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Saba Innab

Interview with AFAC director Oussama Rifahi

22 Dec, 2010 

Why did AFAC move from Amman to Beirut?

AFAC is currently trying to expand its funding base and garner visibility for its operations from the cultural community and the media at large. Beirut is a flourishing cultural center that offers tremendous energy and innovation, and an engaged and critical public. The move to Beirut is a natural transition after four years in Amman.


Four years after its establishment, what are AFAC’s main achievements?

AFAC has managed to achieve a lot with few resources. In four years, it has awarded 216 grants to beneficiaries from 15 Arab countries, amounting to $3.6 million in support for projects in six categories. Most importantly, it has established a transparent and rigorous methodology for evaluating and selecting grantees. Finally, the grant giving process was open to all applicants across the Arab world without discrimination or conditions –– an unprecedented window of opportunity for a largely underfunded artistic community in our region.


As a new executive director for AFAC, what are the changes or improvements that you wish to introduce and how?

First we will strengthen the open call for proposals by further simplifying the application process, posting it online and increasing the frequency of calls to twice per year. Second, we will strive to increase our reach in the peripheries of the Arab world with the support of our local board members, jurors and friends. Finally, we will provide funding to special programs addressing specific underdeveloped themes in arts and culture that are pertinent and critical to the Arab world today. All these efforts will be based on a proactive marketing approach engaging simultaneously with our recipients and potential donors. Most AFAC staff members do not come from the art world.


Why? What do they bring to AFAC and art in general?

AFAC is in the business of providing grants intelligently to a large community of artists from a wide range of disciplines; we do not produce art ourselves. Often, managing the arts is marred by personal bias and taste and can only benefit from a rigorous and systematic management approach from “outside the box”. The AFAC team brings with it many years of experience in marketing, communication, project management and fundraising. Of course, we will work closely with a dense network of writers, art critics, cinematographers and curators that provide us with the necessary expertise and know-how. Art in the Arab world lacks local funding, and many artists complain about being abandoned by their own peoples and communities despite the richness of the region’s cultural production.


How does AFAC envision breaking through this “indifference,” in order to secure local support that can free artists from conditional donations from abroad, while at the same time transcending censorship and other social and political obstacles?

 

So far it has been difficult to convince local donors of the impact artistic and cultural production can have on society at large, be it socially, economically or in terms of creative return. Asking for money for the arts was often perceived by donors as another form of charity. The challenge that we want to face head-on is changing the approach to fundraising in the region, restating it to say: What can we do to help the donor make the best out of his contribution rather than only how he can help us? One of the approaches we will implement in future will be to match patrons with specific programs, thus creating an organic link between donor and recipient, allowing us to tap into a larger pool of new regional donors.


Who are AFAC’s current main donors and how do you plan to diversify your pool of donors?

AFAC is funded by a couple of international philanthropic institutions in the US and Europe, a handful of generous Arab individuals, and one Arab institution in Kuwait. We will be reaching out to a multitude of new potential donors, institutions, governments and individuals, both regionally and internationally.


Where do you see AFAC five years from now? Are you optimistic about the future?

I am excited at the prospect of AFAC becoming a model and catalyst for other homegrown philanthropic initiatives across the Arab world. Our success will be measured by our ability to capture the attention first, then the support of a larger pool of interested and willing new patrons. Yes, I am optimistic about being able to connect the dots with the help of our team and board members, and moving slowly but surely towards achieving our objectives.


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