By Sanjay Shah
I founded Autism Rocks to create a new funding stream for research into autism diagnosis and treatment, and to address a clear need for affordable support and treatment in Dubai, my adopted hometown.
I had no idea that the humble little organisation would so soon embark on a massive building project with the potential to reshape Dubai’s cultural scene.
I’m talking about the Autism Rocks Arena, a purpose-built facility whose temporary first iteration was christened with an outstanding Nicki Minaj show back in early 2016.
We’re in the midst of building a permanent venue to formalise our commitment to rocking out for autism; it should be online in 2018. In the meantime, I’m a firm believer in celebrating milestones. Here’s a quick look back at the Autism Rocks Arena’s exciting first year, and a sneak preview of what to expect in the next year or two.
The First Year at Autism Rocks Arena
Time Out Dubai can describe the run-up to the arena’s first shows better than I.
Erected in less than three months near Dubai Outlet Mall, the temporary Autism Rocks Arena has room for some 30,000 fans. About 10,000 were on hand for the inaugural Nicki Minaj show, which kicked off festivities for Autism Awareness Month a week early.
That show was followed by an April 1 blowout that officially started off the month and brought Flo Rida and Tyga together under one roof for the first time in Dubai. With ample outdoor space, the temporary arena was able to accommodate a slew of nonmusical attractions, including a family-friendly petting zoo, laser tag, mini-golf, and other fun stuff. It was wonderful to see so many happy families enjoying a space that, at the beginning of the year, was absolutely barren.
Since Minaj’s performance, we’ve held more than a dozen shows at the Autism Rocks Arena. Most recently, we welcomed ’80s superstars Guns N’ Roses and Bryan Adams to town. More than a quarter-century after they first hit the scene, they still know how to give an energetic show.
Many More To Come
Right now, we’re looking forward to the opening of the permanent Autism Rocks Arena, just a few hundred metres from the temporary venue. When complete, the new space will have:
- Space for 30,000, with no attendees farther than 70 metres from the stage
- 80,000 square metres of venue space
- A VIP platform with room for 1,800 or more
- A nightclub and fine dining restaurant
- A cross-arena zip line
- 4,000 parking spaces
While You’re Here…
Planning a visit to the Autism Rocks Arena? Welcome! I love showing newcomers around my adopted city.
Even if you have just a day or two in Dubai, you really should do some exploring. When my friends visit, I tell them to check out the following landmarks and attractions, in no particular order:
- Mall of the Emirates, a massive indoor shopping mall with 500+ luxury outlets, live theatre facilities, and an indoor ski slope (yes, in the desert)
- Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper; the observation deck is a must-visit
- Dubai’s old city, a rare bubble of antiquity in one of the world’s most modern cities; check out Al Fahidi Fort and the Dubai Grand Mosque
- Dubai Sports City, paradise on earth for sports fans
- Dubai Marina, the world’s largest artificial boat docking facility and a great place for long waterfront walks
- Infinity Tower, a twisting skyscraper near the marina
I hope you have time to hit at least a few of these during your time here. Please, just don’t miss the show at Autism Rocks Arena!
More About Autism Rocks
The Autism Rocks Arena isn’t the only project the Autism Rocks team is working on. We’re also excited to launch the Autism Rocks Support Centre, a purpose-built facility in Dubai’s Healthcare City district.
The Autism Rocks Support Centre meets a critical need for parents and children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In Dubai, autism isn’t recognised as an “insurable” condition—in other words, families can’t simply bill their insurance companies for out-of-pocket expenses. That’s not a big deal for well-off families, of which there are many in Dubai, but it’s a serious problem for lower- and middle-class Dubai families. It’s especially challenging for South Asian expats, who often come to Dubai for economic reasons only to find themselves swamped by staggering medical costs.
The Autism Rocks Support Centre will help Dubai families find and afford cutting-edge treatments and therapies for children with ASD. It’s meant to work collaboratively, not at cross purposes, with the emirate’s existing autism resources. As Dubai grows, we want to ensure that the city and its services work for all residents—not just those who can afford to pay any price for the care they need.
If you like the sound of that, please help us get the centre off the ground. Dubai locals can participate in our Scramble for Autism, an annual golf event that raises money for autism-related causes (this year, it’s all about the Autism Rocks Support Centre). If you can’t make it to Dubai for the scramble, consider sponsoring a team; our corporate sponsorships are reasonably priced and high-visibility.
In the months and years ahead, I invite you to follow me as Autism Rocks works to fund needed research into the causes and treatments of autism. We’ve just begun the journey, and while we’re not quite sure where we’ll end up, we’re confident it’ll be somewhere better than today.