“Major challenges are facing the development of art and culture in the Arab world; hence, funding creative cultural and artistic projects, oftentimes emerging from grassroots initiatives and artists lacking the means and contacts necessary to promote their works, calls on a greater engagement from local art patrons and a deeper appreciation of the diversity of Arab cultural expressions. Needless to say, emulating western or foreign models are neither appropriate nor necessary. Given our own history, customs and creative desires, compounded by the Arab region’s ongoing mutations, we clearly need to design our own funding-model drawn from our own experiences and in line with Arab values and traditions,” stressed Dr. Ghassan Salamé, AFAC’s Chairman and Lebanon’s former minister of culture in his welcoming note marking the launch of the First AFAC Gala Dinner, sponsored by HSBC Private Bank.
Resuming his speech, Dr. Salamé underlined the importance of engaging with artists and cultural practitioners, to assess their needs and facilitate cooperation and exchange. He also spoke about identifying and educating donors and potential patrons on the social impact of arts and culture. Supporting cultural projects via an independent and transparent entity like AFAC is a powerful tool for promoting creative and artistic projects in the region, especially because it relies on a diversity of funding sources in order to guarantee free and independent expression.
Picking up on the funding issue, Oussama Rifahi, AFAC’s executive director, envisaged a direct funding process “where a patron sponsors a category of his choice, based on his own affinities and preferences, replicating in a way academic scholarships and grants.” Rifahi explained that “this direct-sponsorship model would stimulate the philanthropic involvement of local patrons in arts and culture.”
Speaking about the granting mechanism, Rifahi highlighted the “independent and rigorous selection process carried out by a professional panel of jurors in the various disciplines, relying on the quality and creativity of the project as well as its relevance to the Arab world.” AFAC has already allocated grants to over 300 artists and is continuously seeking to mobilize more local support for cultural and artistic endeavors. “Advocacy and development of local giving for arts and culture are two of the main objectives for AFAC in 2012,” said Rifahi. For the year 2011, AFAC’s grant recipients included artists and cultural institutions from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Jordan, and Libya working in various genres, information on which is available at AFAC’s online gallery.
Event sponsors HSBC Private Bank’s representatives Alexandre Zeller, Mark Stadler and François de Maricourt stressed the importance and positive impact of funding art and culture, asserting their conviction that culture is the best space for dialogue between peoples and civilizations.
Boldly choosing unexpected media for its invitation cards - recycled aluminum floorboards inspired by the industrial venue of the dinner event at the Mar Mikhail Bus Hangar - the metallic plaques with their unusual bi-lingual fonts in bright orange envelopes reflect both AFAC’s logo in color and AFAC’s fresh and contemporary approach to culture. The never-before used venue for the gala dinner, a ram-shackle public bus hangar of Mar Mikhail, was transformed into a mesmerizing location that featured several artistic installations and projections; echoing the slogan of the event “AFAC… There is Space for More.”
At the entrance of the old hangar Hussein Beydoun set up a remarkable installation of over 200 barrels and LED screens featuring various works of different AFAC grantees. An on-site performance by Dictaphone called “Graveyard of Buses” offered an imaginary voyage through Beirut city and through history, with a critical, nostalgic and satirical tone. Graffiti by Palestinian refugee artists Jazzar and Ziad added to the urban realities of the contemporary Arab art scene. A curtain of lighting separated the cocktail section from the seated dinner during which AFAC projected its new trailer and also announced its latest grantees. The dinner was attended by a crowd of AFAC’s board members, philanthropists, sponsors, diplomats, friends and grantees in performing arts, cinema, documentary, literature, music and visual arts.
Speeches and announcements were interspersed with various performances. In the spirit of the season, the Lebanese Band Association for the promotion of Music-LeBAM – Orchestra, conducted by maestro Serghei Bolun performed a Christmas medley from Roland Barret and sections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, followed by two Lebanese songs by Zaki Nassif.
Jollanar, a Syrian troupe of 10 whirling dervishes captured the audience in an outstanding artistic performance from the popular folklore of the Levant, joining the heritage of spiritual history and the innovation of the present.
The Egyptian “Massar Egbari” Band from Alexandria presented an alternative Egyptian music, mixing Rock, Jazz and Blues with Oriental music. Awarded the title of «Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue between the Arab and Western Worlds» last April by the UNESCO, Massar Egbari made a remarkable performance taking the audience to new levels of musical enjoyment that brought the dinner guests to their feet, ending the evening in a celebration of dancing and positive outlooks for the coming year.