One of the major complaints by secular Jerusalemites is the city's lackluster cultural life: from a limited and low quality selection of cultural events to a lack of support for existing cultural institutions, and a general feeling that for cultural consumers, the only solution is some 60 km. west, in Tel Aviv. At least two facts support this outlook: the ridiculously low culture budget (barely NIS 10 million, compared to more than NIS 100m. in Tel Aviv) and a feeling that culture is not, to put it mildly, the most important issue on the agenda of Mayor Uri Lupolianski and his mostly haredi coalition. Such sentiments have been demonstrated on more than one occasion. For example, after announcing at a press conference his decision to raise the culture budget from NIS 5m. to NIS 10m. for 2008, Lupolianski said in response to a remark by this journalist that the sum was still only 10 percent of Tel Aviv's culture budget: "In Tel Aviv they are fond of sophisticated events that cost a lot of money, but we in Jerusalem prefer the more popular kind of culture." "Let's face it: Culture is first and foremost a budget issue. If you want to develop a real cultural life, you need money, a lot of money," says Avner Rothenberg, who for some 30 years was a high-ranking official in the municipal Arts and Culture Department. Today Rothenberg is retired, but still very involved in the city's cultural life. Two years ago, he was asked to submit a report on the matter for the Bracha Foundation, which supports cultural activity in the city. Rothenberg is currently working on a similar report for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. "The most amazing thing is that Jerusalem is in fact the largest exporter of culture and art in the country," says Rothenberg. "We have here two of the best cinema schools [Sam Spiegel and Ma'aleh], we have a large number of theater schools and music schools. They [artists] all study here, make their debuts here, and once they are ready for the 'real thing,' they move to Tel Aviv. "So I would say that the first thing to do is to find a way to keep these artists here," he continues. "To achieve that, you have to support them - that's what the Tel Aviv Municipality has been doing for a long time - and to assure them enough venues to perform. "The second thing is to support the cultural institutions acting here, which for years have been merely surviving," says Rothenberg. "True, the Tel Aviv Municipality is the wealthiest in the country, while Jerusalem is the poorest city, but Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, although when you look carefully, you discover that here, despite our 750,000 residents, we're talking about merely 150,000 people - after you take out the Arabs [280,000], the haredim [about the same] and a large part of the rest of the population, who are poor or too old. "Regarding the Arab population, this is also one of the scandals going on here for years," he continues. "For 40 years, this municipality hasn't promoted any cultural life there [Arab sector], nor has it supported anything - no theater, no music nothing - as if they didn't exist. "So the most urgent thing to do is to decide - whoever will be the next mayor - that culture is the most important issue, and to act accordingly," he says.

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