Beyond the sea
The delegation of the European Union is looking at art to bridge the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, reports Ghada Abdel-Kader
Since 2002, the delegation of the European Union in Egypt has been funding an annual programme to elicit proposals for cultural activities. This dedicated fund has been one of the EU's major tools of establishing cultural cooperation with Egypt.
The EU delegation has now launched its 2010 call for proposals for cultural activities in the country. This call for proposals is open to cultural operators and NGOs engaged in cultural activities. The proposals must refer to projects set up in Egypt and be officially registered for at least two years. The deadline for submission of proposals is April 2010.
"The focus of this year's call will be on artistic expressions. We are concentrating on projects dealing with contemporary arts. This call is restricted only to culture," said Alejandro Ramilo Rodriguez, the project manager of cultural affairs at the EU delegation in Egypt.
Last Thursday, a reception was held at the residence of the ambassador and head of the EU delegation, Marc Franco. It was attended by a number of Egyptian and European media figures and cultural organisations. A number of projects chosen in 2009 were presented at the reception.
Six projects were selected for funding in 2009. Among them were the "Cairo Mediterranean Literary Festival" presented by the Baad Al-Bahr Cultural Development Association; "Music and Theatre of Figure: a bridge across the Mediterranean Sea" managed by the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo; and the "Web- based Platform for the Arts Community in Egypt" managed by the Environment and Development Group.
Rodriguez told Al-Ahram Weekly that 50 project proposals were received in 2009, and funding was being provided for the selected six. "This year we expect to receive many more proposals from civil organisations," he said. "We are organising three simultaneous information days on the same day in Cairo, Alexandria and Upper Egypt." As soon as the date is announced it will be published on the official website.
In 2009 there was no minimum or maximum duration period for the projects. In 2010, the minimum duration for the peak of the project has been set at three months. "The maximum period will be 15 months, which is quite enough," Rodriguez added.
In this call for proposals, the applicant, either an individual or an organisation, is responsible for the final implementation. "At the end we are doing a kind of assessment on what has been done, what has failed and where we might learn how to improve the situation in the following calls for proposals," Rodriguez said.
Finally, the organisers held a concert of European and Egyptian music as a kick-off for one of the projects. This project is called "Music and Theatre of Figure: a Bridge across the Mediterranean Sea", and it is presented by the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo in cooperation with the Faculty of Music Education at Helwan University.
The director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo is Patrizia Raveggi. "I am totally moved by the enthusiasm of the young Egyptian musicians, together with Italians," she said. "They played together for one week. They rehearsed day and night. This concert was the first public appearance. It was like a miracle. It was really something I couldn't believe," she added.
"We contacted the relevant authorities at Helwan University and informed them of the purpose of each project. They immediately wanted to collaborate. There was an exchange of correspondence until the Italian musicians came to Egypt and met [the Egyptian ones]," Raveggi said.
According to Raveggi, the project "Music and Theatre of Figure: a Bridge across the Mediterranean Sea" aims to establish dialogue between civilisations against the common knowledge, which is the "clash of civilisation". It wants to prove that there could be cooperation between the two sides of the north and south Mediterranean -- Italy and Egypt. Raveggi said the aim was to find common roots in music and theatre, to reserve these roots, and put together efforts to create new form of expression together.
"This is a five-month project that began in January and ends in May; the first half is dedicated to music, and the second half to the theatre," Raveggi said.
Another project, the "Web-based Platform for the Arts Community in Egypt", is managed by the Environment and Development Group (EDG). EDG is a private-sector group working in environment and social development.
Randa Fahmi, a managing partner at EDG, said the group that designed the project found out that the best way to bridge the gap was to do it through online medium.
According to Fahmi, the significance of the project stems from the fact that there are a great many arts and cultural events all over the Mediterranean region, but there are problems, especially for young artists on both sides of the Mediterranean. The project would allow artists of the Arab region and the Mediterranean to interact with artists, writers, critics, donors and performers. All the different target groups are involved in the art scene, so putting out profiles and accessing information, events, workshops, training, grants to present concerts is essential. In the long run this will lead to joint collaboration on creative projects and in different countries doing things together.
"The EU delegation is going to subsidise 80 per cent of the cost, and our group is covering the remaining 20 per cent," Fahmi added. "We signed the contract in December. The team started putting the plan together in January. The various members of the team are working on the different components of the web. When the web is fully developed in three months' time, and all the information is ready to be tested, we are going to demonstrate a pilot. Then an already existing network is involved. They use the platform to see if it is user-friendly or if it responds to what they need. Afterwards, we do some technical modification. Then, hopefully, it will be launched a month later, around May."
"We also come up with a systematic plan on how we are going to cover our expenses after a one year grant. We do a plan and we will discuss with some NGOs what should be hosted. We don't know yet," Fahmi added.
Another project is "Cairo Mediterranean Literary Festival", managed by the Baad Al-Bahr (BEBA) Cultural Development Association. Founded as an NGO in 2008, BEBA is a cultural association based in Cairo that confounds any expectations of what is typically meant by the word "culture".
Rodriguez says the basic theme of the festival is humour in literature. "There are going to be various activities in Cairo in different places. Writers from Egypt and other Mediterranean countries are going to present their works in different ways, including poems, novels and other literary forms."
The festival will take place from 5 to 12 May in Cairo, with each of the eight days devoted to a specific aspect of humour.
The festival is an important occasion for considering the contemporary literary production and its extent in the Mediterranean basin. This experience is supported by the actual presence of Mediterranean authors and artists meeting their Egyptian counterparts in Cairo. Accurate translations of all the festival activities will guarantee the involvement and the mutual comprehension between foreign guests, local artists and the public.