For Shemi Amsalem, this won’t be a typical Jerusalem Arts Festival. The head of the municipal Arts Department for the last decade has been recently appointed head of the Culture Department as well, which had no director for the past six years. Amsalem was not the first choice, neither of the mayor nor the holder of the culture portfolio, city councillor and Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu, both of whom aspired to find a well-known figure in the field of culture and arts for the prestigious position. But they finally approved Amsalem, who has the reputation of being one of the best organizers and producers at Kikar Safra.

“The idea to launch an arts festival by the municipality was born out of a genuine need to respond to many individuals and groups who enjoy arts and performing arts but never received any financial support,” explains Amsalem as he runs from one meeting to another, trying to cope with his two positions. According to him, the two departments share and cooperate under his responsibility, enabling a greater number of cultural and artistic events. This includes the upcoming events for Independence Day.

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In regard to the Jerusalem Arts Festival, Amsalem says that despite his point not to compromise a high level of artistry, money, or “should we say lack of money, is a problem we have to face every year.”

The festival’s total budget is about NIS 1 million, but the municipality covers only NIS 150,000 of it. “The rest comes from very few sponsors, ticket sales and generous – “but not enough” Amsalem points out – support from the Jerusalem Foundation and a lot of precious volunteer work.”

The rationale behind the festival is to enable highly motivated and skilled amateurs in dance, drama and music, whether they are residents of Jerusalem or nor, to perform in a high-quality official framework. “This is our way to enhance and support a wide structure of arts and culture customers in Jerusalem and around,” adds Amsalem, who points out that the first performances of the Live Museum some 10 years ago was the starting point of what would become a large and much-appreciated festival now celebrating its first decade.

The festival staff is one of the most greatly reduced for such a large production. Besides artistic director Ofer Meliah and Eyal Ezri, Amsalem’s deputy, only the three directors of the dance, drama and music sections in the department work on it, enabling 26 different events and a few additional free outdoor family events.

Amsalem says he is proud that today groups and solo performers are those who address the festival, which has gained a reputation that goes far beyond the city. “Performers beg us to perform here, and they bring to the city their own audiences, which is a good thing for Jerusalem.”

The Jerusalem Arts Festival runs until March 14. The events will take place at the Jerusalem Theater, the Lab Theater, the Khan Theater and Beit Shmuel. Tickets are available at these venues or at the municipality. Tel: 629-8141. All tickets are sold at affordable prices (between NIS 20 and NIS 70).
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