This autumn, ECF highlights cultural policy research and activism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Through a series of interviews, ECF introduces cultural policy researchers and activists from across the region who are working on developing and influencing cultural policy development in their countries (from Algeria and Egypt to Palestine and Lebanon). Some of their analysis and research contributes to the World CP – the International Cultural Policy Database – which, since its launch in 2015 by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA), is growing as an important monitoring tool of country-specific cultural policy reviews from around the world.
For this second article in the series, we talk to Fatin Farhat (Palestine) – a key cultural player in the MENA region and contributor to the World CP, about her work, ambitions, challenges and vision for cultural policy as a collaborative process that can help weave new partnerships in Palestine.
Fatin Farhat, PhD, is a researcher in cultural policy at the University of Hildesheim in Germany. Fatin has been active in the cultural sector in Palestine as Founder and Managing Partner of the Palestine Observatory of Cultural Policies (Task Force for Cultural Policy, Palestine). She was an expert for Med Culture on cultural policy (2015-2016) and is a member of the UNESCO expert facility (2015-2017) on Convention 2005 (Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions).
For up-to-date information about cultural policies in the MENA region, both in Arabic and English, please visit www.arabcp.org
Fatin Farhat, Member of the National Task Force for Cultural Policy, Palestine
Fatin, what is the key mission of the National Task Force for Cultural Policy in Palestine?
Our task force was formed four years ago in the aftermath of the Cultural Policies Conference that was organised by Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) in Cairo. Two years before, I was personally involved in the first cultural policy project initiated by Al Mawred. The project aimed to map cultural policy and cultural landscapes in different Arab countries and I was extremely lucky to be selected to carry out the Palestine cultural mapping. Of course, this served as an insightful experience and marked my first professional direct intervention in cultural policy. This happened simultaneously while starting my new job as the director of the cultural unit at the Ramallah Municipality. This job marked a real turning point: it highlighted the potential role of municipalities and cities in Palestine in cultural development. The overlap between my main job and the cultural policy programme led to a serious and practical realisation of the possible role cultural policies can play in the development of the Palestinian cultural sector. Cultural policy can also play a key role in the nourishment of the art scene in the different places where Palestinians are scattered as a result of the Israeli occupation in the homeland, the diaspora, in exile and in the 1948 land, and through inviting new players to the arena, giving capacity to others, weaving new partnerships and alliances and assigning new roles, responsibilities and mandates.
A few years ago, when the group was formed, we engaged in long and deep discussions and internal consultations and deliberations about the shape our initiative should take. Although initially we opted to register the initiative as a non-governmental organisation (common legal form for the operation of the independent cultural sector in Palestine), we eventually decided to maintain our “non-formal shape”. This was mainly due to the present “fatigue” of the civic movement in Palestine and also because we wanted to propose another “non-institutional” form of operation. Our role changed from an actual “implementer of projects” to an advocacy group that aims to encourage all stakeholders involved to address some of the following issues in their strategies, plans and programmes – independently in their institutions and collectively with others:
- Motivating stakeholders in various public and private sectors to prioritise cultural and artistic development at the national level. In other words, to develop the already elitist national cultural strategies and call for ways for them to actually be implemented, monitored and evaluated.
- Building a knowledge base to support cultural planning and investment in Palestine, and making it accessible to researchers and scholars.
- Proposing administrative and legislative mechanisms that would develop cultural work in Palestine, and that would improve conditions for the implementation of cultural policies.
- Defending the right of Palestinian culture and its presence in the public and private media in Palestine.
- Developing the following areas: cultural/cultural media/cultural industry/cultural activation management, because of their existing role in cultural advancement.
What challenges have you faced while working in the field of cultural policy in your country?
At the policy level, the State of Palestine has already produced three national cultural strategies since its modern institutional establishment. These strategies vary in content, methodology and impact. In 2004, the Supreme Council for Education and Culture (PLO) developed the National Strategic Plan for Palestinian Culture in coordination with the Ministry of Culture. In 2010, the Ministry completed the strategic plan for the cultural sector 2011-2013.
The cultural strategy was characterised by comprehensiveness and a prepared approach. It covered all sectors, defining culture with a wide degree of perception. Participation in the preparation process was not confined to the Ministry of Culture as an official body. Rather, it included some other organisations and bodies that are active in the artistic and cultural field. Finally the Ministry of Culture also oversaw the production of the National Cultural Strategy for the years 2014-2016 and work is underway to propose a methodology for developing the 2017-2022 National Cultural Policy.
