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Al Mawred Al Thaqafy

Egypt

Written by Eva Bentcheva

Change is not possible without freedom of expression, for how can people change an existing situation without expressing their opinion of that situation or without suggesting a different solution for the future? … It is very important for an artist to imagine without limits because through this limitless imagination society can actually make the change. And here lies the importance of artistic and cultural freedom of expression.[1]

Basma El Husseiny, Director of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy

Al Mawred Al Thaqfy (‘Cultural Resource’) is a not-for-profit organization supporting artists and cultural activities in Arab countries. Founded in 2004 by cultural activist and researcher Basma El Husseiny, the organization presently has offices in Cairo and Brussels from where it runs numerous funding schemes, research projects, creative initiatives and workshops. Since its inception, it has held events in Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Washington D.C, USA. From 2006, the El Genaina Theatre has been Al Mawred’s primary exhibition and performance space in Cairo for concerts, performances and workshops. The work of Al Mawred plays an important role in financially assisting artists, providing organizational advice for projects, and raising discussion on the nature and future of the arts in relation to social and political transformations in Arab countries.

 Opportunities and activities

Among the available awards and grants, the Production Award Programme for Young Creative Arabs (established in 2004) offers up to $5000 for projects in the visual arts, literature, music, video and film to Arab artists under the age of 35. 107 projects have been funded since the award’s establishment. Mawa3eed (launched in 2006) is another grant scheme of up to $5000 for travel expenses. Since its formation the scheme has supported the travels of 67 artists and groups[3]. The Exceptional Production Awards Programme (2011) was a one-off initiative offering multiple grants of $15,000 for artistic projects responding to the wave of revolutionary activity to Egypt. The grants funded the production of music albums, performances, a novel, a poetry book, an installation, exhibitions, documentary and feature films.

The work of Al Mawred also focuses on education and fostering exchange between Arab countries. It has organized workshops in neighbouring countries, as well as invited foreign artists to partake in activities in Egypt. Among the organized activities have been the Shafha Jadida literature workshops for young Arabs, a creative writing workshop Read Write Now!, cultural journalism workshops, cultural management workshops and the Remix series of courses for young Arab musicians.

Partnerships

Relations with Europe and America as well as Arab countries have shaped Al Mawred’s targets and outlook. Director Basma El Husseiny has voiced her concerns about the disparities between the infrastructures of cultural organizations on both sides of the Mediterranean. In terms of establishing partnership projects between European and Arab organizations, El Husseiny stated that differences in the levels of development and funding hinder south Mediterranean countries from meeting the expectations and demands of northern partners.

“With an organization like ours (…) if we were to respond to calls for partnerships with Europe and engage with huge European Union projects that amount to hundreds of thousands of Euros in funding, we cannot really grow in an organic way to become a healthy and stable organization because we would be fighting every day to deliver and to produce what’s expected of us and not pay attention to expanding our constituency locally and regionally, or to train our staff to even to equip our office and facilities.” [4]

Although Al Mawred has received financial support from the Open Society Foundations, Stichting Doen, the Ford Foundation, The British Council, Mimeta, the European Cultural Foundation, the European Union and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture and Music Initiative, it has primarily sought to organize events, workshops and festivals with partners in Arab countries. Furthermore, exchange programmes with other Arab countries have been initiated and enabled through the travel grants of Mawa3eed, hosting cultural journalism and management workshops in neighbouring countries or inviting foreign artists to Egypt. In doing so, Al Mawred has strived to develop and strengthen the network of cultural institutions in the region.

Current and future activities

El Husseiny has spoken about the future of cultural institutions in the face of anti-institutional protest movements, raising the pressing question of whether institutionalization according to European and American models is the most effective way to structure organizations in the Middle East and North Africa[5]. Since 2011 a large amount of art and cultural activity has emerged in public and social spaces. How should institutions change or learn to interact with these movements in order to avoid becoming obsolete?

Al Mawred has recognized that there is a need to target the growing community of young people who wish to engage with art publicly and collaboratively. It has sought to fund projects which would open up new artistic spaces through the scheme Egypt Spaces Initiative (2012). So far, seven projects have received financial assistance through this grant to establish studios, performance venues and arts centres in disadvantaged areas, and teaching ateliers in Alexandria and Cairo. The scheme is planned to continue and currently has a call for new applications.

