The sessions are led by several speakers and experts from the region: artists, art organisations, institutions and cross-sectoral experts.

Facilitated by Mike van Graan (playwright and founder of the African Cultural Policy Network), the speakers who hosted this Hotspot on Lebanon and its region were:

You can find the keynotes speakers' biographies underneath.


Mike Van Graan

Mike van Graan is the founding president of the African Cultural Policy Network, and has served in leadership positions in a variety of anti-apartheid cultural organizations. He is also a playwright, who has written thirty plays to this date. He was appointed as Artscape’s Associate Playwright from 2011-2014 and is considered as one of South Africa’s leading contemporary playwrights.

He is currently a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), working on his first novel.

You can read his full bio here


Kassem Mohamad Istanbouli

Graduated from the Lebanese University of Fine Arts in 2009 in Theatre Acting and Direction and in Theater directing in 2014, Kassem Mohamad Istanbouli is a Lebanese street theater performer, actor, comedian, and theater director.

In 2014, he founded the Association Tiro for Arts organizing a Short Films Festival in Lebanon every December for 4 days and International Theatre and Music Festival in The South of Lebanon. 

Since the same year, he is involved in the restoration of 3 cinemas in the South of Lebanon with his team of volunteers and teacher in Lebanese South schools.

In 2018, he also founded the Lebanese National Theater.

Lastly, Kassem is managing Rivoli Cinema that provides theatre and cinema workshops for the inhabitants of the cities of Tyre and Nabatiyeh.                    

Photo: Richard John Rhayem

Doreen Toutikian

Doreen Toutikian is the former curator of the Arab Feminist Films program (2019) at State of Concept, an arts institution in Athens, Greece. 

​She lectures Master students on design research, history, and theory at Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts, where she is also a member of the pedagogical committee of the Design department (2013-2020).

​Her consultancy work focuses on human-centered design with non-profit organizations such as UNRWA for Palestinian refugee camps development in Lebanon (2017-2019) and IOM for Creative & Cultural Industries development in Kurdistan (2017-2018). 

She believes that multidisciplinary collaboration and community building is essential to the success of all cultural projects. With that in mind, she has initiated in Lebanon ‘Public Design Intervention: Beirut’ (2010), 'Desmeem: Rethinking Design though Cross-Cultural Collaboration (2012)', 'Disrupt!/ Design!' (2015/16) and 'Beirut Design Week' (annual event since 2012). In 2013, Beirut Design Week was awarded the Lebanese Social Economic Award.

Read her full bio here

Soleil Gharbieh

Soleil joined AFAC in 2017 as a Grants manager for the Visual Arts, Documentary Film, Cinema and Music programs; before that she worked at CIEL, a book distribution company, as a Book Buyer from 2008 until 2014. In 2014, Soleil she moved to Egypt where she became heavily involved in the local independent music scene there. 

As Programs Manager for the Cairo Jazz Club Agency (CJC Agency), she worked on developing and managing new programs to support the growth and development of young musicians.

Omar Abi Azar

Omar Abi Azar is a theatre director and founding member of Zoukak Theatre Company.

He was the dramaturge and director of several of Zoukak’s performances that toured in various cities in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, South America, South Asia and Africa.

He was commissioned by international festivals, theatres and universities to create original work: NYUAD’s Performing Arts Center, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center, University of Houston, Texas, Theaterfestival Schwindelfrei Mannheim, Williams College, Massachusetts, among others. He was artist in residence with Zoukak at the Lift Festival, London, Sundance Theatre Lab, Utah among others.

Since 2008, Omar leads psychosocial interventions with Zoukak, targeting various communities in different regions of Lebanon and abroad (in Serbia and in Calais’ Migrants’ Camp, France); giving drama-therapy workshops and creating collective performances with various groups.

Since 2013 he co-curates “Zoukak Sidewalks” an international performance festival, and “Focus Liban” a platform showcasing and supporting the work of artists residing in Lebanon.

Omar holds a BA in Theatre from the Lebanese University, Institute of Fine Arts (2006).