The Jerusalem arts scene is alive, kicking and in rude health. And In case you have yet to pick up on that vibe, should you venture out to town or someone around your locale in the capital on June 6-8, you should be thoroughly disabused of any thoughts of the city as a cultural backwater.
The 23rd edition of the Jerusalem Arts Festival will take place on those very three days, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality, and the steady yet adventure-seeking hand of incoming artistic director Guy Biran. There is a veritable plethora of entertainment and earnest artistic and cultural endeavor on offer at various spots around the city, with the new Jerusalem Art Campus serving as the bustling epicenter of the festival agenda.
Egalitarianism is very much the name of the programmatic game. “This is about people getting together and having personal encounters,” notes Biran, former head of the Hazira interdisciplinary arts educational institution in Talpiyot. That, naturally, references the bad old pandemic days, the lockdowns and people getting used to “meeting” via their computer screens and cellphones. We may be maskless these days and the Green Passport is thankfully long gone, but Biran feels there are shockwaves still rippling across Israeli society. By extension, that impacts the way we consume culture and, of course, the way we interact on a daily basis.
“One of the mottos that repeatedly came up during the work on the program was the matter of assembly, of people getting together,” he notes. “And then I remembered that, until quite recently, we weren’t allowed to do that. People look at you strangely if you say the word “corona,” because they may have forgotten about that. But people increasingly stay at home these days, glued to their screens. We may have forgotten the lockdowns, but that is still with us.”
IF BIRAN was aiming to get us out of our four walls and away from our computers, he couldn’t have tried any harder. The festival roster is awash with intriguing shows, activities and events that run the gamut of disciplinary, thematic and performance formats. It may be a hackneyed epithet, but there really does appear to be something for everyone over the three days. In terms of dynamic musical offerings, it is hard to look past the synergy between pianist Omri Mor and vocal artist Victoria Hanna. Both are titans in their respective fields, with Mor blazing a trail across the Andalusian-jazz firmament for some years now, and Hanna taking sonorous vocal expression to new heights and along a slew of oblique emotive artistic lines.
The June 6 (8 p.m.) show is called There Is A Place in Eden and the dream duo will delve into the annals of Israeli musical folklore, including charts from pre-state times, revisiting the music, mores and cultural baggage of the early settlers of the Yishuv and the following generations.
Jerusalem Art Campus
If you hang around the Jerusalem Art Campus – the Mor-Hanna team-up happens at the Nissan Nativ School of Acting there – and you are into top-notch cross-cultural material, you’d do well to mosey on over to the Center for Middle Eastern Classical Music to catch the Ecoute gig at 9 p.m. The eight-piece band will premiere its latest program, which goes by the name of Maasim Ketanim (Little Deeds) and references liturgical songs from many of Jerusalem’s ethnic communities through a broad stylistic prism. Internationally celebrated jazz-ethnic saxophonist Daniel Zamir guests.
But there is far more to the festival than just quality entertainment. Following his definitively personal encounter ethos, Biran has lined up all kinds of street-level slots around town and, particularly, in neighborhoods. The events of the second day of the festival will take place in Katamon, which the blurb deftly says “comprises an intriguing human mosaic of residents from different social strata.” With that in mind, Biran has scheduled a string of activities, for all ages and people from all walks of life, at the Djanogly Visual Arts Center.
The fun starts there at 5 p.m., in the garden on the center’s lower level, with kids, parents and grandparents invited to join the audience of the Intergalactic show by acrobat Nimrod Farhi. There will also be plenty of hands-on stuff to get stuck into, including drawing comics on the garden pathways and naturally, there will be a tea party with the Mad Hatter.
Younger Jerusalemites also get an opportunity to show off the fruits of their artistic and observational skills with an outdoor exhibition of photographs of the city taken by students from seven local schools.
THE ACCENT is very much on the community dynamic, as conveyed by the Star Mail presentation and documentary screening conducted by Shaked Mochiach and Anat Drimmer. The community art project feeds off Mochiach and Drimmer’s beat-pounding. “They went to people’s homes, interviewed them, took their answers and performed them,” Biran explains. The results were then videoed and turned into a film. The pair will also add some theatricals to the documentary bottom line.
There’s more in the way of interactive slots designed to get us all on board and into the communal swing of things. The last day of the festival sets out its stall in Bet Hakerem, with the earlier items designed to keep things cool and user-friendly. The Writers’ Guild 5 p.m. berth at Bet Havaad will see novelist and spoken word artist Amir Harash, actress Nova Dobel and writer Tzachi Avinoam take on free-flowing conversation with the audience, and improvise poetry as they go along.
There will be lots to groove to as well around the local streets. “There will be sound artists and music playing on street corners,” says Biran. “There will also be tours from the campus and in Bet Hakerem. That’s called Home.” Sounds inviting.
Biran says he wants to make art, in all its various guises, amenable to all and sundry. “There is this phenomenon of cultural colonialism, whereby people come to neighborhoods and they dictate to them what art is about. I don’t like that. I have nothing against the Jerusalem Theater, but that isn’t the festival’s home. Jerusalem is the festival’s home and all the neighborhoods we will visit over the years. But we go downtown too.”
That non-stuffy open-minded ethos also translates into making the program slots affordable for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic standing. Many of the events are free and tickets for paid shows don’t go past the NIS 60 mark.
For tickets and more information, visit: jerusalemarts.co.il.