A new hangout spot for teens in Abu Dhabi
No adults. No parents. No shortage of cool things to do. It’s every kid’s dream — and it’s coming to the UAE.
The District, a youth-focused community centre
Between August 18 and September 17, Abu Dhabi’s du Forum will be transformed into The District, a youth-focused community centre. Think workshops, games, performances, food and a virtually unlimited number of activities, seven days a week, from noon until 10pm.
There’s only one catch, if you could even call it that: you have to be between the ages of 14-23 to get in.
“The age restriction is more to get those who are dependent on guardians or parents out [of their homes], because it’s a very independent and youth-oriented concept,” said Predrag PJ Toncev, general manager of ExtraCake.
According to Toncev, they want to give young people an indoor hangout spot where they can explore their interests and passions away from the scorching summer heat.
“We will not allow adults inside, as much as we possibly can. In our research with the youth, that is 13-16 year olds, we asked whether they would want to come with their parents or if they would love to enjoy it alone, and no one mentioned parents being the right companion for this kind of a hangout,” he added.
Parents won’t be forbidden, per se, but they will be discouraged from attending. According to Toncev, the environment will be “very safe, comfortable and culturally sensitive.”
“There’s no scare on that front. But we would like to keep this exclusively for youth, which means adults, including most of my team, are not going to be allowed to enjoy the actual event, unless they’re working there,” he said.
“[Young people] don’t hang out with their parents, they hang out with their friends — that’s what District is made for.”
So what is The District, anyway? It’s all in the name.
ExtraCake — who are the masterminds behind Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC), one of the region’s biggest, geekiest conventions — will transform du Forum, Yas Island into an urban district — that is, a slice of a city that’s specifically designed to cater to a specific demographic. Physically, the space will be split into five zones:
• The Park
“It’s the chill-out area, which is very grassy. It’s full of plants. It’s very chilled, [designed] for them to relax, perhaps listen to some music, or learn sign language, or read some comic books or make some comic books, or play some table-top games,” said Toncev. Visitors can also learn about the greenery in the Grey Gardens plant studio.
• The Street
“It’s a sort of an amphitheatre, where we’re going to have some performances, improv classes, instrument lessons, different talks and panels. It’s the street where things are happening in terms of the performance and the showcase.”
• The Block
“It’s more of a workshop haven, where we’re going to have activities like fashion design, graphic design, photography — different types of photography — videography, filmography, skill exercises for them to grasp and learn if they wish to. If they feel like learning, there will be a lot to learn inside the Block.”
• The Alley
“The alley is more of a geek and tech haven for those who are interested in digital [things] and technology, artificial intelligence, robot-making, even sustainability and environment.” This is where you can find the Codex Bash workshop, in which players work as a team to uncover a sequence of wireless buttons (do it on September 9 at 7pm).
• The Yard
“Our little food court arena, which will be a separate tent outside the main district zones, still covered inside with a lot of fresh air for them to have a snack and a refreshing soft drink and then come back to enjoy the rest of the content.”
ALL ACCESS PASS
People will be able to purchase one of three passes — the weekday pass, the weekend pass and the season pass (prices below). These will include access to all zones and workshops, though some of those require prior registration online. The class sizes are kept small to encourage active learning, but many will be repeated throughout the day or week, to ensure as many people as possible have a chance to attend.
Online, through thedistrict.me, visitors will be able to create their own personalized schedules, including workshops they want to partake in and activities they don’t want to miss.
“The performers, guests and influencers we’re bringing to The District are also going to be of a similar age range. We’re looking at connecting them [with the youth] and inspiring [the youth] to do things that they didn’t think were possible, or they thought were possible only on YouTube, but now they can see them in real life.”
Unlike MEFCC, where meet-and-greets and photo ops with famous people are a major pull, The District wants to focus more on the community experience.
“We didn’t come out with some celebrities or famous names, because that’s really secondary to what we’re trying to achieve here,” said Toncev.
The concept of opening a temporary youth centre is new to the region, modelled after local and international best practices. And while a lot of The District is, quite literally, fun and games, it also aims to open up potential career opportunities for young people. Their theme this year is ‘future’.
“10 years ago, the jobs that we have today did not exist. Similarly, going into the near future, there’s a lot of new jobs [that will be] created, and we would like to expose the youth to as much variety of that as we possibly can,” said Toncev.
It’s difficult for him to sum The District up in one sentence. It took him and his team years to put it together, with the help of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. But if he had to try?
“A summer hangout for young adults and teenagers,” he said, “to enjoy a place where they can play, they can create, they can learn, they can chill, and they can definitely be fed properly so they enjoy the full day outside of their room or the usual offerings in their city.”
The first week’s top workshops
Music: There’s a wide swathe of genres to learn about, from Sofija Dugic’s beginner’s violin workshop and classical music appreciation sessions (today and tomorrow, and selected days next week); a beatboxing workshop by Dubomedy (August 20 and 27); tribal drum circles with Dubai Drums (every Friday); to sessions showcasing the innovation in music technology by Teenage Engineering (August 19) and AUUG Motion Synth (August 19 and 20).
Art: Cinema Akil will screen “freaky, funky, fantastic films” throughout the month; meanwhile up your photography skills with guidance from Gulf Photo Plus (August 21-24) and fashion photographer Tintin Hedberg, who is shooting the opening; learn to make origami rockets (August 18 and 22), art from upcycled materials with Soul Art (August 21) and a crowd-sourced glass artwork with ChoChoMa (every Friday and Saturday for the first three weekends); and animation from LA-based Brett Morriss (August 19).
Performance: If you’ve been inspired by Simone Biles’ incredible Olympic achievements, head to The District on August 21-23 for the freestyle acrobatics workshop; the Stars of Fate acrobats also perform their own show from August 21-2 and August 25. Create poetry and perform it in character at the science-themed workshops on August 19, 21 and 22.
To buy the tickets, visit http://thedistrict.me/tickets/
Weekday pass: Dh100,
Weekend pass: Dh150,
Season pass: Dh1,000.