Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship

ACE is a new AFAC special program in partnership with Drosos Foundation, and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office. It fosters a collective space for reflection on sustainability and is designed to inspire, invigorate and strengthen small and medium cultural institutions, based and working in the Arab region, and whose initiatives engage with communities. Twenty-four arts and culture institutions will benefit from three cycles during the period 2018-2021, i.e. eight per cycle. ACE comprises entrepreneurship training and mentoring components, as well as an incentive grant for the participating institutions to implement an innovation activity aimed at improving their institutional resilience. The novelty of ACE is that it is experimental, far-reaching and encourages learning from other sectors. It focuses on inspirational case studies, and intends to share best practices and experiences mainly South-South, and to share findings using an on-line interactive platform that benefits many other institutions not directly participating in the program. The program provides an opportunity for these institutions to re-examine their mission in light of a rapidly-changing globalized world; re-assess their relevance to their audiences and stakeholders; get inspired by peer institutions in other sectors and geographies facing the same challenges and opportunities; and finally to acquire new skills and capacities to improve their long-term sustainability.

The program is conceived as an experiment in “learning and doing” crafted and delivered by a group of specialists from the culture sector and beyond, that will continue to evolve in content throughout its planned three-year duration. ACE workshops’ modules include strategy, communications and fundraising; learning from leaders in microfinance, social media and entrepreneurship; case studies from peer institutions in Africa, the Indian sub-continent and South America; as well as reflections on global themes of inequality, technology and ethics. Each cycle spans one year and benefits eight arts and culture institutions. The director and deputy director of the respective institutions participate in the 12-month program that includes three workshops as well as mentorship and follow-up in-between. Participants will additionally be supported with a grant of $25,000 to fund a specific innovation activity, inspired by the program, to strengthen the organization’s sustainability.


Arts and culture institutions in the Arab region operate in an increasingly challenging environment. Dependency on any one type of support be it state, corporation, foundations or individuals, comes with potential pressure and risks. In cases where regulations are strict on institutions, many cannot make ends meet, let alone achieve their full potential. Few have opportunities to take time to reflect on their development and to re-invent themselves, further undermining their sustainability. With funding for arts and culture generally decreasing in this sector, and with the inevitable changes in the funding landscape, arts and culture institutions need to continuously adapt by thinking out of the box and diversifying their sources of funding.

One of the recommendations that came out of the ten years’ study in 2017 on AFAC was to consider supporting institutional resilience of cultural organisations. With its own track record in supporting arts and culture and identifying innovative sustainability approaches, AFAC is committed to take the lead on supporting a community of practitioners in their quest to revisit their raison d'être in order to remain relevant to the communities they address, and to develop more sustained operations that generate artistic and public value, and to be able to effectively communicate the impact of their initiatives.

As arts and culture institutions, we are public benefit entities with much to be proud of and with a profusion of questions that keep us on our toes. What is the value we generate? What is the social impact we create and for whom? How can we remain relevant and connected to our communities? How is what we do locally linked to global efforts for sustainable development? What can we learn from practitioners in different contexts and sectors? What kind of stories do we tell of our work and with what tools? How do we mobilize individuals, corporations and institutions in innovative ways to invest in arts and culture in our region? What are ethical considerations related to sources of funding? How adaptive is our leadership to espouse an entrepreneurial spirit? How do we inspire ourselves to innovate and what are our priorities? How can we work with a public and non-profit sector that aims to be as efficient as the private sector, and a private sector that tries to be socially-minded? What other aspects should we be busy with?

These are some of the queries that the Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship (ACE) program will unravel.

Selection Process and Criteria

ACE is a curated program and the process of application is through nomination. For the first cycle, 29 nominators were involved, both individual and institutions, with wide knowledge of arts and culture institutions in the Arab region. AFAC received 82 nominations, out of which 7 were recommended more than once, so there were in total 73 distinct institutions nominated. Out of those that AFAC contacted to apply to ACE, 48 institutions expressed interest and a total of 39 effectively submitted their applications. The jury selected 8 final candidates.

