How to employ culture and arts to activate community participation and stimulate dialogue in midst of COVID 19? This was the challenge we faced in Palestine when we were launching the project “Culture and Arts to Support Community Engagement in spring 2020, at the very outbreak of the global pandemic.
Crisis create obstacles, but they also tend to trigger creativity and activate our improvisation skills. The initial planning with gatherings and public events in different localities of the West Bank and Gaza was no longer realistic. In order to get things moving our partner and involved artists had to search for alternative ways to implement the project by mixing digital communication, social media and face to face events where the situation did allow it. Here some highlights of some of our cultural projects implementation during Covid-19 pandemic:
“Maqamat Rantis" – Ramallah, West Bank Artists Bashar Khalaf and Petra Barghouti
Rantis village is a conservative community in the Westbank attached to traditional values. Rantis women are disempowered, therefore, it was almost impossible for them to enter the labour market, despite the fact that the percentage of women among young graduates is very high.
The two artists Bashar Khalaf and Petra Barghouti developed the idea of organising “Al-Sabbar Cultural Festival" during summer 2021 to help stimulate the people of the village to participate in the building of their community through art and culture. In order to keep a constant communication with the targeted groups during the pandemic, the artists used electronic communications tools to exchange ideas, projects, questions, videos, articles and feedback. Once a week they met in person with members of smaller groups in order to develop their artistic work. A group of women from Rantis participated in the dialogue sessions and the training workshops to develop their skills in handicraft and craftsmanship. They succeeded in producing traditional handicraft with modern designs that will enable them to access new markets. It is also interesting that the project motivated some of the participants' husbands to produce artisan crafts for the project.
“Beitkom Amer" Al Kamalia School- Old City of Gaza - Artist Abdullah Al-Rozzi:
In the old city of Gaza, Abdullah Al-Rozzi and a team of artists and community activists restored and revitalised Al Kamaliya school, a neglected historical building, which used to be a girls' school in the seventies of the last century. The school had been closed for more than 60 years, due to wars, political ups and downs and quarrels over the ownership of historical buildings. It had become a rubbish dump, and neighbours feared that this part of Gaza's historical identity would be removed to make space for a commercial building. A project was launched to draw attention on the endangered architectural heritage in the old city of Gaza. With strong support of the local community and authorities, the artists succeeded to transform the school in a cultural centre, platform for community activities and a meeting place for residents of the area. The project attracted the Gazans community to come and participate in person, as the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown measures imposed in the Gaza Strip started only during April 2021.
Lightning & inaugurating Al-Kamaliya School, old city of Gaza. Photographer: Mohammad Issa Aswad ©AMQF
“Masahat"- The Old City of Hebron - Artist Izz Al-Jabari:
The realities created by the occupation of the old town of Hebron by armed Israeli settlers is a threat to the cultural and social heritage of this ancient city. Frequent clashes, movement restrictions and the closure of entire neighbourhoods led to the economic stagnation and marginalization of the Palestinian neighbourhoods in the city centre with its historical monuments.
Izz Al-Jabari and a group of artists created interactive spaces for the local community, governmental and civil institutions to meet and enjoy together cultural and artistic activities. To lower the risk of infection the audience assisting on the spot was strongly limited. To reach out to a wider crowd the artists used virtual technologies and 360-degree photography to document and broadcast live events through social media. Open-air events such as concerts, puppet theatre and performances were organised in the old city to attract the surrounding communities, to revitalise the squares and to reanimate the cultural and social life in the once vibrant historical centre of Hebron.