Lebanon/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.6 Other relevant issues

Since independence in 1943, the successive regimes and governments were not able or did not attempt to establish comprehensive and clearly defined cultural policies. As a result, the Lebanese private sector dedicated its attention to the country's cultural affairs in an attempt to spread knowledge, consolidate culture, elevate the aesthetical sense and address national issues and concerns.

And given that Lebanon is crowded with intellectuals and talents in the field of culture, independent civil bodies occupy the top sport internationally compared to the country's population in terms of the importance and weight of the independent civil sector and the large number of cultural societies and councils demonstrates the enormous duty summed by the independent sector in Lebanon.

It is known that the complicated and unstable political climate in the country has a negative impact on its public life and the first sector to be affected is the cultural sector.

However, intellectuals and the people in charge of the independent cultural sector do not give up.

In an interview with female artist Hanan Al-Haaj Ali (who supervises, with stage director and actor Rojeh Assaf, the Dawwar Al Shams Cooperative Cultural Foundation for Young People in Theatre and Cinema in an effort to spread the culture of assembly and help create a space for cultural exchange) conducted by Al-Akhbar Newspaper, she tackles the issue of continuation as regards the hosting of cultural activities by saying: "It is a life or death situation; if we stopped we will be finished".

The cultural cooperative policy seeks to have Dawwar Al Shams Foundation function as a cultural contact line, an axis for arts, a space for expression and a crossway for interaction and dialogue to broaden the circle of communication with a varied audience (particularly universities and schools) as well as a diverse one (city, suburbs and areas) through a distinguished local and international works that transcend the geographic, artistic, social, sectarian and political barricades and promote engagement in cultural work inside and outside the center.

The ultimate goal is for Dawwar Al Shams to become a vital cultural landmark that stimulates a diverse cultural movement that can spread, be able to survive and be exchangeable and help establish a dynamic and active cultural heritage that embraces a growing part of the country's cultural memory and feeds the new artistic and cultural experiments on local, Arab and international levels.

The ambitions of the Lebanese cultural agencies are huge. For example the Antilias Cultural Movement seeks to provide the best conditions for a dialogue on all subjects and in all areas between different trends in order to consolidate national unity on the basis of sovereignty, independence, progress and openness and to strengthen commitment to the values of democracy, freedom, peace and human rights.

This movement conducts regular annual activities that took place during the civil war period such as the Book Fair in which many high-profile Lebanese, Arab and international thinkers and men of letters take part, in addition to other activities designed according to the cultural policy of the movement.

The number of cultural movements, associations and councils in Lebanon is very large and a considerable portion of them exert serious efforts to develop the Lebanese cultural scene and resist submitting to the political circumstances, which often contradict with the aspirations of both cultural bodies and intellectuals.

Culture however remains the only tool through which political regression and despair can be confronted.

Therefore culture in Lebanon is mostly the offspring of small, independent and relatively deprived sectors

Cultural policy within the private (commercial) sector

The cultural politics adopted by the private sector may appear purely commercial, with interest in nothing else other than financial profit gained from any cultural work. In reality, examining some of the cultural, touristic, sports and recreational events sponsored by the private sector, e.g., banks, reveals that their interest comes from a defined policy that concentrates on showing their profound appreciation to the Lebanese heritage and showing its bright face, relating the country’s beautiful picture, as reflected by the cultural events, and the sponsoring bank. As an example, without being limited to that, Byblos Bank, sponsoring among other cultural events, the Byblos International Festivals, officials consider they sponsor the festival “within the framework of enhancing the economic activity of the Lebanese regions out of their responsibility towards the nation, and concern for the support of such festivals in order to develop the cultural appearance of Lebanon and transmit to the world a civilized portray of the nation we love and are proud of."

The Bank also allocates some of its halls to organize a number of art galleries for each of Shukr-Allah Fattouh, Charbel Samuel Oun, Rawya Zantout, Herer, Krikor Norikian, Dori Yones and many others. The bank does not take any part of the sales profits. The Byblos Bank supported a number of plays, for example:  "signals and shifts rituals" of American university students in Beirut. Also FFA private bank has the same initiative as Byblos Bank in organizing art exhibitions in support of artists twice a year.

For those in charge of Audi Bank that sponsors the Lebanese film festival, they consider that “sponsoring cultural initiatives matches the bank's philosophy of “Growing Beyond Your Potential.”

The bank encourages all cultural activities, being the highest form of social refinement.” Bank officials also assure that “it is the duty of any successful Lebanese institution to make a huge effort to encourage the flourishing of the Lebanon’s cultural, artistic and natural legacies.

Naturally, this support of the cultural legacy will benefit both the supporter (the private sector), and the supported, i.e., cultural activities.

In this context, came the opening of the museum of soap in Sidon (1996) which was private property to the Odeh family who "bought the building from the Hammoud family in 1880 " and decided to maintain the soap Khan, which provided the city of Sidon with soap.

Raymond Odeh, a successful banker, wanted to only maintain the legacy of the family and heritage as he did in many cultural initiatives. The family house and soap workshop became a museum that tells the history of the artisanal soap industry and techniques in the Eastern region from Aleppo to Nablus. The project was achieved with the cooperation of many people including architects, museums specialists, journalists, and everyone who owned the machines or part of the machines used in soap industry.

Raymond Odeh the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Odeh, was known for his passion for fine art and owned a range of international and local paintings and sculptures, which are exhibited in and around Odeh Bank Branches, including a famous sculpture of Jean Dubuffet valued at $1.2 million, and pieces for Jean Mark Nahhas, Paul Wakim and Shafiq Aboud. The Bank MED followed in the steps of the Bank of Odeh  and acquired  fine art collections to be presented in bank branches. However MED preferred to encourage Lebanese artists, with 80% of their collection (started in 1995) by Lebanese artists. Notably, the Bank has the largest collection of works by the late Lebanese artist Paul Giragosian.

The Bank of Mead is the largest supporter of the Beirut Art Gallery. Diala Shuqair - head of  communications at the bank has said that supporting the Gallery is a "national effort we have done beyond care".

If we move further away from the banks, we find that the insurance companies also believe in supporting some of the actors or cultural institutions. For example, AXA Middle East supported all activities of the Metro City over the past two years and they are also one of the sponsors of “Beirut & Beyond Card International”. In addition, . Bankers Co. sponsored "Alice in Wonderland", the last ballet for Nada Kano and her students.

Chapter published: 07-04-2016