Making it in Jerusalem

It is no secret that there has been a steady stream of migratory movement from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Jerusalemite designer and bar owner Daniel Nahmias (photo credit: NADAV ARIEL)
Jerusalemite designer and bar owner Daniel Nahmias
(photo credit: NADAV ARIEL)
It is no secret that there has been a steady stream of migratory movement from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for some years now. Many young Jerusalemites, despairing of limited work opportunities in the capital, after gaining a degree in some ostensibly practical profession or other, have relocated westward, some with great excitement at the prospects to be had at the other end of Route 1, others with remorse.
That has certainly been the case when it comes to Jerusalem-born-and-bred artists, and you can augment the reasons for the young Jerusalemite exodus with a paucity of leisure-time options.
“That is something the municipality has to address,” said Ioram Linker. “And that doesn’t just go for locals. The municipality has a million and one tourists in the city, the whole time, throughout the year, and they don’t know what to do in Jerusalem as soon as the Old City stops being interesting for them or when all sorts of venues in the city close down.”
Linker is a 27-year-old Jerusalem resident and Chilean- born saxophonist who made aliya on his own at the age of 15. He completed a four-year degree at the Academy of Music and Dance of the Hebrew University and does his utmost to keep busy and make ends meet from his musical endeavor.
He was among the 150 local artists who attended last week’s Artists’ Nest conference devised by the municipality’s Culture and Arts Division with the expressed purpose of empowering Jerusalemite artists.
The local authority’s initiative was lauded by Linker and proud born-and-bred Jerusalemite designer and bar owner Daniel Nahmias, who were among the attendees at the Leonardo Hotel event near Mount Scopus.
The organizers did their best to provide artists across a broad spectrum of disciplines with a helping hand or two to channel their nascent or struggling careers in the desired direction and hopefully give the entire Jerusalem scene a much-needed shot in the arm. There were slots designed to provide information about networking, how to put attractive proposals together and how to go about getting municipal funding for artistic projects.
The latter would seem to be a given unless, of course, there is not much in the way of financial support on offer. Nahmias believes that is not the problem here.
“There is always a budget available,” he posits.
“Money is never the problem. You just need to come with your pitch prepared and you’ll get your money. If you have a good idea and you present it properly, you’ll get funds.”
That may come as something of a startling revelation for Linker, who is not exactly raking it in. What would he and his ilk like to happen in the wake of the municipality’s welcome initiative? The saxophonist feels Artists’ Nest was a tentative step in the right trajectory, but that things are still far from ideal, even in theory.
“Having a utopian world doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, and that’s that,” he says. “For me, a utopian world is when I have a vision, or I identify some problem, or anything that can generate positive change, and I know exactly who to turn to, how to do that, what dialogue will take place and what kind of process I am getting myself into. I need to know ahead of time how to cope with this sort of thing.”
For Linker, it is very much about getting down to brass tacks.
“Anyone can dream, but you need to know how to work with the dream.”
The conference helped a little in that regard.
“The situation is a bit clearer now,” he notes. “We got some guidance. Now we have to put that into practice.”
PART OF the conference was devoted to helping the artists get the word of their endeavor out there – in a word, self-marketing. That, says Linker, is a sorely needed practical line of action of his, and of most artists, to ensure that their creativity does not go unheeded by music consumers. He has painful experience of such situations.
“I remember when I was in my second year at the academy, when I started to gig. I arranged a show at Slow Moshe [in Nahlaot]. Each musician was supposed to get NIS 50, which is peanuts.”
Unfortunately, the basement artist outlay didn’t do the trick. The punters simply didn’t turn up.
“On Facebook there was a good response, and it looked like there was going to be an avalanche of people trying to cram into the place, which hardly holds 15 people.” Even that modest capacity proved to be beyond Linker and his fellow players. “In the end no one turned up,” he says.
That couldn’t have been a very pleasant experience, although Linker eventually processed the frustrating turn of events and learned an important lesson.
“No one came because Moshe counted on me to bring people in, so he’d have more customers, and I relied on him to bring people, so that we’ve had an audience. Each side counts on the other, nothing happens and places close down.”
