I arrived late in Beirut and spent the journey from the airport trying to get a sense of the city I had heard so much about. A quick bombardment of senses as the taxi caroused through the streets. Streets narrowed by concrete barricades, gun-toting soldiers and glitzy ads…. Life goes on indeed.
Arriving at Ashkal Alwan the next day I quickly became acquainted with the team and the facilities. The space offers studio space, library, multi-media resource room, auditorium, large multi-purpose space, offices, café and a smoking room! Ashkal Alwan as an institution is situated within a context ravaged by conflict and there is a frenetic pace about the work, which reflects the passion of its founder, Christine Tohme. As director of Ashkal Alwan, Christine aims to create programs that address socio-political challenges in her country. They range from a critical rigor applied to arts education and addressing how policy can be implemented effectively. It seems that the ethos underlying everything at Ashkal Alwan is ‘there is no time like the present.’
The situation in Ghana, though not as dire, is equally dysfunctional. The education system drowns under mediocre expectations with demoralized teachers churning out students unable to face up to the competitive market force. Support for the arts from the state is also non-existent and we, in the private sector, are faced with addressing myriads of issues, such as addressing policy, providing mentorship, facilities, training and enabling environments for upgrading skills of artists.
I was particularly interested in learning more about the Home Works Program (HWP) at Ashkal Alwan that has run for a number of years to address the deficiencies in arts education. I attended talks by visiting tutors Valerie Pihet and Bruno Latour who were interrogating representations in the different fields of politics, sciences and arts.
I interviewed Amal Issa who currently runs the education program of Ashkal Alwan and was one of the first founders of the Home Works Program. We discussed the situation in Lebanon and how the circumstances of the region inform the themes, modules and concepts of the program. Other factors, which have been considered and regularly reviewed, are accreditation, fee-paying and perspectives on conflict.
As a result of the residency, Nubuke Foundation will explore the possibility of nominating artists who can participate in the HWP. We will also investigate how we can initiate a program of discourse on the arts in Ghana. Christine Tohme has assured me of her support for this to enable us to structure a relevant program. On my return I shared my experiences with my team and we will look at the possibility of taking this initiative once we ascertain the right moment.