By Rania Elias
This is indeed a good time for governmental and nongovernmental bodies to invest in Jerusalem through arts and culture. Such investment must take into account our local conditions to assist in ensuring the survival of arts/artists/culture in our current political, social, and economic climate as well as to provide lasting value.
We all agree that Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 came at a very critical moment in the history of the conflict - a time when the Israeli occupation has increased its aggression through such means as the apartheid Wall, travel restrictions, checkpoints, and the closure of Jerusalem institutions, to name just a few.
Nevertheless we believe that the arts have intrinsic value and should be encouraged and supported. We believe that a vibrant cultural scene can only be good for our cause and should not be justified only on the occasion of Al-Quds 2009. Rather the arts should be used continually as a tool for social and economic development in order to maintain and preserve our Palestinian cultural identity.
The more we try to imagine what the future of our Palestinian cultural organisations in Jerusalem may look like, the more likely we feel worried and lack the confidence to carry on. Questions abound: How will we secure resources, attract appropriate funders, or fulfil our cultural agendas and aims in the midst of military occupation and ongoing harassment?
Within this bleak context, Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 can provide much-needed help and support in building civil society through strengthening cultural organisations, encouraging sustainable development, and supporting infrastructure and activities. There is no need to be overly ambitious. It would be sufficient to funnel a little discretionary income into our existing cultural organisations in order to cushion them from the sudden effects of the recession. This would not only protect the existence of Palestinian Jerusalemite cultural institutions and the jobs of our skilled artists, but also contribute to the countryís broader well-being as well.
After the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, tangible investment by the Palestinians in Jerusalem was modest compared to that of Israel. Now is the time for us Palestinians to take advantage of the celebration of Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 to invest as much as we can in Jerusalem, both in the stones and in the human beings. It is time for our politicians to put Jerusalem and culture at the top of their list of priorities. There must be broad political consensus concerning the value and significance of cultural funding and the need to support creativity within civil society.
The list of needs goes on: longer-term funding agreements that focus on cultural outcomes, the creation of cultural centres, historical and art museums, art education programmes, libraries, and venues for the performing arts. Longer-term funding agreements are desirable as long as these operate within a framework of clear and agreed objectives that offer a measure of flexibility to meet the changing circumstances and that work according to the principles of transparency and public accountability.
All this could be achieved through a clearer cultural development strategy for the long term in cooperation with professionals, the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, active cultural figures, and Palestinian cultural organisations. We need to encourage these efforts to invest in the arts and culture and to expand public access to the cultural arena. This will be good for the economy, good for education, and good for the region.
The real challenge for Al-Quds 2009 is to transform culture and the arts into an ongoing reality that will support us to sustain our existence and our humanity.
Rania Elias is the head of the Events Committee of Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009.