The latest of the monthly public art event El-Fan Midan (Art is a square) was on Saturday with a simple stage, simple sound system and no light system at all. There were no public figures participating in the event, and a few folkloric songs were performed.
The initiative first began in April of 2011, and has expanded to several governorates. Over a year on, however, and it is facing serious financial crisis.
Organised by the Independent Culture Coalition (ICC), every first Saturday of the month, El-Fan Midan is mainly financed by the donations of its organisers and public figures. When it began, it had received support and donations from 80 non-governmental organisations and 120 public figures
Today its existence is under threat and financial issues put the feature of this public art initiative at stake. The donations have trickled, and the state has withdrawn its financial support. The budget of the event is now limited to an estimated 30,000 LE, spent mostly on the stage set up, light system and decorations.
Yet, this is not the only problem faced by the increasingly popular public art event; it is also resisting what may seem a takeover bid from the state, to turn this public voluntary work into an official event run under the rules of the state.
The Ministry of Culture financed the initiative during its early stages while Emad Abu-Ghazi was in office. When he left his post at the end of 2011 however the ministry withdrew funding claiming that it did not have sufficient funds to finance the event.
Khaled Abdel Galil, the director of the cultural production sector, which follows the ministry, offered to finance the event and in return it would the right to manage and run the monthly event.
The organisers of the event refused the offer, considering this to be an attempt not to support El-Fan Midan but to take it over after it has built a reputation both inside and outside of Egypt.
“What is unique about the event is that it is public, from people to people. This is what we've been working on; we wanted to present art to the people away from officialdom. This is why we started on a voluntarily basis, and it should remain like this or it will lose its message,” Somaya Amer one of El-Fan Midan organisers told Ahram Online.
Amer thinks that giving up the event to the state would be wrong and will lead the event to lose its specialness. She says that the relation between the non-governmental organisations and the state should change. “Receiving state funds shouldn’t be the same thing as losing your independence. This is the role of the ministry of culture, to co-operate, not to take over.”
What is unique about the El-Fan Midan is how it has reached out to different people giving them an opportunity to interact with art – it showed them, Amer says, that art is not inaccessible or wrong, and is something you can participate on the street not only in studios or white-walled galleries.
"People can taste art again now, and we did all this through our voluntary work, and we will remain this way,” Amer says.
The organisers of the event continue to hold out the hope that they can get funds from the ministry without strings attached, but what they really need is the support of public figures. Amer suggests that “instead of appearing on TV shows every day, maybe they should come down to the street and meet with the people face to face.”