The three jury members who deliberated on the final selection for this first cycle of ACE were Khadija El Bennaoui (Morocco), Ahmed El Attar (Egypt) and Mokhtar Kokache (Lebanon/Syria). Rich discussions among the jurors reflected their focus on prioritizing those institutions that stood the highest chance to benefit from the opportunity that ACE offered and have existing or the potential for wider social impact. The two key criteria for selection were:


  • role or potential role they play within the arts and culture sector;
  • community engagement and reputation;
  • how internal reflections on challenges and priorities are linked to the ACE program in terms of modules and spirit;
  • the extent to which the institution will benefit from the program; and
  • experience and stage of development;


  • calibre of the management team;
  • their willingness to think outside the box;
  • how motivated and able they are to experiment with new tools and entrepreneurial approaches.

ACE Second Workshop | Virtual | 3 - 18 June, 2021

The second workshop (3-18 June, 2021) happened virtually, gave the participants the opportunity to dive deeper into design thinking, while learning how to develop maps and prototypes for innovative programs and how to test them with audiences. The participants also continued their work on developing communication strategies and explored how the development of narrative techniques can help support their work with communities. They focused on financial and budget management, explored various enterprise structures and how to develop a comprehensive resource mobilization plan to ensure stability, continuity and resilience. They were inspired by learning from colleagues in the field, by exploring their organizational and programmatic challenges and successes through the case study of Beirut Art Center. additionally, they learned about the context of the arts in East Africa and more specifically the journey of the Go-down Art Center in Nairobi.

For the full program, click here

Presentations and Reading Material

Design Thinking 2 – Nadia Roumani
This session, the second of a series of design thinking sessions, will provide guidance on how to work on a program that you are trying to design or redesign for your targeted audience. You will begin by creating journey maps of the program experience - one that maps out the service experience, and another that maps out the emotional experience. You will try to create the maps from the user’s perspective, describing what happens at each stage of the interaction, which touchpoints are involved, and which obstacles and barriers they may encounter. You will consequently lay out an emotional journey map to try to better understand the user’s emotional arc when engaging with your programmatic offering. Using these journey maps, you will articulate questions and assumptions that you plan to explore in your program's design. Through this session, you will explore the creation of prototypes, or low fidelity versions of your solution, that you can use to answer some of your questions or test some of your assumptions. By creating these journey maps and designing prototypes to test with your targeted audience, you can ensure that your program will resonate more effectively with your audience, and will achieve your desired impact.


Social Business Modelling: From Venture Philanthropy to Impact Investment – Shenouda Bissada
The last decade has seen the emergence of social enterprise in the Arab region. A nascent phenomenon in much of the region, the understanding of the concept and where it belongs within a spectrum that includes charities and businesses, remains unclear. This session will look at clarifying the different structures available for organizations with both a social purpose and an aspiration towards sustainability. Taking best practices from both the region and across the globe, we will seek to identify the structure model that best suits you, the funding opportunities that are available, and how to articulate your vision in a model that is attractive to both supporters and potential investors.


Establishing the Development Program – Manal Issa
With the growing civil society and non-profit sectors in the Arab region, coupled with growth in private philanthropy and institutional donors, more organizations are joining the practice in setting up their development departments, promoting the culture of giving, creating enabling environments, and institutionalizing fundraising functions and strategies. In this session, we will explore the difference between development and fundraising, and how these fit into a resource mobilization strategy. What does it take to develop successful fundraising operations? How can we maintain giving to our organizations while donors priorities are constantly in flux? How do we institutionalize individual giving in our organizations? We will also explore positive and negative examples and trends as well as the social, economic and cultural factors that impact development in the region.


Public Narrative – Nisreen Haj Ahmed
How are forms of language, narratives and their delivery significant in developing different types of political and social rallies and civic engagement? What lessons can we learn from the experience of communities of activists and workers more specifically? More so than any other moment in recent history, artists and the creative sector are exploring, shedding light on, and impacting public opinion, given the state of inequities, plights and constant crises.
Concurrently, the arts and culture sector is realizing its own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and slowly grasping the need to rally, for everyone’s survival and sustainability.
Public narrative is a leadership practice where one develops and tells three linked mini-stories. The first answers what moments in my life called me to leadership, and what are the moments that formed my values (Story of Self). The second weaves my story together with the story of my community, and narrates moments of when we acted against challenges, and what our shared values are (Story of Us). The third explains the current reality, revealing moments of urgency and moments of hope, and ending with a call-to-action (Story of Now). The three stories always feature a challenge, a choice, and an outcome, so as not to be a victim story; but a story about agency.


