Nothing like Wall Street
The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture was established with the mission of investing in Middle Eastern performers, writers, artists, and musicians of considerable talent and ambition. It raises money with the aim of securing an available and sufficient fund to support these talented artists. At AFAC, they understand the boundaries aspiring artists must confront as they work to fulfill their ambitions with limited resources and attention. With this fund, AFAC aids many artists in overcoming these obstacles so that they may devote their full attention to the quality of their work.
Zena Takieddine is the communications & development manager at AFAC and a researcher of Arab History and Islamic Art. She spoke with Baraka Advisors on behalf of this organization.
What do you believe is the benefit people notice least of investing in the arts?
There is very much an intangible return in investments. By focusing on talent within the region, we are allowing for creativity, which creates space for self-expression and new vision.
What is the most significant change you have witnessed as a result of investing in the arts? What change do you still wish to see?
The quality of applications we have received has improved, stepping up the ramp for artists so that they can become more professional in their work. And with a program that promotes artists, artists have become more serious about their work.
Their work also facilitates a cultural debate on an international level, offering many levels of discussion that can go around it.
There remains very little support for contemporary art from public venues. Contemporary art still does not have the support it needs.
Which project funded by AFAC interested you most?
I fell in love with Mais Darwazah’s documentary, “My Love Awaits My by the Sea.” It is rare to find a full-length documentary about Palestine that is poetic and lyrical and, at the same time, very real. Democratoz from Algeria also caught my attention. They are a music band of 7 young men in their 20s, living in an impoverished neighborhood but they are very talented, and their voices are so genuine and optimistic. Their name, Democratoz, is making fun of politics in a playful way, while still being deeply aware and engaged with their environment.
Are the works of artists the fund invests in centered on a common theme, or does the fund seek variety in the topics covered by its artists?
We give complete freedom to the artists, and they are free to propose any project they like. Our annual call is open to a diverse variety of fields with the aim of being accessible to everyone. We also run special projects based on emerging trends, and these can be theme-based or genre-specific.
Do you believe that the lack of funding is the most challenging and distracting obstacle an aspiring artist faces?
Yes, it is a main obstacle. There are also travel and visa issues. Appreciation is another challenge. Yet, there is a growing appetite from the audiences to experience independent artwork that is not as easy to digest as commercial artwork.
What is the most important criteria these artists must meet in order to receive a grant for their work?
There are four criteria: quality, an idea that is creative and original, not stereotypical, relevance to the Arab world, and budget. It has to relate to the region. It is not an ethnic thing, but a regional thing.
Has the uprisings in the Middle East altered the landscape for artists?
There is an increased urgency to express. Conversely, there is also a turning away from creativity & expression. Not just because the risks are greater, but more out of horror and disgust at the violence, and a sense of futility. Ultimately, expression through creative and critical work that the arts offer has a healing dimension that is definitely needed to help begin processing the chaos and the losses that have emerged from the uprisings. The most important thing is not get stuck on labels and keep spaces open.
What would you say to convince others that investing in the arts is just as crucial to the well-being of society as is providing food, clothing, and shelter?
It is a harmonizing thing to be self-expressive. It gives human dignity back to the community, and a chance for victims and survivors to be more than that.
Can the work of artists be used an effective means of communication between regions?
No doubt about that. During the AFAC film week, the audience came from different parts of the region, and we were screening films from 7 different countries. The audience was stunned to see different, yet similar, realities appeared in these contexts. There was a new awareness of their shared fate. Internationally, it is also important to offer a more insightful and deeper kind of work rather than relying on what is available on mass media news. A much more personal understanding is needed.
This interview was conducted by Aiyah Sibay on behalf of Baraka Advisors.