New on Festival Bytes: Surviving in Beirut

24 May 2013

(By Jurriaan Cooiman) The law of the street is without mercy – cars, cars and more cars everywhere from Hamra to downtown. It is like a trip between two cities in Switzerland. When a car was driving into our direction in a one-way-street (we were driving in the “right” direction) the taxi driver said: “You see, we are a free country!”

And how terrible in our eyes – or how interesting – all this is:

Refugees came from Armenia in 1918, from Palestine in 1948, from Syria in the last two years; if Europe had to take in such a number of refugees as Lebanon did, the figure would be 50 million. Knowing this, it is incredible how well all is functioning; social behaviour seems to be very well, children beggars in the street are, as far as I could see, treated very nicely. But what is their perspective? The region seems to be destabilised for the next ten years.

Travelling here for research for a festival in faraway Switzerland is weird. Even though, or because of, the circumstances a lot of very interesting artists and projects can be found here, for example at the Home Works festival in the Ashkal Alwan workspace and in many other spaces all over the city. I say “weird” because it seems to me like a “u-turn” of what we normally call humanitarian development work; in the field of arts I bring back home more then what I came with. I am witnessing once again that in those places cultural work is rooted in a necessity: it reminds me of Europe after World War 2, when people tried to build up a continent, give people a direction, hope in life, reflections on which direction their society(ies) is (are) going. Bringing these experiences back to gated Switzerland in the framework of CULTURESCAPES is my life, and I am lucky that I can do that.

Having the next Atelier for Young Festival Managers in this context can also enrich the work of EFA. So I urge all colleagues who send a young and promising employee to this training programme: listen to them when they are back! They are the future in many ways; they will take over “our” jobs in about 20 years, and need this kind of experience.

(Written by Jurriaan Cooiman for the EFA Blog Festival Bytes)