Creative people with creative solutions

Brought together by the British Council in Jerusalem, over 50 artistic types are looking to bridge cultural divides with joint collaborations

creative people 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
creative people 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If barriers between countries and peoples are ever going to be bridged, it's going to come through the artistic community. That's the thinking behind Creative Collaboration, an initiative by the British Council that's bringing together arts and cultural leaders from Israel, the UK and across Europe to develop new partnerships for cross-border projects. Last week, over 50 artistic types from more than 20 countries convened in Jerusalem under the council's auspices in the fifth such meeting under the Creative Collaboration banner since it was launched last November in Istanbul. Subsequent conferences have taken place in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, and according to the British Council Israel's Julia Smith, the Jerusalem parley has propelled the burgeoning collaborative effort over the top. "We were delighted with the way the conference went - many valuable connections were made and there were many initial conversations about collaborations," she said, adding that the organization is now preparing calls for proposals to joint projects which it will partially fund. Among the foreign guests last week was British theater producer Nick Sweeting, founder of the UK award-winning theater group Improbable. Sweeting, who has attended all of the previous Creative Collaboration sessions, told The Jerusalem Post that the difference in the Israel conference was the transition from the theoretical to the practical. "There's been a real energy over the last three days," he said. "Several people here have been to the previous meetings, and there they were mostly engaged in dialogue rather than action. Here, it seems to be a sense of 'let's go forward and do something,' and 'where do we take all these meetings?' We have people here from 23 different countries, for the purpose of collaborating in Israel and across the region. It's quite thrilling." According to the British Council's spokesperson, Ravit Harari, many ideas were discussed that her organization will now try to push forward. "One of the sessions discussed starting an artists' association all over the region that would provide a database of artists and be used as a platform for new projects," she said. In order to provide a structure to the free flow of ideas and expressions coming out of Creative Collaboration, the British Council employed a widely used approach to conferencing called Open Space Technology (OST), which facilitates and enables groups ranging from five to 2,000 to confront and resolve highly complex and conflicted issues. Developed in 1985, OST has proliferated over the past 10 years and is used for purposes as varied as peace talks, corporate strategic planning and community project design. It was Sweeting and his Improbable group that first alerted the British Council to the potential of the method in galvanizing the debate into action. "As a company, Improbable has been exploring Open Space for three years now, and we've been running big Open Space events in Britain. A member of the British Council came to one our events and engaged in the process and thought it would be appropriate as a first stage for Creative Collaboration. So we started talking and developed these workshops," he said. "People that come on the program and decide to engage in Open Space have been absolutely open to conversations with people from around the world they've never met before. There's a real sense that the participants are open to international collaborations," he added. "Bridging the gap between people is what it's all about. Although it's being hosted by the British Council, they're not the major player here - it's the people from Israel, and the people from Aizerbaijan, Serbia and Cyprus. Setting up that international dialogue is the major player." AMONG THE Israeli participants in conference were Hisham Sulieman, an actor and community theater leader in Nazareth who told The British Council that the contacts he had made were helping him to establish Israel's first Arab fringe theater group. Other participants included the New Israel Film Fund's president Katriel Schoury, Daphna Ichilov from the Musrara School of Photography in Jerusalem and Ada Pelleg, the director of the Haifa Music Center. When asked if there had been both Jewish and Israeli-Arab participants, Sweeting answered that he really couldn't tell the difference. "What's been fascinating for me here, after not being here for 12 years, is not the focus on the conflict, but on the welcome from the Israeli people," said Sweeting. "We've been engaging with a cross-section of the Israeli community who see the way forward as dialogue and communication. We were commenting at a reception last night, but we're seeing a part of Israel here that's never portrayed in the international media - the high level of conversation, the welcome, the vibrancy of the country." And if nothing else, the conference may result in Sweeting's theater group coming to these shores. Founded in 1996 by Sweeting and four artistic directors, Improbable has been incredibly successful, whether on the British home front or on international tours. "We were all at stages in our lives where we wanted to create our own work and set our own agenda, not work for other people anymore," he said of the decision to launch the group. "We performed our first show at the Cairo International Festival, and two of the jury members were from Lebanon and Syria, and they invited us to come. We received a warm welcome there. Some of the conversations being here in Jerusalem have centered on why we haven't performed here yet, and we're talking to someone in Tel Aviv and looking to remedy that issue."