Lebanese museums and art galleries call for a push to resume their activities

Within the framework of its initiative #LiBeirut, UNESCO organized on 17 September 2020, the online Resiliart Lebanon debate entitled Museums and Art galleries for the Return of Cultural Life in Beirut. This second debate of a series of 3 ResiliArt Lebanon aimed at assessing the material, economic and social damages that these institutions and their collections suffered after the blasts in the Lebanese capital on August 4, and to define the priority actions of the sector that will allow them to be functional anew. This debate was organized in cooperation with the Permanent Delegation of Lebanon to UNESCO.

Moderated by Lazare Eloundou, Director of the Entity Culture and Emergencies of UNESCO, the online debate gathered Lebanese professionals from museums and art galleries in Beirut.

Introducing the debate, Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, highlighted the “interest of having gathered for the first time Lebanese representatives of museums and art galleries and of gathering their testimonies to rebuild better together”. H. Exc. Ms. Sahar Baassiri, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Lebanon to UNESCO, thanked UNESCO as well as culture professionals for their dedicated involvement and support, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the crisis in Beirut.

The participants unanimously underlined the central role of museums and of art galleries of Beirut as meeting places and cultural bridges in the service of the Lebanese society, of its diaspora, as well as their role in social cohesion, education and development. They highlighted the impact and the challenges of this catastrophe on the Lebanese culture sector, already heavily affected by the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suzy Hakimian, President of the National Committee of ICOM Lebanon and curator of the Mineral Museum, believes that “the danger is the vulnerability of museums”. Effectively, 6 out of the 8 museums affected by the explosions are private and are operating with their own funds. Joumana Asseily and Andrée Sfeir Semler, respectively owner of the Marfa’ gallery and of the Sfeir Semler Gallery, recalled the financial difficulties galleries and artists face.

In spite of all these difficulties, the panelists wished to bring a message of hope to all the professionals of the museums and of galleries sectors of Beirut: “We are currently taking action, we don’t have any choice but to rebuild”, declared Zeina Arida, Director of the Sursock Museum. After noting that it is a whole ecosystem that must be supported, Saleh Barakat, of the Barakat Gallery, added “We count on UNESCO to preserve this plural, multi-confessional and multi-ethnic platform called Beirut”.

This second Resiliart Lebanon debate also pleaded for the establishment of strong cultural national policies that would allow the promotion of Lebanese artists at national and international levels. The speakers also called on UNESCO to play the role of facilitator between museums, art galleries and their respective communities. For Anne-Marie Afeiche, Director-General of the Council of Museums of Lebanon, “There’s a policy, a dialogue to be put in place, not just for museums, but also for galleries and the culture sector in general, to arrive to a common policy of art promotion in Lebanon”.

Answering the questions of the public on the role that youth can play in the reconstruction of art galleries, Naila Kettaneh Kunigk, owner of the Tanit Gallery, underlined the necessity of including youth in this reconstruction work, stating “without youth, there is no culture”.

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