As part of re-negotiating its own role in the Egyptian cultural sphere, Al Mawred has also become actively engaged with campaigning against corruption and for greater freedom of artistic expression. The campaign A Culture for All Egyptians was launched in 2011, calling for a reduction of centralized control of culture and increased transparency in the workings of the Ministry of Culture[6]. “Culture is not only for intellectuals but for all Egyptians”[7] is the slogan which has spurred this initiative. This media campaign has entailed the production of posters with slogans such as “Culture is not just in the Opera House” and “It is my right to colour, it is my right to dance” which have been placed around economically disadvantaged areas[8]. This operation is a part of Al Mawred’s call for a national cultural policy reform which would increase the accessibility to government resources for cultural and artistic projects[9].

Taking the question of art’s relationship to politics into a more official forum, Al Mawred also held the conference Independent Culture for Democracy: A Conference for the Leaders of the Independent Culture Sector in the Arab Region in Cairo from the 15th to 17th December 2012. This conference was open to the public and was attended by 120 cultural leaders from the Middle East and North Africa. It addressed questions on the future of artistic and cultural initiatives in the region.

Legacy

Over the past nine years, Al Mawred has assisted artists and artistic projects through the provision of funding, education and exchange opportunities. Since the outbreak of the revolts and political reforms in 2011, Al Mawred has also sought to become actively engaged with shaping the Egyptian arts scene. With current initiatives moving increasingly towards projects in the public sphere, opening up new artistic spaces and campaigning for freedom of expression, Al Mawred has sought out new channels for raising debates, stating its position and spreading news of its work. The campaign A Culture For All Egyptians and the conference Independent Culture for Democracy are the organization’s latest initiatives and exemplify a shift in the focus of cultural organizations in the unstable Egyptian political scene. With regards to securing its survival and growth in the face of anti-institutional movements, Al Mawred has sought to build up a network of organizations and artists across the region, stressing the need for collaboration and exchanges. The work of Al Mawred has been recognized on both sides of the Mediterranean, and the organization has received funding both from Europe and from organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.  It plans to continue to offer funding opportunities, to run its creative workshops, and above all else to play an influential role in the future of Egyptian arts and culture.

related links


[1] Interview with Basma El Husseiny for the documentary videos “Images of Freedom”, published on 3rd November 2012
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGao2aIsSBM

[2] Al Mawred Al Thaqfy official website
www.mawred.org

[3] Mawa3eed: call for applications April 2012, Nafas Art Magazine
http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2012/news_tips/mawa3eed

[4] Basma El Husseiny, Public Inaugural Lecture CRPC- XIII in Torino in November 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88yQsLdC3Xc

[5] Basma El Husseiny has discussed what do international protest movements mean for cultural institutions with National Arts Strategies, as a part of the programme “Leading Voices: Non-Profit Management Videos” in August 2012
http://www.artstrategies.org/leadership_tools/videos/2012/08/08/what-do-the-international-protest-movements-mean-for-cultural-institutions/#.UPQFNJHnYi4

[6] ‘Al Mawred Al Thaqafy Seeks to Save Egyptian Culture’, Nile TV International, 17.11.2012
http://www.nileinternational.net/full_story.php?ID=66650

[7] Farah Montasser, ‘Al Mawred Al Thaqafy Gears Up Campaign to Save Egyptian Culture’, Ahram Online,  14th November 2012
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/5/35/57936/Arts–Culture/Stage–Street/AlMawred-AlThaqafy-gears-up-for-campaign-to-save-E.aspx

[8] Omar El Adl, ‘Culture is not just in the Opera House’, Daily News Egypt, 19th November 2012
http://dailynewsegypt.com/2012/11/19/culture-is-not-just-in-the-opera-house/

[9] Culture and Revolution – On the role of culture and cultural policy in times of change in the Arab World, Allianz Kulturstiftung, 22nd June 2011
https://kulturstiftung.allianz.de/en/projects/education/culture_and_revolution/index2.html

 

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