Ettijahat (Directions), a Beirut-based nonprofit supporting Syrian artists inside and outside their country, had organized a major event in the French city of Bordeaux for the beginning of April to showcase the work of 35 Syrian artists in exile. But the three-day MINA: Artistic Ports and Passages forum, with its rich program of visual and installation art, concerts, theater and film showings, had to be postponed until October due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Action for Hope, a Beirut-based nonprofit bringing cultural programs to refugees and other marginalized communities, runs two music schools in Lebanon, in Beqaa and Shatila, providing 16-month programs for gifted young people, as well as a film school in Beqaa and storytelling and theater workshops.
All have been shuttered in the past couple of weeks.
Across the Middle East, a remarkable nonprofit network of support for artists and culture has had to stop many of its activities as countries ban public gatherings and introduce social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.
Organizations providing this support, many based in Beirut, are scrambling to adapt to the new situation and find ways to continue their support in new forms.
“We are in dialogue with colleagues from different organizations to understand what is happening in different countries,” says Helena Nassif, managing director of Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy), a large nonprofit that last year awarded 353 grants to individual artists and art and culture organizations across the region.
“We need to pool resources to support artists and organizations in hardship,” Nassif said. Although most cultural events have been canceled, “we are working more now, not less. This is overstretching us.”
One obvious response is to move activities online, where possible. Ettijahat is beefing up a new program of high-level, Arabic-language master classes it is about to launch under the label Sobol (water spring), to replace now shuttered workshops. The first series of six half-hour web videos will be on the dramatic arts.