrations, and were all gutted when freak thunderstorm forced her gig to cancel – and also sent spectators running for cover.

Ice Warrior Challenge IX at Ski Dubai

This is an obstacle course within Ski Dubai with plenty of other land-and desert-based options, but our complaint is that no-body knows about it. Every year it feels like the same people participate leaving out so many people who might have loved it otherwise but simply have no idea that it is on.

Nick Jonas 

American singer Nick Jonas cancelled his gig at the Fiesta De Los Muertos festival line up back in July. He was set to be joining legendary British band the Gorillaz but cancelled due to work schedules. This was particularly disappointing as he also pulled the plug on his performace at the same festival last uear.

Lack of Concerts

Was it just us, or did it seem a little quieter in the UAE this year? 2017 brought us JLO, Take That, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheehan. 2018 was much quieter in comparison.

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Words: Anna Seaman.
Anna is an arts and culture specialist in the UAE, and a regular contributor to What’s On. Find out more at