Wrap-up Atelier Beirut: Module III Atelier for Arts and Production Managers Elefsina-Beirut

Wrap-up Atelier Beirut: Module III Atelier for Arts and Production Managers Elefsina-Beirut

25 Arts and production managers from Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Morocco, Palestine, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey came together for the final part of our 3-Modules tailor made Atelier for Arts and Production Managers Elefsina-Beirut. Taking place in Beirut from 27 November – 1 December 2022, in partnership with Zoukak Sidewalks Festival, the 4-day Atelier was created as a concluding session, a platform for exchange of the participants’ experiences and the development of their work since the start of the training in February 2021 with Module I (Online, due to Covid), following their individual placements (Module II) at high-level arts organizations or festivals worldwide. The programme of Module III was designed based on the needs of the specific group taking part in the programme and on the analysis of the expectations of the selected participants from Swana (Southwest Asia North Africa), the Balkans and Mediterranean region. The programme aimed to bring diverse backgrounds of cultural practitioners together and strengthen the collaboration between the regions.

On day 1, the participants came together at the working space for the Ateliers sessions, Station Beirut. Situated in a neighbourhood marked by gentrification and decay, in which ruins of old woodworking factories, scaffoldings of future multi-story office buildings and chic loft-style residences meet, Nabil Canaan - director of Station Beirut - introduced the participants to the location, its history and present, its old and new inhabitants. Inge Ceustermans - General Director of The Festival Academy - welcomed everybody to the Atelier by underlining the trainings’ aim to create a space for critical reflection of one’s own practice and to offer a platform for an exchange between diverse backgrounds of art and production managers from Swana, Balkan and Mediterranean region.

The Welcome Speeches were followed up by a short Introductory Session of the participants with special attention to everybody’s expectations and needs. It became already clear that participants from the three regions often had limited knowledge of each other despite their relative geographical proximity (ex.: Cyprus-Lebanon-Jordan), but that there existed shared challenges across all regions like struggles regarding the funding of cultural events, as well as certain common narratives, such as the comparison and longing for “Western standards”. A strong wish was expressed to build bridges as well as create concrete collaborations between each other. The mentors from the different regions; Angeliki Lampiri, Biljana Tanurovska-Kjulavkovski, Ellada Evangelou, Eckhard Thiemann and Lina Attel presented themselves and their expertises, and Mike Van Graan - responsible for the overall design and facilitation of the Atelier programme - gave an overview of the schedule for the coming days. You can find short bios and photos of all mentors and facilitator here

After a delicious Opening Dinner, the participants were invited to visit the cultural programme of Zoukak Sidewalks FestivalThe Valley of Sleep by Yara Boustany at Al Madina Theatre, a sensitive dance-performance, examined the freedom of bodies stripped of logic-guided production of meaning. Rihet El Anbar by Issam Bou Khaled at Zoukak Theatre, a satirical theatre show with digital Zoom character, dealt with the issue of media reappraisal in the aftermath of the 2020 blast with sensitive humour, negotiating victimhood and affectedness, while blurring the lines of fiction and reality. The first day closed with th DJ set - telos at Zoukak Theatre. 

Day two started with the Opening Panel Discussion: “Setting the scene” which focused on current challenges in arts and cultural production, festival-making and cultural collaboration in the different regions. Omar Abi Azar - theatre director and founding member of Zoukak Theatre Company - opened the Panel by describing the current situation in Lebanon and the difficulty of keeping the Lebanese cultural life moving in a post-blast and post-inflation society. He spoke about the loss of motivation and the search of finding a new sense of meaning and integrity. “What do I do after an explosion? I gather my body parts, the rubbles of my house.” Omar presented this year’s local edition of the festival as a gathering of bodies, the reconstruction of a ‘body of works’ of artists who are still in the country, by showcasing well-known shows of ‘the old generation’ as well as introducing new emerging artist on the stage. Lina Attel - Founder and General Director The National Center for Culture and Performing Arts Jordan - spoke about the challenges in funding for cultural organisations in the 'Arab World' and gave many practical examples from her work experience in Jordan and of how to better benefit of fundings while maintaining dignity - despite the various strings attached. She also mentioned visa difficulties that complicate international work in the region as well as about Saudi Arabias’ recent efforts to step into the cultural field through broad funding campaigns. Ellada Evangelou - Cofounder of Rooftop Theatre, member of the Leadership Circle of the IMPACT project, artistic director of Buffer Fringe Festival - introduced the participants to the co-creation practices at Buffer Fringe Festival and presented different curational models (including more collective practices and collaboration with emerging curators and grassroots-initiatives). She shared success stories as well as experiences of failure and reminded us of the time-factor and the need of persistence on the way towards a more horizontal practice of curation. Eckhard Thiemann - Former Artistic Director of Shubbak Festival - contributed with a European perspective on Arabic arts. He spoke about ignorance and how to break with expected narratives by reflecting on privilege, agency and responsibility. Addressing the unequal distribution of infrastructure/accessibility, he presented examples of multi-locational festivals that aim to increase the reach of more diverse and international audiences. The session gave food for thought of things to consider in regards of regional cooperation. 

The intense day continued with a Plenary in which participants were invited to share their placement experiences with each other and to answer to questions from the group and mentors. 

The participants then had the chance to take part in a culinary performance by Hiba Najem. The participatory piece investigated cultural histories of food, the taste of lentils and fennel, and migrating meals.

