Maktabi offices: New haven for creatives in Downtown Cairo

Maria K., Tuesday 5 Mar 2019

Adding to the presence of arts in Cairo Downtown, the newly launched office rental space Maktabi aims to attract people working in the creative industry

El Shourbagi building in Downtown Cairo, built in 1910, home to Maktabi offices (Photo: courtesy of the Maktabi management)

Coworking spaces are popping up all over the city, but the space in 42 Abdelkhalek Tharwat Street promises to be one of a kind.

The office rental space, called Maktabi, aims to attract a special kind of tenant: people working in the creative industry.

The arts and culture crowd, graphic designers and photographers, media workers and culture managers, art entrepreneurs and tech start-ups are all invited to benefit from the specially crafted environment when they have to concentrate on office work.

Another reason to visit Maktabi is to learn and share new skills relevant to the competitive creative field.

“We like to think of the creative sector as super loose and fluid, but it’s not like that. All the creatives need freedom, but at the same time they need structure. They need a desk to sit at," observes Yasmeen Fahim, project manager at Maktabi.

Indeed, for an artist in today’s world, office tasks like writing concepts and calculating budgets have become a part of life.

This can be stressful enough if you are gifted with a gentle artistic nature, so you want to just sit down with your laptop and high speed internet and get in the right frame of mind while all the mundane issues are being taken care of.

The private session on public speaking held at Maktabi. (Photo: courtesy of Maktabi)

Maktabi staff are dedicated to enabling you to get the job done: from paying the electricity bills to serving coffee, they handle it all. Even more, digital and offline marketing, logistics and coordination, PR, events management and production can be provided as add-on services.

Getting yourself a regular office might turn out costly and bothersome, especially for short term projects; renting out one of the six affordable office spaces at Maktabi solves the problem. You stay as long as your project requires, at a minimum of one month.

As Fahim underlines, “we are not a coworking space per se, because it is not an open shared space. You have your own office that no one else will be using, you have the key, but at the same time workshops and training activities attract a flow of people, giving the place a more dynamic feel, a spirit of the same shared supportive idea. Usually with the closed offices it is a lot more corporate, and coworking spaces have a more flexible spirit. So Maktabi is exactly between the two."

Coming under the umbrella of Orient Productions, Maktabi is a response to a demand that is felt in the community.

“We are already in touch with people in the creative networks, and we actually know what they need," assures Basma Hamed, PR manager for Orient Productions.

Maktabi is connected to other parts of the company, complementing their activities and services. It isn’t a place to get messy with paints and rehearsal sweat; all these activities take place at other locations.

“For Orient as a company that works with the performing arts the idea is not just about the rehearsals, it goes beyond that," Hamed adds.

The theatrical makeup workshop held at Maktabi. (Photo: courtesy of Maktabi)

"We have provided artists with space for rehearsals at Studio Emad Eddin, but what is the next step? It is to structure their work and to really focus on it.”

Maktabi had a soft launch and welcomed its first tenants back in September 2018, but is still in the beginning phase of the bigger plan.

Rather than just a space for rent, Maktabi is meant to be a new element of the city’s cultural infrastructure. The mission is to build a cooperative community of likeminded individuals who share an interest in developing the creative industry in Egypt.

For this purpose, networking events are scheduled, as well as training activities where people naturally get to know each other.

In February, the makeup expert Boshra Hajo gave a colourful workshop on principles and foundations of makeup for the stage and the screen. Through private sessions in public speaking, the Syrian actress Nanda Mohammad shares theatre techniques that can help to communicate creative ideas to the relevant people, like when giving presentations or talking to investors. Workshops on burning issues like fundraising and grant writing for artists, as well as regular photography classes are also in the pipeline.

The place is not only tailored to office needs, it is an ongoing aesthetic project in itself, to which designers and artists of the community make their valued contributions.

Inside one of Maktabi's offices (Photo: courtesy of Maktabi)

Located on the fifth floor of the belle époque-style El Shourbagy building, it has high ceilings, an antique fireplace and an overall feeling of grandeur which is set off beautifully by contemporary visual art and design. The premises serve as a temporary exhibition space: currently on display are works by photographers Karim El Hayawan and Nelly El Sharkawy. Paintings by Mona El Kateb decorate the walls of the project manager’s room.

The six office spaces are all designed differently, but in the same minimalistic and edgy vibe. Maktabi is eager to showcase the work of the members of its creative community, so Fahim underlines that one of the offices has been designed by a young interior architect Shahd Osman, and another by the set designer Ahmed Ashmawy, and more changes are yet to come.

One space that will be redesigned soon is the meeting room, the centre of networking and educational activities.

It is not the first time Orient Productions had come up with an innovative idea. Back in 2005, the newly opened Studio Emad Eddin in Downtown was the first and only place for rehearsal spaces for rent in Egypt.

“It was a new initiative from us, we opened the field. Now there are many other spaces, they are all occupied and working, and this is good. We are doing Maktabi for the same reason but in a different direction," Fahim concluded.

The manager's office design at Maktabi (Photo: courtesy of Maktabi)

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