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 2020 2nd Workshop, 22 June- 13 July, 2020, Online

As part of its ongoing efforts to support arts and culture practitioners as well as cultural entities in their efforts to adapt to the current constantly changing environment, AFAC has offered, on Friday June 19, a free three-hour online session, hosted by Anton Nielsen Bjerg from Denmark. The workshop enabled over sixty participants from across the Arab region, to learn the ins and outs of organizing and facilitating an online workshop.

ACE 2020 First Workshop, 17-21 January 2020 in Beirut

The first 5-day workshop provided a chance for the participants to meet and exchange first ideas about their context, their success stories and challenges with the program’s specialists and mentors as well as with international and regional experts. The workshop discussed relevance of the institutions’ work to their communities, sustainability of their operations, audience cultivation tools and practices, and explored storytelling and the mobilization of resources. The experts presented the latest trends in their geographical areas and the representatives of the corporate world talked about their needs, requirements and visions. The group reflected on the acceptance and relevance of sustainable development goals and creative economy methodologies in a global context and how the diversity and inequality debate is shaping /distorting work on the ground. The participants interacted with representatives from the private sector and engaged with two local peer institutions in Beirut as case studies and finished the program with a fun competitive exercise focused on strategy development and pitching.

Experts of the first workshop were Oussama Rifahi, Peter Jenkinson, Shelagh Wright, Leandro Valiati, Lina Attalah, Dounia Benslimane, Fadel Zayan, Meskerem Assegued, Arundhati Ghosh, Leila Mroue, and Moukhtar Kocache.

ACE Workshop 1 – Presentations and Reference Material

The Global Context and the Arab Region
The world around us is evolving at a rapid pace. Can we talk about progress or regression with the current headlines? What are the major forces shaping our world today and tomorrow? Are the principles and values that we believe in personally and at the core of the work of our institutions unchanged? Are we still relevant to our communities and audiences as cultural actors? Where do we focus the meagre resources at our disposal to further the mission of our institutions? What are the skills and attitudes needed for the cultural leadership of the future?

Positioning and Values
Knowing and communicating our work and our worth enables us to better position ourselves and describe our missions. The nature of values-led work, different forms of value creation, spectrum or ecology of operating/business models (subsidized culture, development grants, creative economy and social economy), the value of collaboration in micro enterprise ecologies – all of these are elements for us to discover the bigger story.

Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson Presentation

Working with Corporates, Funders, and Donors
Social enterprises are businesses and initiatives that trade to tackle social problems, improving communities, people’s lives, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. When they profit, society profits. Whilst the Arab world has yet to create the needed legal framework to recognize Social Enterprises how can organizations weave in the spirit of Social Enterprise with a focus on Purpose and Values when dealing with corporate sponsors, funders and donors to create win-win partnerships and collaborations?

Cultural Journalism: Stories from the Region
One of the lenses through which new Arab independent media can be investigated is cultural journalism. While some of these relatively young media outlets approach culture from an overtly contextual, political and social lens, others are more focused on intimate critical investigations of cultural works and productions. Not many outlets are conscious or able to work with both approaches in a seamless way, activating a sensibility where the contextual culture journalism is not culturalist and the delving into the aesthetics of cultural production is not reduced to technical review writing. This sensibility becomes a reflection tool about a group of Arab independent media that represents a new wave of journalism practice in the region; a practice which clearly distinguishes itself from local state media, as well as local and transnational corporate media. What does cultural journalism tell us about this wave that sees itself as a political project in its raison d’être, an intellectual project in its content, and an artistic endeavor in its modalities of inquiry and delivery?

From Venture Philanthropy to Impact Investment
Increasingly, we hear about new forms of financing becoming available to social and creative enterprises. These range from grants, outcome grants, impact bonds, venture philanthropy and impact investing. Navigating the jargon can be overwhelming and understanding how your enterprise or organization fits within the spectrum of investable entities is critical to unlock transformative funding to achieve your goals. This session will orient you to the social investment movement and one of the key considerations social investors focus on when assessing prospective investments, the clarity of an organization’s goals and path to success. We will work together to articulate your enterprise's theory of change.

Meet the Stakeholders – From Patronage to Partnerships - Robert Eid and Nadim Zaazaa
Why do people give away money and assets? The enthusiasm for philanthropy and cultural investment is in large part a consequence of the rapid wealth creation of recent years, and ironically, of its uneven distribution.

Unsettling the Dust: India at the Edge
How artists and cultural practitioners in India are surviving, building solidarities and mobilizing resources to continue to practice their art, ask difficult questions, disrupt oppressive powers and imagine building collective futures. How do diverse strategies and inter-sectoral comradeships enable the arts and culture sector to look beyond traditional means of support and counter the challenges of the present times?

Arundhati Ghosh Presentation

Culture & Citizenry: New Creative Practices
What is the story of now, what is urgent, where are the burning issues, who is living these realities and how are some cultural and creative actors rising to the challenges? What are the shifts in forms of cultural practice engaging with different communities, funders and citizens on the ground?

Shelagh Wright & Peter Jenkinson Presentation

Creative Industries and the Brazil Context
What do we need to know about how the creative industries can deliver equitable, just and sustainable development? Leonardo Valiati unravels contemporary challenges, oversights and virtues. Using theory and real case studies from the UK and Brazil, he approaches three main topics: the framework of creative industries and entrepreneurship; the place of cultural value in creative industries; and findings about culture and innovation in contemporary strategies for development.

International Cultural Policy and International Frameworks
If culture is the solution, how can we examine, negotiate and influence the discourse on contemporary art-making and distribution? What is the bottom-up approach of civil society to re-shape cultural policy? Dounia Benslimane presents a global vision of cultural policies in Arab countries and Africa and discusses the role of civil society in shaping them; inspired by research, advocacy, and cultural projects.

Art Practices and the Ethiopian Context
How can we as cultural practitioners collaborate in multidisciplinary art practices to create innovative, environmental and social art? Meskerem Assegued explores opportunities for art production and regional/international connections through the experience of a curatorial center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Meskerem Assegued - Presentation

Adapting to Challenging Contexts: Stories and Experiences
Many cultural entities operate in volatile and often repressive environments. And yet, these are the contexts where we muster our strengths to create alternative discourses and to shed light on what is nuanced and pertinent in society through diverse artistic practices and spaces for convening and creativity. How do we practice our missions in such contexts? What helps us to maintain and expand these spaces of reflection and innovation? What stories can we tell?

Arundhati Ghosh Presentation

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Arts and Culture Entrepreneurship First Cycle

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