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Observations of the PAMS 2016 Middle East Focus Session
[Festivals] Observations of the PAMS 2016 Middle East Focus Session
Writer : CHANG, Woong-jo (Professor in the department of arts and cultural management at Hongik University) 2016.11.01

Observations of the PAMS 2016 Middle East Focus Session
 


A valuable opportunity to explore the diverse performing arts of the Middle East

Last week’s PAMS 2016 was five full days of excitement and energy. From the opening ceremony on Tuesday to the closing ceremony on Saturday, it was a packed program that included early-morning business consulting in the booths; the PAMS Choice showcase and PAMS Link productions, held at ARKO Arts Theater and other venues; the pitch sessions and speed-dating sessions, where participants could exchange information in a very short time; and the PAMS Night networking events in the evenings. The active dialogue and exchanges that took place among local and international performing arts professionals were promising indicators of the even more lively international exchanges that are sure to take place in the days to come.

The focus region for PAMS 2016 was one that not many have had the chance to learn about: the Middle East. Professor Koo Mi-ran of Sun Moon University’s Center for Islamic Studies presided over the first part of the session, during which various arts promotion organizations in the region delivered introductions to Middle Eastern performing arts culture. During the second part, presided over by producer Sung Mooryang, active Middle Eastern producers and artists talked about their actual festival and performance experiences. The session ended with a presentation by Tacit Group, which in November 2015 staged a successful concert in Abu Dhabi, an event made possible through connections established at PAMS. 

▲ Focus Session, part one © PARK, Ye-lim

▲ Focus Session, part one © PARK, Ye-lim

Part 1. Enhancing Understanding of the Cultures of the Middle East as a Means to Initiate Exchanges in the Arts

Following a brief session introduction by Professor Koo, Mehrdad Rayani-Makhsous of the Dramatic Arts Center of Iran (DAC) introduced his organization and its work to nurture the performing arts culture of Iran on the basis of the country’s rich history. Established in 1981 as an affiliate organization of the Iranian culture ministry, the DAC raises and manages funds for the performing arts, has multiple performance venues in Iran, and works to offer a variety of performing arts programming. Iran currently has a vibrant theater festival scene: each of the country’s thirty-two provinces holds its own theater festival, meaning at least thirty-two major theater festivals take place every year. The International Street Theatre Festival in the city of Marivan, by the Iran–Iraq border; the International Children and Young Adults Theater Festival in Hamedan; the Tehran International Puppet Theatre Festival; and the Fadjr International Theater Festival, also in Tehran, all receive full support from the culture ministry and the DAC.

Nasser Al Taee, who is advisor to the board of directors of the Royal Opera House Muscat in the capital city of Oman, introduced the facilities and activities of the Opera House. He also discussed Omani history, culture, traditional instruments, and music, along with the efforts of the Omani government to preserve the same. Mr. Al Taee mentioned in particular the cultural similarities between Oman and Korea, both of which are located on peninsulas. He said that for Oman, as for Korea, active exchanges with surrounding countries were a potential driver of national flourishing. Describing art as a medium to foster cooperation and tolerance, he stressed the importance of arts and culture exchanges.

Ahmad Al Sayed, Deputy General Manager for Operations at Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar, presented the organization’s work, which has been acclaimed for the way it has blended Arab traditions into modern life. He explained that the village was currently home to a major radio broadcasting station as well as a film institute, a media café for young people, an arts and culture magazine, the Katara Art Center and other museums and galleries, a philharmonic orchestra, and various other arts-related associations, all of which cooperated to provide opportunities for Arabs to better appreciate their arts traditions and culture, and for non-Arabs to experience Arab culture in new ways. 

▲ Randa Haidar, director of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority © PARK, Ye-lim

▲ Randa Haidar, director of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority © PARK, Ye-lim

Randa Haidar of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA) explained the TCA’s blueprint to intensively develop the tourism industry of the United Arab Emirates by 2030 by fostering arts and culture. She talked about Abu Dhabi’s fast-paced growth from small coastal settlement to modern city of skyscrapers and the regional and generational gaps that this had created in popular enjoyment of culture and the arts. She then gave the group an overview of TCA’s continued efforts to transmit and foster traditional culture in the modern era.  