In the afternoon, the participants started to work on cross-regional projects. Divided in working groups with representatives from each region, the exercise aimed to develop a pitch for a collaborative project across the regions integrating the skills and know-how of each participant and their diverse backgrounds.

In the afternoon, in the Plenary on Key challenges and possibilities within cultural production in each of the regions, Angeliki Lampiri - Director of Cultural Training 2023 Eleusis ECoC - spoke about the journey of the city of Elefsina which is working since 2015 on putting the city on the European cultural map. She talked about long-term relationships and partnerships (including the partnership with TFA), the importance of capacity building trainings (for example: here) and participatory strategies designed together with the community and the experience of shifting towards an engagement of more emerging artists as well as about decentralizing and distributing processes in the framework of the ECoC programme. Biljana Tanurovska-Kjulavkovski - Co-curator of Lokomotiva Festival for contemporary art and performance in Skopje - explained the different labels and terms used to describe “the Balkans” and presented initiatives that aim to strengthen collaboration between the countries of the region as well as the role of the EU and civil societies within those. She emphasized the importance of regional collaboration as means to sustain cultural activity in polarized societies and warned of the danger of nationalistic narratives. Milena Gehrt - TFA Alumni and co-founder of Art Evolution in Beirut - shared her strategies of being creative within different agendas of funders. She talked about reporting requirements and other circumstances that aggravate access to funds for Lebanese cultural initiatives. The discussion then turned towards the war in Ukraine and its effects on arts and cultural production in the different regions. The inflation which is being felt throughout all regions, causes the rise of production costs that leads to the necessity of finding new and more sponsors, especially as cultural budgets from state institutions are being cut; putting numerous art and culture organisations in danger. 

Day 2 closed with the show I’m not in a place at the venue Frequent Defect, the debut work of director newcomer Mada Harb, which portrays the Lebanese diaspora and the queer life of a young green-card-couple with subtle wit and authentically joyful. 

Day 3 started with a breakfast at Zoukak Theatre with local artists and curators. The informal networking and exchange platform was an opportunity to talk to each other in a relaxed atmosphere and meet on a personal level

The Panel “Culture, Values and History and the makings of contemporary art and festivals” focused on how to engage with different belief systems in boundary-crossing projects. Helena Nassif - Managing Director of Culture Resource Lebanon - talked about the relation of moral underpinnings and the Other: “A lot of the value system we carry, remains unrecognized until an Other joins the circle.” Including the question of power, she asked: “When we work across borders, when we want to work with ‘Others’, how do we engage with our own power and the power of the ‘Other’? How to take into consideration the different power imbalances, the unequal relations?" Aurelien Zouki - actor, choreographer and performer, co-founder Collectif Kahraba and co-director Nehna wel Amar wel Jiran festival - described the fragmentation, division and diversity in the complex Lebanese society and asked “How can we build a discourse that can be addressed to all these different identities?”. Giving many practical examples from his work outside of Beirut in rural Lebanon, he described the importance of erasing political labels and creating human encounters to bring people to connect to common values. Ellada placed the question of “Who is there? Where are we?” in the center of her reflections. She described the use of tools from social sciences e.g. cultural community mapping and stated that “If we see who’s really there, we can go towards a more inclusive society.” She also emphasized the decolonizing agenda of Buffer Fringe Festival. Biljana spoke about the image of 'The Balkans' as a European 'Other' and about 'Othernesses' within the region. She called for a distribution of power by shaping new forms of institutions or reshaping already existing structures.

The Plenary presented thoughts on how to achieve common visions of different perspectives by humanizing our work processes and being guided by gentleness, care and kindness.

Beyond that, day 3 offered the participants the possibility of One-on-one sessions with the mentors.

It was completed by the visit of the show Strange Land, an audio-visual performance by photographer Randa Mirza in collaboration with musician Youmna Saba, which examines the foundation of memory through the associations and paradigms of recording.

On day 4 the group moved to Hammana Artist House. Aurelien Zouki welcomed the group to the mountain village, less than an hour's drive away from the capital, and to its’ creative centre and home for artists in residence from Lebanon and around the world as well as for local arts initiatives and neighbours. The working groups presented their pitches and received feedback from the mentors. In a Closing Session everyone was able to share their offers and needs. After the official end of the training, the participants took part in a guided walk through the village. After watching a beautiful sunset on the way back to the capital and a delicious dinner, day 4 ended with a last visit of the cultural program of Zoukak festival and the performance Tomorrow is the Best Day of my Life by Yara Bou-Nassar, who was interested in the deconstruction of social stereotypes inscribed in the body. In the show she explored identity by questioning everyday memories and behaviours.

The Atelier in Beirut meant 4 intense and challenging days of learning from each other's diverse backgrounds and experiences; relevant exchange and discussion between the actors from the different regions that made us recognize that we share many common challenges, threats and struggles. 4 days of exploring opportunities for collaborative work amongst the regions that showed us the importance of building strong networks to strengthen our impact as well as our resilience in the face of societal emergencies. 4 days of experiencing the local cultural landscape through the programme of Zoukak Sidewalks Festival, showcasing the communities' most accomplished artists as well as those who are at the beginning of their creative journey. We take with us new learnings, new friends and new hope for the future of the global creative community.  

Big thank you to all participants, mentors and speakers, and to our wonderful partners in Beirut, Zoukak Theatre, Station Beirut and Hammana Artist House for hosting us as well as our partners Eleusis 2023 and Drosos foundation.