Syrian Entity for arts and culture News:
   
 

Let’s stand up to the misery and isolation of the world: let’s support artists and the arts!


The world is facing a major crisis as the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten humanity, its reach and dangerous impacts spreading further and further. The painful fallout of the virus has claimed thousands of lives and continues to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of people still affected. With the speed of its expansion, the virus has also stirred debate about the meaningfulness and effectiveness of the systems and structures which govern our safety. With the spread of this pandemic, it has become clear that most of the safety mechanisms governing global health and society are ineffective and insufficient when we have to respond to or reckon with disasters, even if capacity for effectiveness varies from country to country. This crisis has also forced us to stop working, to withdraw from social activities, and to self-isolate in individual practices within narrow circles.

In the Arab region, the crisis has emphasised the weakness and absence of social and economic safety nets and public health support, as well as a lack of transparency in the circulation of information and data between governments and individuals. The effects of this crisis have been most harmful to those who work in the informal sector, who represent between 40% and 60% of the economies of the Arab region. Among the most affected groups are those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and home countries, such as migrants and refugees. The community of artists and others who work in the cultural and creative field – most of whom are self-employed and work in the free labour market – have been affected similarly badly. Today, they face the risk of losing their livelihoods and being forced to withdraw from the creative sector in the near future, principally as a result of the cancellation of many of the contracts, agreements, and festivals that have been planned for both this year and next. On top of that, many members of this artistic community have no social or economic protection, as the unions and syndicates which are meant to safeguard their rights are unable to operate effectively.

In light of the above, Ettijahat – Independent Culture has reviewed its activity planning for this year in an attempt to respond to some of these challenges. The most important features of this plan include:

I – Launching programmes for which preparatory work began last year, and the activities of which, by nature, can respond to some of the problems of the current period:

  1. The SOBOL programme, an art-based digital series produced by Ettijahat and made available under the Creative Commons license
  2. The Maharat training programme, which offers capacity-building opportunities for twenty-six technicians in the performing arts, and provides electronic resources which will emphasise the value of the performing arts sector and the importance of linking it to the private sector
  3. A special project to support and publish creative and critical digital/visual works that celebrate the richness of ideas and projects related to change in the Arab region over the past 10 years. The details of this project will be announced shortly.

II - Reviewing some of our existing programmes and modifying their activities to provide services which correspond to the current situation and provide artists with more safety and stability, with respect to the rules of social distancing:

  1. Developing the third edition of Create Syria to provide ten opportunities for financial support and artistic mentorship, allowing participants to develop ideas and experimental projects which examine the relationship between communities and the arts
  2. Expanding the services of Sanad, which currently provides legal assistance, to include support which covers the costs of legal transactions, such as residency permits, visas, and passport renewals; Sanad services will also become available in Germany, offering legal services and orientation sessions to support the work of artists from the Arab region who currently reside in Germany

III – Maintaining the open calls for applications to the latest editions of our grant programmes, which provide opportunities for direct empowerment of the work of artists:

  1. The seventh edition of the Laboratory of Arts programme, which will support the production of fifteen new creative projects in 2020
  2. The second edition of Ajyal, which offers eight grants to support bachelor and master’s level art education, with the commitment to continue supporting programme beneficiaries until the completion of their studies
  3. The eighth edition of Research: to Strengthen the Culture of Knowledge, which will provide support for ten researchers to conduct work in various subjects pertaining to culture

Throughout the year, we will be sharing a variety of audio and other digital resources, making sure that our social media platforms become more interactive. We will be publishing this new material in both Arabic and English. We regret that these adjustments come with the deferral of meetings, public gatherings and occasions which demanded travel and movement. These activities have been postponed or cancelled because of the difficulty of arranging them at the present moment and the immediate threats to personal safety that holding such events would undoubtedly cause. We hope that we will be able to reschedule them soon in order that we can meet with all of you in person.

In addition to this, and in partnership with a number of artistic and supporting institutions in the Arab region, Ettijahat has begun deliberating what can be done to expand the response to more urgent priorities of enhancing the stability and safety of producers of arts and culture.

During our review of our action plan, we were inspired by the direct responses of artists from the Arab region and the rest of the world who have provided free access to their artistic projects and products in an act of humanitarian solidarity. We were also inspired by the spontaneous artistic moments that many individuals created from the balconies of their own homes, in solidarity with their neighbours and friends and in defiance of the isolation which has been imposed on everyone. However, while these practices emphasise the significance of what we do, they have also led us to reflect on certain questions: how do we balance our own work with our attempts to support the homeless, the displaced, and those who do not have homes in which to be quarantined? How can we learn from the experiences of Syrians, as well as those from elsewhere in the Arab region, when it comes to resisting injustice, isolation, and insecurity? And how can these experiences inspire us to create a narrative for humanity which can help us in the face of disaster? How can our work contribute to the creation of social, legal, and economic safety nets that protect the fragility of the artistic sector? How can we continue to support communal artistic practices in defiance of increased risk of poverty, weakened security, racism, discrimination and unemployment? How can we protect the rights of art practitioners and producers and avoid the selective support of certain art forms at the expense of others? And most importantly of all, how can we learn collectively from what has happened?

Our commitment to social distancing imposes many challenges in the context of working from home - challenges which we will be striving to meet in order that we can maintain effectiveness and productivity, continue to implement our existing programmes, stay in the service of our beneficiaries, and inquire about their current needs and increasing difficulties. We do not claim to be experts in dealing with disasters, but we have great confidence in the ability of the artistic sector to do so. We invite you all to think with us about these questions which have been brought to the surface, and which require everyone’s efforts and solidarity, by communicating with us by email at info@ettijahat.org.

Be well, stay safe, and support artists and the arts / The Ettijahat - Independent Culture Team


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