A light at the end of a still dark tunnel

The Jerusalem branch of the Nissan Nativ Acting School has a chance at survival, but other under-funded cultural institutions are still at risk

acting school 88 298 (photo credit: )
acting school 88 298
(photo credit: )
If not for the signs, last week's protest would have looked almost like a festival. Brightly dressed students from the Nissan Nativ Acting School marched to the music of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, juggling and singing folk songs. But their placards showed how how precarious the institutions' positions have become: "Don't destroy the school"; "Don't block the arts"; "Without culture, the city will die." Funding cuts from government and nonprofit organizations have left Nissan Nativ, the Camerata Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO) unable to make ends meet. Without this funding, Nissan Nativ and the JSO were seemingly doomed to close down. Last Tuesday, students from the studio, musicians from the orchestra, and various representatives from Jerusalem's other arts organizations demonstrated in front of the municipality, demanding that it take a larger part in funding the city's cultural life. The protest, despite the festive atmosphere, had an air of desperation about it. One week later, the city, government, and Jerusalem Foundation have agreed to a series of stopgap measures that will secure the school for the next two years. The three will contribute half a million a year for the next two years and assume the school's significant rent deficit. The city has also said it will look into finding the studio a new, lower rent building. "Now I am more optimistic than before," said Arik Eshet, director of Nissan Nativ. "Something is moving now." But he fears that while the city may have addressed the school's current problem, it is leaving the real issues unsolved. "The studio was very much a mirror of everything that is happening in Jerusalem," he said. "Something has to change about the policy of culture." He also noted that only the Jerusalem Foundation has provided any sort of written commitment. "From the city, we have nothing written yet. Now we are waiting to see if it will really come through, or if it was only promised. We've had promises for three years now." There will be a follow-up event in July - a festival with music and speeches to showcase the importance of culture in Jerusalem. But Yaki Har-Tal, manager of the Khan Theater, Jerusalem's only mainstream repertory theater, does not expect quick results. "We're expecting it to be a long struggle," he told The Jerusalem Post. "This is not only about money, but about the nature of this city." Since the mayorship of Teddy Kollek, the municipality has relied heavily on outside sources of funding - whether the Jerusalem Foundation, non-profit organizations - or the central government, to encourage the city's arts scene. Nissan Nativ, the only acting school in Jerusalem and a branch of the original Nissan Nativ studio in Tel Aviv, gets a small amount of funding from the municipality. At first, most of the money came from the Jerusalem Foundation, which dedicates itself to helping institutions establish themselves, but as the Foundation gradually decreased its contributions during the Olmert years, the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport contributed NIS 25 million more to the arts. It wasn't enough to match the Jerusalem Foundation, but it allowed most institutions to scrape by. Then last year, the city slashed its allocation in half, while at the same time demanding years of retroactive property taxes. Its board of directors decided that, without more funds, the school would close at the end of the month. Likewise, the JSO was funded almost entirely by the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) until its chairman Moshe Gavish announced two weeks ago that it was cutting its funding of NIS 11m. by 60 percent. It would continue to provide NIS 5m., but only if the city could match funds. Now NIS 5m. is the entire size of the city's direct annual contribution to culture. Yesterday, the JSO released a letter directed to Minister of Science, Technology, Culture and Sport Ghaleb Majadle, pleading for help. The JSO, which is poised to celebrate their 70th Jubilee next year, claim they will have to close their doors within two weeks if there is no intervention. For its part, the city says it is already doing enough. In an email correspondence, Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gideon Schmerling, said that on top of the NIS 5 million of direct contribution, the city spends millions on the festivals and "many cultural events that take place every year in cooperation with the institutes. These help increase their activities and income." He declined to comment on what, if anything, the city would do about the Orchestra. Eshet acknowledges that the municipality pours money into celebrations, but does not believe that it does much for the city's day-to-day arts scene. "It's a crucial time for Jerusalem," he says. "We had our demonstration, but we must keep on struggling. In a few years, it will be too late. This is Israel. And Jerusalem symbolizes Israel. If Jerusalem is a failure, then it shows Israel as a failure."