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Funding for Egyptian cultural projects: Q&A with EU official

Ahram Online sat with the Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Egypt to discuss their support for D-CAF and future funding opportunities in Egypt

Rowan El Shimi, Saturday 27 Apr 2013
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Photo: Mostafa Abdel Aty, courtesy: D-CAF
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As part of the closing week of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) activities, a roundtable discussion was set up hosting the ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Egypt, James Moran, EU Programme Manager Alejandro Ramilo and D-CAF Director Ahmed El-Attar with members of the press.

The discussion revolved around the union-funded D-CAF Urban Visions programme, which focused on bringing contemporary dance out of the theatre an onto the streets. The programme this year not only saturated Cairo's downtown streets, but took on performances in Badrashin in Giza and the Ahmed Bahaa Eddin Culture Centre in El-Doweir Village in Assiut prior to the launch of D-CAF's activities.

"With our Urban Visions programme, D-CAF is striving to bring world-class, contemporary dance pieces out into public spaces in Egypt, reaching into people's daily lives and encouraging them to 'stumble upon' and enjoy a piece of contemporary dance that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see," read El-Attar's statement on the programme.

Ahram Online sat with Moran after the discussion to get a deeper insight into their collaboration with D-CAF and their future funding opportunities in Egypt.

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Photo: Mostafa Abdel Aty, courtesy: D-CAF

Ahram Online (AO): Why was the delegation interested in funding the Urban Visions programme of D-CAF and what is the concrete impact this endeavour has had?

James Moran (JM): This particular component of D-CAF hits all the specific targets we're looking for in funding cultural activities. First of all, it brings together artists, performers, cultural operators from Egypt and Europe in a very effective way, such as French choreographer Tomeo Verges and his troupe and working with local people as well to put on these performances. Second of all, it has had a pretty good impact in areas of the country which don't always get to benefit from these sort of performances, here in downtown Cairo, which is the whole D-CAF thing, so that goes without saying, but also they performed in Assiut and Badrashein.

The fact that they spent the week or so that they were here doing that is access beyond, let's say the usual customers: the elite of the country. So it's taking it out to these audiences who would normally not get to see it. More generally, it's a good example of the people-to-people side of the relationship that the EU has with countries in the region. It puts colour into the relationship in a very meaningful way. So I think on all accounts it has managed to achieve all these objectives, so we're very pleased with it and with the festival, as we have a strong interest in development, and D-CAF as a whole is clearly directed towards younger people, people in need of these sort of activities.

AO: What are the EU's upcoming calls for funding for culture-related project proposals?

Alejandro Ramillo (AR, programme manager): We have three different kinds of proposals for projects implemented in Egypt. One that is coming in next week for 300,000 Euros for projects implemented in Egypt only, and this is our annual call for proposals. We also have 50,000 Euros for small-scale projects relating to development activities. We have, on the other hand, a bilateral programme in Egypt of three million Euros, out of which for the time being we have one million Euros which can go for the implementation for a realm of activities with the Library of Alexandria all over the country.

We will also be financing a big call for proposals next year for cultural projects in Egypt coming out of a programme called "Cultural Diversity in Egypt." We have a third one, which is a regional programme called "Media and Culture for Development," which intends to finance programmes in the field of culture with a very developmental approach for the whole region. It has two different parts: there is a special allocation for media-related projects and another for culture related projects.

AO: Earlier in the roundtable discussion you were saying you would like to see more projects coming out of other parts of Egypt than Cairo and Alexandria, but what efforts are being done from the EU's side to ensure that?

JM: We are putting the word out through the networks we have in the country, since we are active everywhere. We ask people working on different projects to make sure people, organisations and governorates are aware of it. I always mention it to governors whenever I see them, but there is only so much we can do.

AO: What are the priorities that you look for in projects that are eventually selected for this financial support?

JM: Most activities are eligible from film festivals, to dance troupes, to cultural heritage and protection; we don't place too many restrictions on that. But we do want to be sure that these projects have a real developmental impact. We do not want to be funding things for very privileged, small groups of people. We want to make sure as far as the money can be used to make a different it can. We want to make sure we are supporting diversity. We want to make sure we are supporting freedom of expression. These principles are extremely important when we are looking at the different proposals we have. We want programmes that are open, accessible, and respect those fundamental principles.

AO: Many culture projects organisations tend to focus their funding schemes on cultural projects that have to do with the revolution. Do you see this trend as well? And for the artists who wish to produce work of high artistic value but are not necessarily moving in this direction, how can they cope with this?

JM: For sure the revolution has led to an explosion in new activity for culture. Partly because people were oppressed before so now they are releasing and partly because revolutions are like that: they bring about a bunch of new ideas. I was in Libya in 2011 and graffiti in Tripoli was absolutely extraordinary. And I thought I'd never see anything like that until I came to Cairo, and I saw the same thing here.

So you have this brilliant explosion of creativity that came out of the revolution, so a lot of what we do is inevitably linked to the revolution. Not because we say it should be linked to the revolution or not, but because the revolution has brought out this explosion of freedom of expression. So this is not a fact that we particularly target, but it's just there.

AO: A lot of the financial support usually goes to non-governmental organisations and institutions. If independent artists, artist collectives or even private organisations apply for funding would they be eligible?

JM: They are absolutely eligible. What gets priority is the quality of the idea - not the institution from where it comes. It is the quality of the proposal, and the quality of the idea that matters above all. If it comes from a private entity, a collective of artists or even a company, an NGO, an institute, or just an ad hoc group of people who have come together, it is just the quality of the idea and whether it ticks the sort of boxes we look into.

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