Part 2. The Status of the Arts and International Cooperation in Middle Eastern Countries

In the second part of the session, Jamal Abdennassar, director of the HIBA Foundation in Morocco, introduced Visa for Music, a program started three years ago with the goal of creating an arts market to represent North Africa. Mr. Abdennassar shared that the program had focused on creating a platform for Middle Eastern performing artists to reach European audiences, particularly in light of Morocco’s proximity to Europe, and had been very successful thus far. He also introduced the Marrakech Biennale, started twelve years ago (the sixth event was held this year), which turns the countless historical sites in Morocco into venues for contemporary art. 

▲ Saeid Izadi, artistic director of the Fadjr International Theater Festival © PARK, Ye-lim

▲ Saeid Izadi, artistic director of the Fadjr International Theater Festival © PARK, Ye-lim

Saeid Izadi introduced the Fadjr International Theater Festival (FITF), for which he serves as artistic director. Originally organized in commemoration of the Iranian Revolution (the Arabic word fadjr means dawn), FITF has become Iran’s main platform for international exchanges in culture and the arts. All of the festivals introduced during the session are organized at the government level, but for Iran in particular, such opportunities to actively seek exchanges with artists engaged in other kinds of creative activity are probably a major reason the country has remained a cultural powerhouse despite the restrictions it has faced within the international community.   

▲ Amany Abouzeid, executive manager, Tamasi Performing Arts Collective © PARK, Ye-lim

▲ Amany Abouzeid, executive manager, Tamasi Performing Arts Collective © PARK, Ye-lim

For the most part, the arts organizations, events, and festivals introduced by the presenters during the focus session are a part of state-directed efforts to promote the arts and thereby foster tourism. In contrast, the Tamasi Performing Arts Collective, introduced by executive manager Amany Abouzeid, the final speaker of the session’s first half, is an independent arts collective in the Middle East. Ms. Abouzeid’s presentation addressed questions the public might have had about the region’s independent arts and culture scene and confirmed that self-initiated artistic activity was just as important there as anywhere else. Founded in Egypt in 2008, the Tamasi Performing Arts Collective is today composed of eleven performing arts organizations from not only Egypt but Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Ms. Abouzeid said the group’s activities influenced democracy and civic engagement in the region in important ways: in the Middle East, the struggle over space is a struggle for freedom, and the securing of physical, substantive spaces for the staging of performing arts is a part of this struggle. The Tamasi Performing Arts Collective is currently involved in some three hundred collaborative projects, which include the production and distribution of various performances, as well as projects related to six annual and two biannual festivals, including the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival and the International Children and Youth Theater Festival “Yalla Yalla.” The group stages performing arts shows in nine arts and culture spaces, including shows in Gaza, and also runs a variety of arts-related capacity-building programs. A total of 150,000 adults and 190,000 children and youths have participated in these programs, 35 percent of them coming from marginalized regions. Surprisingly, all of these programs are planned and operated independently, without government interference. With regard to this point, Ms. Abouzeid stressed repeatedly that maintaining this independence was especially important, because it would be difficult otherwise to organize long-term programs to support women and other marginalized groups and to encourage free interactions and movements between people of different classes.

The Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF), one of the main festivals Tamasi Performing Arts Collective helps organize, is the biggest international arts festival in Cairo. In the second part of the focus session, D-CAF’s artistic director, Ahmed El Attar, talked about the impact of the Arab Spring, which began in Egypt several years ago and has had a tremendous influence on artists in the Middle East. The Arab Spring gave the region’s contemporary art an element of political and economic practicality, he said, on top of the technical elements cultivated since the 1980s (beginning with fine art). The younger generation of artists has begun to give form to their varying cultural and artistic desires.

The focus session didn’t feel long enough, so I took some time to talk to the presenters afterward. Every one of them made some mention of the intense interest and enthusiasm in the Middle East regarding Korean arts and culture. Yet in Korea, the level of understanding and interest in the culture and arts traditions of the Middle East remains lacking. If this year’s PAMS Focus Session is a first step to greater exchanges with performing arts professionals in the region, our next task is to think deeply about how our relationships can be strengthened and developed in new ways.  

기고자프로필

CHANG, Woong-jo (Professor in the department of arts and cultural management at Hongik University)
Chang Woong Jo earned an undergraduate degree in Chinese language and literature and a master’s degree in performing arts studies at Seoul National University. He went on to complete his doctoral studies in arts policy and administration at Ohio State University. As an assistant professor in the performing arts and arts leadership program at Seattle University, he conducted research on the management and policies of small arts organizations as well as entrepreneurialism in the arts. He has been an assistant professor in the department of arts and cultural management at Hongik University since 2016.

Email: woongjochang@hongik.ac.kr
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