The three strategies mentioned above were conducted with varying degrees of consultation with the independent sector and, in their literature at least, recognise the role played by the Palestinian independent cultural sector in the overall cultural development of the country. However, mechanisms for the practical implementation of the strategic frameworks remain absent after all these years of working on institutionalising cultural public policy. The lack of tools with which to implement the Palestinian cultural strategy has caused a “dichotomy” between the officially endorsed literature and the de facto policies shaped and implemented on the ground. The endorsed cultural strategies identify the Ministry of Culture as a reference point, although in reality the cultural policy-makers in Palestine are the ones holding the capital (international organisations and local foundations) and the creators (the independent sectors). Unfortunately, there is nowhere near enough communication and dialogue between the two, or with the public cultural sector at large.
How does your National Task Force work with cultural practitioners in your country and the MENA region? How do their needs differ from other cultural players around the world?
Our work inside Palestine is mainly with the independent sector, Ministry of Culture, municipalities and UNESCO Ramallah Office. We have engaged in dialogue in our mapping initiative but also as we continue to build our database of cultural organisations in Palestine. We still have not worked on the Palestinian diaspora and on the exile. We still don’t have the capacity to do this so we are encouraging other organisations to continue to compile this information. We really don’t care who does the work as long as it is done right and is updated constantly.
We are actively involved with the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO also in the drafting of the 2016-2022 national strategy for culture. We have a series of debates and workshops that are organised to focus the spotlight on some cultural policy programmes and motivate some organisations to adopt programmes that can help. We also work with young researchers to focus on priority areas as a prelude for involvement. On the regional level, our main partners are Al Mawred Al Thaqafy and the Med Culture programme. We hope to work more and more with the Jordan Cultural Policy Group due to the political and demographic overlaps between Palestine and Jordan.
What are the most important connections you have built and collaborations you have worked on with European countries? What is their impact in the region?
Unfortunately, the only connection in Europe that we have established so far is with the Med Culture programme. We are a part of the Med Culture national team for cultural policy and we tend to benefit from all of their capacity-building programmes to empower our task force team.
What are your National Task Force’s most important programmes and areas of expertise? How do you create impact in your country and in the region? Which programmes are closest to your heart, and which are you personally most proud of?
The most important programme of our National Task Force is actually now being run. The programme aims to create a campaign to lobby for the allocation of more public and semi-public subsidies for culture in Palestine. The Ministry of Culture currently receives only 0.003% of the total national budget. Foreign funding for the cultural sector in Palestine is decreasing as the political situations in the neighbouring post-Arab spring countries have taken their toll on Palestine in general. This is particularly the case for the Palestinian creative independent sector, as regional and international priorities have changed. By the end of the year, we are hoping to present a document endorsed by the main cultural practitioners/organisations to the Palestinian Cabinet asking for bigger budgets and proposing interventions and mechanisms in that regards.
Culture Resource works on the Arab contributions to the World CP – International Cultural Policy Database. What do you hope to achieve with your work in the long run? What is the ultimate goal for the future of your work?
Our ultimate goal, of course, is to work with all stakeholders so that national priorities in the cultural sector are reviewed and considered collectively (and also implemented, evaluated and developed collectively). It is high time that the Ministry of Culture started a genuine process of dialogue between all stakeholders and looked for collective, creative solutions.
We would like to see a process whereby the entire sector (including the independent creative sector) became heavily engaged in the process of dialogue and contributed significantly, not only to the drafting of upcoming national cultural policy, but also to its support and implementation along with all other stakeholders – including international funders and associations.
Further reading from the ECF Library & our partners’ sources:
- Farhat, Fatin, An Outlook into the Future of the Independent Cultural Sector in Palestine, http://www.arabcp.org/page/571
- Syrian Culture in Turbulent Times – an article by Rana Yazaji & Nadia von Maltzahn in Another Europe, ECF, Amsterdam, 2015.
- Cultural Policies in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia - An Introduction, Boekmanstudies, Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) and ECF, Amsterdam, 2010. This includes an article by Fatin Farhat on Palestine.