The major challenge for AFAC was never about finding artists good enough to warrant support. It may well be that the unique challenges of the Arab region have in fact wielded generations of artists more aware than ever of the need to express and share their realities critically and creatively. What AFAC needed to figure out was how to make potential donors understand why artists do what they do, what role culture plays, and why the sector is in dire need of proper support within the context of an absent public sector. We came to the conclusion that, only by letting AFAC’s grantees talk for themselves and share their stories can the impact of the arts truly resonate. So we decided to collect their stories.
A young Yemeni filmmaker who starts a mini-revolution in her own family claims a more empowered place for women; An Egyptian dancer who launches a nation-wide theatre-for-the-oppressed project teaches regular citizens better conflict-resolution techniques through play-acting; A Lebanese filmmaking duo who turn to the academic archives revive a forgotten story on scientific exploration and national pride; A Palestinian photographer who captures the ingenuity of Gazan families living in ongoing confinement reveals a determination to life beyond despair; An Iraqi vocalist who rediscovers Sufi poetry finds healing through song; A Syrian music producer who grows wary of the polarization in the Arab street organizes a series of hip hop concerts to intermingle different perspectives on social change from across the Arab region; A Libyan husband-and-wife team eager to revive their country long-repressed openness launch a new cultural initiative to share international cinema, poetry and music; – these and many more, 450 projects to date, are just some of the fascinating stories that drive artists and cultural practitioners to do the work that they do.
One of our flagship programs, the Arab Documentary Film Program, concluded its third cycle in 2012 with a total of 44 projects supported in collaboration with the Sundance Institute. Launched in response to a huge need for support and recognition, documentary filmmakers have embraced AFAC’s initiative and we have had an amazing three cycles of documentaries, many of which are premiering and winning awards at the most prestigious regional and international festivals. In response to ongoing popular demand, we will launch a new documentary program in 2013.
The steady growth of AFAC’s reach, enabling the voices and visions of independent artists all across the Arab region, has reached a new level. AFAC is today recognized as a resource for cultural stakeholders worldwide. In addition to the grant programs, there is constant activity behind the scenes as AFAC facilitates connections between cultural practitioners – artists, intellectuals, curators, critics, journalists, audiences, donors and philanthropists. Heads of cultural institutions seeking to participate in the Arab scene turn to AFAC for advice on what is needed and how to better understand the challenges and hopes of the region. The invisible side of what we do comes through as opportunities: new residency programs that are eager for Arab participation, new collaborations that are exploring cultural dialogue and creative synthesis.
For 2013 and the upcoming years, the question arises: what direction does contemporary Arab art seek to take? What is calling out for attention? And, with all eyes turned to the Arab region, who will empower the voices of the future? Audiences in the region and internationally are astounded time and time again with the power, cleverness and the subtlety of artists from this region. More will come, but who will support it? In 2013 we will continue to work with opinion leaders, visionaries and corporations from this region to demonstrate the worth of independent artistic production and to lead the way in supporting a thriving regional arts scene.
Oussama Rifahi, January 2013