MoCA of the Month
© Nadim Asfar, Exterior view
Beirut Art Center is a non-profit association dedicated to providing a permanent year-round space and platform for contemporary art in Lebanon. The center opened its doors on January 15, 2009 with an opening gala that drew over 1,000 visitors.
This space represents an addition to the already lively independent art scene in Beirut, featuring many talented artists and art festivals, and finally fulfills the need of a permanent art center as a dynamic platform for national and international artists. The center’s goal is to create a sustainable art community by also offering open discussions and workshops with local and international experts and featuring a great diversity in contemporary art and cultural practice.
When the New York Times featured the center with an article in April, 2009 it had already become a cultural focal point in the city attracting many local and international visitors. The BAC team is constantly working to widen and develop their audience by keeping their mailing list up-to-date, offering guided tours, taking advantage of social networking platforms such as facebook and ensuring press coverage and strategically placing posters of their events across the city (Healy, 2009).
Following the goal of facilitating interaction between established artists and young emerging artists as well as the public, the center offers a wide range of activities often accompanying the theme of the current exhibition. Apart from concerts, audio-visual performances, guided tours and film screenings, the audience is invited to the Beirut Art Center in order to actively take part in workshops, guided tours and open discussions with local and international experts.
During the exhibition entitled America that explored the meaning of America as a concept in the collective unconscious Emory Douglas, the former Minister of culture of the Black Panther Party was invited to conduct a workshop. Beginning in the late 1960s, Douglas created the overall design of the Black Panther Party’s weekly newspaper, and oversaw its layout and production until the Black Panthers disbanded in 1979–80.
The workshop aimed to explore the use of graphics for political and social purposes, taking as its starting point the prolific oeuvre of Emory Douglas. Emory Douglas presented the techniques used in his work and held a critique session and workshop participants realized new works under his supervision.
Other educational programs have included software workshops by electronic musicians who introduce the use of the Ableton Live and MAX MSP software, which are essential tools of live computer music. The workshop was devoted to both beginners and advanced learners and had the aim of bringing artists from their home studios to live settings and to introduce them to new techniques and methods in building and conceiving live sets and sound performances.
Additionally the center has installed mediateque stations throughout the whole center. These stations consist of custom-designed cubicles in which visitors can browse through an archive of contemporary art from the Middle East. This important addition to the center makes Arab and Middle Eastern cultural production comprehensively available to the public for the first time (Wilson-Goldie, 2009).
Beirut Art Center (BAC)
Jisr El Wati – Off Corniche an Nahr. Building 13, Street 97, Zone 66 Adlieh. Beirut, Lebanon.
T: +961 (0) 1 397 018 / +961 70 26 21 12
© Hagop Kanledjian
The Beirut Art Center is a stand-alone building of whitewashed cement that “has been transformed from an industrial carcass to a luminous white cube” by the Lebanese architect Raed Abillama (Wilson-Goldie, 2009). The space ecompasses a total of 1,500 sqm spread over two stories of the former wood and furniture factory in an industrial neighborhood on the eastern edge of Beirut. The area consists of small warehouses and factories, car dealerships and crumbling squat buildings whose bullet holes bear witness to Lebanon’s wars.
© Hagop Kanledjian
The center is additionally equipped with a book shop, an auditorium for film screenings, concerts and performances and offers a big terrace for outdoor events.
© Hagop Kanledjian
The Founders and Executive Board of Beirut Art Center association are: Sandra Dagher, Lamia Joreige, Bassam Kahwagi, Rabih Mroué and Maria Ousseimi.
Beirut Art Center (BAC) is a non-profit association, space and platform dedicated to contemporary art in Lebanon.
The aim of the center is to produce, present and promote local and international contemporary art and cultural practice in a structure that is open and active throughout the year.
An unprecedented initiative in Beirut, the center constitutes a public space that makes art accessible to a large and growing audience of residents and visitors alike, who will be able to engage with rich and diverse range of contemporary art and cultural practice.
Along with its main exhibition space, BAC includes a screening and performance room, a mediatheque and a bookshop. BAC will also organize regular activities such as lectures, concerts, performances, video projections and workshops.
The purpose of BAC is to serve as a catalyst for the realization of contemporary art projects and for the interaction of local and international cultural players. In particular, the center supports local and regional contemporary artists, who face great difficulties due to the lack of financial and institutional support in this field.
The center is located in an industrial zone that visitors can easily access from all over the city. It is an independent, stand-alone building with 1,500 square meters of space divided across two floors, designed by architect Raed Abillama.
The idea reaches back to 2004 when Sandra Dagher was still the director of the gallery Espace SD that attracted a young audience in an increasingly hip neighborhood. The visual artist Lamia Joreige was very critical of this venue and saw that the shows were “financially viable but aesthetically uninteresting”. In reaction to Joreige’s skepticism Dagher invited her to configure a physical space for critique within the gallery itself. In the end, however, their discussions resulted in the recognition of the necessity of a new concept. They realized that there was a need for another kind of space that would be non-profit and accessible to artists whose work is less commercial (Wilson-Goldie, 2009).
For them active participation of the public and the integration into a community landscape is of indispensable significance. The idea was to create a democratic structure specifically designed for the presentation of contemporary art. As the scene, even though lively, lacked civic funding structures, the two set out to create a donor scheme. They assembled funds from corporate sponsors such as Samsung, prominent philanthropists and benefactors, supporters and friends whose names are prominently displayed on walls and in annual brochures. They also collect further funds through yearly membership plans and have legally registered as a non-profit association.
The implementation of the BAC project had taken longer than expected. Their search for a suitable venue and adequate funds was gravely obstructed by the month long war between Hezbollah paramilitary forces and Israel during the summer of 2006 that caused significant civilian death and heavy damage to Lebanon’s civil infrastructure. They eventually agreed on the factory space in the Jisr el-Wati district where construction of residential projects and a municipal school are currently rejuvenating the neighborhood. The Beirut Art Center finally became accessible to the public on January 15, 2009 (Healy, 2009).
Even though the city of Beirut has boasted a “critical mass of creative figures,” it has had no official civic infrastructure for cultural initiatives to date and has never hosted a museum of modern or contemporary art that would have constituted a permanent address for contemporary art practice. Two hands full of galleries as well as a lively independent art scene have defined Beirut’s cultural landscape for the last 15 years.
In the mid-1990s artist led organizations were initiated that staged interventions in the public sphere, organized exhibitions and festivals in abandoned warehouses, often without funds and suitable technical settings at their disposal. Lacking the financial backing, these initiatives never pursued a permanent settlement and year-round availability. Beirut’s contemporary art scene was therefore “ephemeral by definition and design” (Wilson-Goldie, 2009).
Therefore, the scene’s energy cannot be associated with one specific location and has barely left “physical impressions” on the city. As Bedouin Magazine stated the implementation of the Beirut Art Center has brought in a new era in the city as it is now experimenting with new museum models. Plans for state-funded museums are being pursued at this moment (Wilson-Goldie, 2009).
Information compiled from press material and reviews provided on the institution’s web page:
- Arsanios, Mirene: Reviews. Closer. Beirut Art Center. In: Bidouin Magazine, Spring 2009 p. 163/164
- Healy, Patrick: Face of War Pervades New Beirut Art Center. In: New York Times July 6, 2009
- Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen: Home work. In: The National 30/01/09