The Arts and Culture Sector in Kenya and the GoDown Story – Joy Mboya
The arts and culture sector in East Africa has been thriving over the last two decades. Kenya and its capital Nairobi have formed a regional hub of experimentation, training, creativity and entrepreneurship. In this session, we will learn about the development of the arts and culture sector, its challenges and successes, and the current context that guides its future. We will also dive into the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi as a unique regional model of innovation, creation and audience cultivation. How was the center created as a collective space, and how is it being currently transformed into a premier cultural and civic center? What lessons have been learnt about support for emerging and established artists? How has the GoDown Centre developed its community relations, and how is it influencing policy? How was the Centre’s current capital campaign put together, and what lessons were acquired about financing such an endeavor, given local and global political, social and economic challenges?


Introduction to Financial Management - Thérèse Ghobriel
This session presents the basics of financial management, with a focus on the development and maintenance of budgets. We will explore how to create a customized chart of accounts, and how to develop project and operating budgets, so as to generate an annual organizational budget. Other financial procedures and tools will also be presented, to help you better understand financial systems and enable you to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations and future planning decisions, in view of ensuring your organization’s health, growth and sustainability.


Communication Strategy 2 – Hatem Imam
This session is the second of a series of communication strategy sessions. It starts with a workshop and ends with a presentation. Just like the first session (of Workshop 1), we will randomly pick one group to go through each exercise. The aim of the session is to help you to consider questions such as: what are your short and long-term goals? What are the obstacles that keep you from reaching your goals? How do you translate your goals into activations? We will brainstorm together to identify activations across different media, and we will specify how each will help you reach some of the outlined goals. At the end of the session, the presentation will reveal diverse examples of exciting and successful communication strategies.


Virtual Visit to Beirut Art Center – Ahmed Ghossein and Haig Aivazian
This session will introduce participants to the history and trajectory of Beirut Art Center (BAC), and how it has managed to withstand various artistic, political and economic challenges. What has BAC learned about running a visual arts space in Lebanon? How does it define and manage audiences and constituencies? How is BAC governed, and how are decisions made internally? What lessons has it accumulated over the years about balancing between management, mission and financing? How does BAC plan to operationalize a vision of a more socially responsive artistic space?

ACE Cycle 3 First Workshop | Virtual |8 February - 1 March 2021

The first workshop of the third ACE cycle occurred virtually in a relaxed schedule between 8 February and 1 March, 2021. In this introductory series of sessions, participants presented their organizations and their work, exchanged and reflected about their contexts, narratives, successes and challenges. Accompanied by specialists and mentors as well as by experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences from Egypt, Kenya, India, the United States and Lebanon, participants were exposed to a plethora of ideas, such as design thinking practices, techniques of storytelling, the design of effective communications strategies, and the basics of financial resilience. Additionally, they explored important questions related to the positioning and value of their work, and learned about organization-specific and country-wide approaches to cultural sustainability and independence.

For more details on the program of the first workshop, download full program

ACE Workshop 1 – Presentations and Reference Material

The Context – Oussama Rifahi
COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill. Not only are the health and lives of populations in danger; the sharply reduced economic activity is also threatening livelihoods and exacerbating inequalities between countries and social classes. The news headlines both regionally and internationally unfurl one outrageous story after another, but buried between cataclysmic events are wonderful stories of solidarity, the promise of more conscious communities and a resurgence of visionary thought leaders. What are the major forces shaping our world today and tomorrow? Are the principles and values that we believe in personally and that are at the core of the work of our institutions, unchanged? Are we still relevant to our communities and audiences as cultural actors, in times where our outreach is confined to the digital? Where do we allocate the diminished resources at our disposal to foster the mission of our institutions? What are the skills and attitudes needed for the cultural leaders of the future?

Design Thinking – Nadia Roumani
This session, the first in a series of three to be delivered throughout the program’s duration, aims to guide participants on how to apply human-centered design methods, mindsets and behaviors, to a program they are looking to launch or redesign in the coming year. It also includes a number of case studies to answer the following questions: who are we specifically designing for? What need are we addressing, or emotion are we trying to illicit? How might we generate several exciting ways to achieve that goal?