The conference agenda included items designed to educate artists how to prevent such disheartening situations from occurring.
Nahmias doesn’t give the impression that he is the type to hang around and let others come up with solutions for his problems.
“I was born and bred in the shuk,” he says. The saltof- the-earth Jerusalemite spent a year in Tel Aviv – “just for the fun of it” – and some time traveling around the world, but otherwise has spent his entire life in Jerusalem. Since completing his studies in design at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Nahmias has moved right along professionally, establishing a bustling designer cooperative that currently comprises 11 artists across a range of disciplines.
As a local street-level shaker and mover, Nahmias applauded last week’s municipality initiative.
“The conference was amazing. The basic realization of municipal officials of the need to unite these people who engage in artistic work in Jerusalem, which so many people talk about, indicates a certain attitude and understanding, which I feel is totally appropriate.”
Nahmias says the conference played a much-needed bridging role.
“It was important to introduce the artists to the people with the power and the money in the municipality and artistic directors, and it was important for us, too, to get to know each other.”
AS DEPUTY manager of the municipality’s Culture and Arts Division, Eyal Ezri was one of the driving forces behind the conference. He goes along with Nahmias’s observation that the funds are there just waiting to be tapped in the right direction.
“Money is just an excuse [for gripes],” says Ezri. “If you have a good idea you’ll get the funding you need.”
The members of Jerusalem’s artist community must surely be delighted to hear that, although given the small number of venues and events compared with Tel Aviv, that must come as quite a surprise for local musicians, painters and others of their creative ilk, trying to keep the wolves at bay, let alone gain a modicum of fame.
“If an artist comes with a good idea, the money is there. There’s isn’t a great deal of it, but it’s a matter of orders of priority. That’s all.”
Ezri is a savvy professional and he knows that is a statement that could leave Jerusalemite artists and arts consumers alike with their jaw perilously close to the floor.
“One of the aims of the conference was to let people know about that, and to make the channels of communication with the municipality more accessible. We didn’t just bring the municipality closer to the artists, we also presented some of the most senior professionals we have in this city.”
World-renowned multidisciplinary artist Sigalit Landau and Hadag Nahash hip-hop band frontman Shaanan Streett – both born in Jerusalem – certainly fit the fame bill. They were among the star turns at the conference. Streett had some confidence-boosting observations for his audience.
“Back in the 1990s, I knew there were about 17 artists in this city, not 150 like today.” It was nose-to-the-grindstone time for him and his counterparts.
“At night we’d put up Hadag Nahash posters and next to us there’d be people putting up Kahane Chai posters [referencing supporters of late right-wing politician Rabbi Meir Kahane’s son].”
The self-promotion ploy worked well, and the band accumulated a sizable fan base.
“Five hundred people came to our first gig in Tel Aviv,” he recalls.
“Five hundred Jerusalemites who we brought over.”
Streett put the band’s success down to an egalitarian philosophy.
“We occasionally go through group therapy. The songwriters get half of the royalties, and the rest get the other half. It’s a recipe for longevity. We have a rule that you don’t have to turn up for rehearsals, but if you don’t you have to shut up and not complain.”
There may be something in that on the grander scale, for Jerusalemite artists as a whole.
As far as Linker is concerned, the municipality move to help him and his co-professionals and the Jerusalem culture scene in general is a welcome development, albeit a little tardy.
“This could have been started back in the 1990s. It’s a process, a long process. I commend the Jerusalem Municipality for arriving at this conclusion and for organizing the conference. Let’s see how it pans out.”
For now, the Chilean-born saxophonist is not contemplating following in the footsteps of numerous other Jerusalemite artists.
“I just don’t like Tel Aviv,” he says with a laugh. Even so, he would consider relocating should he arrive at the inescapable conclusion that it offered his only means of professional survival.
“I’d do that, but I’d want to come back to Jerusalem, and to bring others back here. This is where I want to live and work, at least for now.”
The municipality hopes to make the conference an annual event. Should that happen, it will be interesting to check out how things have developed here in the interim.