“Back then we didn’t use the term Art Therapy, but that’s what it was, and we have certainly lived the experience,” explained photojournalist Roger Anis who was among the first class to graduate from the Drama and Arts Centre.
At the premises of The Jesuit and Brothers Association in Minya, right next to the 1886-year-old Jesuit Monastery, arts and culture have helped many young students find their passion.
Known for its development projects since it was established in 1966, The Jesuit and Brothers Association took on a new scope for development in 1995. In collaboration with El-Warsha Theatre Troupe, they founded jointly the Drama and Arts Centre. Funded by the Netherlands Embassy, the centre gave the children of Minya theatre, filmmaking, animation, modern dancing, pantomime, theatre, to name but a few.
Throughout 25 years, the centre has touched the lives of hundreds of students who used to flock there on a weekly basis to explore artistic fields that were quite scarce at the time in Upper Egypt.
“They gave us skills so we can express ourselves and help others express themselves,” remembered Anis, as he said that since the third grade in school till he finished college, he would learn a new form of art every year. “In return, we made a network of graduates and roamed the villages as volunteers to use our artistic skills in development,” he added.
“It was a real turning point in our development path when we first decided to work with arts and children in 1995,“ explained Adel Makram, manager of the centre, recalling how it all started with a shadow puppets workshop and 20 children.
But focusing on art was not very well received back then. “In 1996, when we first launched the cinema club, it was highly ridiculed and objected to by the conservatives. Moreover, I remember how we had to explain the term “theatre” by explaining that it is not like the commercial one that is displayed on television, how we introduced the art of theatre without naming it theatre at first,” Makram told Ahram Online.
According to Magdi Asham, advisor of the Drama and Arts Centre, it was a rather long journey to convince parents to enrol their children and not see it as “non-sense and a waste of time. When children enrolled, they surprised their parents by the fact that their behaviour was altered completely to the better,” argued Asham.
Director Hassan El-Geretly, the consultant of the centre, highlighted the fact that the centre's core aim was to encourage the right of self-expression among children. Enhancing such skill in itself is a great value. “I remember in the first animation workshop the children came up with an amazing idea. It was a cartoon about the market place, where vegetables and fruits revolted against the humans and sold them instead.
The revolution was halted by the conspiracy of the Zucchini who betrayed the vegetables and conspired with the humans to bring them back in control,” explained El-Geretly, admiring how witty the children were. Prominent director Hani Khalifa documented the whole workshop back then.
The centre initiated a dialogue between parents and their children as well, which was a precedent. “My dream and your dream” was the title of the first workshop to encourage children to express their dreams and what they want to study in college with their parents. This opened up a conversation that challenged the misconceptions that studying fine arts does not secure a steady job in the future and that being an artist or an art teacher is not a prestigious job, added Makram.
“For 25 years, the parents, instead of refusing to enrol their children in the art centre, because it is a waste of time, they would threaten their children to ban them from attending the art classes if they do not complete their homework,” Asham said.
It is a pity that the Drama and Arts Centre has come to conclude its 25-year journey of art and enlightenment.
Sadly the funding ended this August and the Jesuit and Brothers Association have managed to support the activities till the end of 2020. With the economic crisis worldwide due to Covid-19, will this project find a way to continue its inspiring journey? We certainly hope so.