Presentation by Nadia Roumani

Positioning and Value – Moukhtar Kocache
In an increasingly discordant and competitive cultural and civil society landscape, how can arts and culture organizations better position themselves and describe their missions? How can that process help them be more strategic about their energies, to secure increased social and financial stability? For a variety of reasons, both intrinsic and extrinsic, the arts and cultural sector falls short of proving its value in a way that can be understood by funders, recipients and the public at large. What are some of the categories, strategies and methodologies that can help artists and cultural leaders better outline their contributions and value to the “public good”? What are the misconceptions, opportunities and pitfalls of increased specificity, measurement, evaluation and classifications in the arts and culture sector?

Presentation by Moukhtar Kocache

Storytelling – Rob Burnet
The world we live in is constituted of stories. The stories we tell define our history. They illustrate how we make sense of the present, and they have the power to determine our future. Storytelling is the oldest art-form, and when used carefully, it can change the world. We will discover the 6 Essential Stories that will help us change the world, and find out what is the science behind them. We will create the 6 essential stories that every mission-driven individual and organization need for success – to organize clearly their thinking and their mission, so they can readily and concisely present the key essence of their work. Participants will each define their own stories, refining and testing them with the group. Moreover, to illustrate the process, and unpack the power of their essential stories, we will learn about a story from East Africa that is reaching and transforming the lives of 10 million young people; how it is created and how science and data have merged with creativity and insight to generate positive change at a huge scale.

Presentation by Rob Burnet

Communications 1 | Positioning – Hatem Imam / Studio Safar
The first in a series of three sessions focusing on communications, this session explores the main principles and tools that are at the heart of a solid and successful communications strategy, and how this helps improve performance and outreach. It also focuses on the importance of “positioning” and why it is crucial to define it at the early stages of a strategy. The session aims to formulate a positioning statement for organizations and reflect on audiences and goals as an integral part of the positioning process.

Presentation by Hatem Imam

Gearing Towards Financial Resilience – Amany Alhadka
In times like these, financial resilience is critical to organizations’ sustainability and stability. Organizations with greater financial resilience are able to pivot and respond to the crises while creating a space for future looking and conducting scenario planning. How can we become more financially resilient as an organization? What are the building blocks and elements that need to be in place in order to achieve this? In this session, we will cover some of the core elements of strategic finance, including the concept of true program cost and core mission support; we will learn how a strategic budgeting approach can strengthen the organization’s financial management capacities and enable it to develop different scenarios. We will also cover income diversification and learn more about its pre-requisites, different sources of financial inflows and some of the new trends in financing organizations. We will also explore how and by whom this is conducted within organizations’ teams and governance.

Presentation by Amany Alhadka

India at the Edge: Building Solidarities and Mobilizing Resources – Arundhati Ghosh
This session will take you through the context within which the arts and culture community in India survives and thrives. Over the past decade, there have been many shifts in the country – economic, political, social and technological. The session will attempt to analyze the impact of these changes on the environment, and the ways in which arts and culture practitioners, as individuals and collectives, are building solidarities and sustainability. Through examples from a diverse range of artistic practices, it will also raise the questions, concerns and challenges that the sector is encountering in the current milieu, and how cultural practices are disrupting oppressive powers. We will also learn about the work of the India Foundation for the Arts, and the dynamics of resourcing the arts and culture sector in the country.

Presentation by Arundhati Ghosh

How to Build, While We Work – Lina Attalah
In this workshop, we will listen to the story of Mada Masr, and learn about the two aspects of retention they are focusing on: talent retention through some of their Human Resources approaches (including some newly crafted thoughts on work in light of the pandemic) and audience retention through audience building mechanisms. What type of content - including cultural work - do they offer, and how do they strategize for it every year - with the past exceptional year as particular backdrop?
We will also discover how they connect these two aspects of retention to their sustainability model, engaging on what they should not take for granted in the developmental funding arena, and on possible ways to generate income.

Presentation by Lina Attalah

Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship Second Cycle

Click here to explore the 2020 cycle of the Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship program

Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship First Cycle

Click here to explore the 2019 cycle of the Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship program

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