The swan song for Barbur Gallery?

Barbur extends its activities beyond art exhibitions.

The Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem – the beating heart of Israel’s capital (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem – the beating heart of Israel’s capital
It was somewhat of a challenge to open an art gallery near Mahaneh Yehuda in a partly religious neighborhood – not the perfect environment for a gallery with an avant-garde agenda.
Barbur Gallery, located in the middle of Nahlaot, is an independent, nonprofit space for art and local artists. Established in July 2005 by a group of artists who had recently graduated from the Bezalel Academy for Art and Design in order to exhibit their works, it sought to infuse the area with a new spirit, bringing together young artists, the elderly of the neighborhood and the whole community to share in a project of renewal.
For several years, it inspired many activities, but for the last year or so, repeated attempts to shut it down have darkened the horizon of the ambitious project.
The neighborhood is becoming more haredi, so some of the steps being taken against the gallery may be the result of initiatives by residents who might prefer another ultra-Orthodox kindergarten instead of a center for non-religious artistic activity. Anti-gallery momentum may also be the work of national-religious city council representatives who do not appreciate what they see as left-wing political activism behind the artistic activities.
The threat to shut down the gallery has been growing for a few months now, despite an announcement by Mayor Nir Barkat that the place will remain open and active as an art gallery.
The Tzahor association (which promotes equality and social justice), through its founder and president Yossi Havilio, is trying to engage the city’s real-estate department to ensure that the Barbur is no longer under the threat of closure, as promised by the mayor.
“They told me that according to the master plan, the plot should be exclusively a public open space,” says Havilio. “Barbur has created a community garden there, which is obviously a public open space, and half of the structure in which the gallery is located serves as a municipal kindergarten – so, I ask, is it an open public space or not?” For the moment, he hasn’t gotten any response from Safra Square; a Jerusalem municipality spokesman replies simply that “there are no changes in the Barbur Gallery status.” According to Havilio, despite rumors, nobody knows exactly who is behind the attempts to shut down the gallery and why.
Barbur was not the sole artistic initiative in the neighborhood in recent years, but was one of about 10 additional cultural projects under the of the “Tarbut Bat-Kayma” umbrella, a nonprofit that includes Beita, focusing on the connections between art, society and the city, Internet-based social radio station JLM FM and more.
Most of these projects have been nurtured and made possible through significant changes that occurred in the Lev Ha’ir Local Council. It encouraged cultural projects – particularly in the Mahaneh Yehuda area, which integrated with community life and adapted itself to neighborhood needs. Despite the recent terrorism, interesting cultural initiatives appeared, such as poetry groups and creative local musical projects.
Barbur director Noam Kuzar says that a letter from Barkat last November said that the site would continue to host the gallery, but “we are not included in the city’s official projects, so we cannot obtain budgets for renovation of the building or submit requests for funding for any future or long-term projects.
“We give a lot of services to the public with our cultural events,” emphasizes Kuzar. “One initiative that has been ongoing for the past six years is a weekly sketching and drawing workshop for residents aged 60 and older, with exhibitions of the works. This project has won a lot of support in the neighborhood.”
Yet some of the activities seem to bother some residents. In one recent example, a bereaved families group that gathered at Barbur raised anger and a heated reaction on Facebook, although former councilman Pepe Alalu (Meretz) and a member of the of Bar-Kayma board maintain that “there was nothing about that meeting that was opposed to the idea of gathering people in a community activity as framed by Barbur from the beginning.”
Barbur extends its activities beyond art exhibitions, with a small kitchen that hosts the participants of various activities, a community garden in the yard surrounding the main exhibition hall, and a small lending library of books and films on the arts, Middle Eastern culture, architecture, politics and history of the region.