New NIS 40 million Hechal Hatarbut arts center opens in Pisgat Ze'ev

“After many years, it is time to welcome the finished article,” said Mayor Moshe Lion. "In the coming years we will continue investing in Pisgat Ze’ev and in other neighborhoods. Enjoy."

The new NIS 40 million Hechal Hatarbut multidisciplinary arts center that was officially opened in Pisgat Ze’ev, June 2020 (photo credit: YONI KELBERMAN/TRANQUILO PRODUCTIONS)
The new NIS 40 million Hechal Hatarbut multidisciplinary arts center that was officially opened in Pisgat Ze’ev, June 2020
(photo credit: YONI KELBERMAN/TRANQUILO PRODUCTIONS)
While artists across the country in all walks of creative life have been following lockdown and pandemic developments with ever-increasing depressing thoughts, there appears to be an odd chink of light making its way through the gloom.
Live entertainment, albeit with restricted audiences and with social distancing and mask requirements, has been making a comeback in the past week or two and it now seems that Jerusalem is ready to take matters to the next level.
This Sunday, a new NIS 40 million Hechal Hatarbut multidisciplinary arts center was officially opened in Pisgat Ze’ev by Mayor Moshe Lion. And, as Lion noted, there is more where the center – which is supported by the Jerusalem Municipality and Mifal Hapayis – came from.
“After many years, it is time to welcome the finished article,” said the mayor. “After the country club (which opened in Pisgat Ze’ev last summer), this week we are also opening the culture center and thereby, completing development of the compound. In the coming years we will continue investing in Pisgat Ze’ev and in other neighborhoods. Enjoy.”
The new center in Pisgat Ze'ev was officially opened by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion (Credit: Yoni Kelberman/Tranquilo Productions)The new center in Pisgat Ze'ev was officially opened by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion (Credit: Yoni Kelberman/Tranquilo Productions)
According to the municipality spokesperson, similar new culture centers are planned for Ramot, Kiryat Hayovel, Wadi Joz and French Hill, with renovation work currently in progress at the Gerard Bechar Center on Bezalel Street in downtown Jerusalem.
IT HAS been a while in coming, but opening a new arts facility at a time like this is quite a statement of intent.
“This is a really challenging time to open a new arts center,” says director Ayala Turjeman. “This project was actually conceived in 2013.”
Things changed somewhat in the intervening years. That was back toward the end of mayor Nir Barkat’s first term in office, and the project’s designation also shifted appreciably.
“It started out as a young person’s center and, with the support of Mifal Hapayis, grew into the Hechal Hatarbut center we have now.” Not bad going.
The entertainment program is set to start in August with a blockbuster concert by veteran singer-songwriter David Broza alongside the Jerusalem Orchestra East West, with stand-up comedy shows, a children’s theater festival – with relevant companies from all over the country guesting – and an abundance of repertory theater productions dropping in from time to time.
The jewel in the new center’s crown is a 400-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment, with similar concert facilities planned for the other centers planned around the city.
“The equipment we have here is amazing,” enthuses Turjeman, “and the seating is designed so that wherever you are you have the best seat in the place. It is a beautiful hall and very comfortable.”
The director adds that the location couldn’t be much better.
“We are situated in Emmanuel Moreno Park, right in a verdant park in the education quarter and opposite the municipal swimming pool.”
But it is not just about providing locals and people from across the capital with a good evening’s entertainment.
“We are also a creative arts center,” Turjeman notes. “This place is based on several themes. We want to generate culture and offer it to the public. We will also offer Jerusalemite artists a space where they can work on their art. Our aim is to help to develop independent artists, and to advance arts education.”
Turjeman is also looking to get as many loyal customers on board as soon as possible.
“I hope the coronavirus is a bit considerate to us so that we can open the subscription season straight after the hagim [in October]. We want to offer subscribers a full, rich repertory theater program.”
THE PISGAT Ze’ev Hechal Hatarbut center may be in the outer northern reaches of the city, but Turjeman has lined up some top quality theatrical fare, even including some left-field stuff, to tempt patrons from near and from further away.
“We are going to bring in the best-quality theater shows around, from the Cameri, Habima, Beit Lessin, from the Jerusalem Experimental School, from Haifa Theater and from Beersheba and the Jerusalemite Khan Theater,” Turjeman says. “We want to make excellent theater and culture accessible, in north Jerusalem, too. It’s a lot closer to home.”
One of the ongoing problems, for instance, with the Jerusalem Theater over the years has been the lack of parking facilities. Turjeman says that has been cared for, and there is good public transportation available as well.
“It is important to point out that we position ourselves as the Jerusalem Hechal Hatarbut. The light rail comes right here, and there is an enormous parking lot. I think the leisure experience should start from the parking facilities,” she chuckles.
And there is even more to the new multidisciplinary venue.
“We are a conference center and we offer our services to all kinds of public and private bodies. We have another small hall, a dance facility which we call Black Box. It is a dance studio and for smaller fringe events, and has a seating capacity of 100.”
Looks like the center has all bases covered.
While the idea is to offer quality entertainment, creative space and educational facilities to Jerusalemites of all ilks and postal addresses, the plan is to devote substantial resources to nurturing the next generation or two of artists, some of whom may very well grace the Hechal Hatarbut stage in front of a packed audience at some stage in the future.
“We also have a recording studio which will enable us to offer courses and workshops in fields like sound engineering,” says Turjeman. “We want to support young bands, and encourage existing bands. We will bring in the best lecturers and artists to help young musicians here.”
Budding artists, young and somewhat more mature, will be able to pop along to the center and hone their creative skills.
“We have areas for people working in the plastic arts, mainly for youngsters and adults,” she adds. When I press the director for a narrower definition of “adults,” she smilingly responds “basically anyone between the age of 21 and 100.” That should account for the vast majority of locals with an interest in producing works of art.
“It is for youngsters and for people with time on their hands. You know parents, say aged 40-50, whose children have grown up and have a settled career, and they have been thinking about doing something in the arts, something for the soul, but haven’t been able to until now.”
THE JEWEL in the center’s crown is a 400-seater auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment (Credit: Yoni Kelberman/Tranquilo Productions)THE JEWEL in the center’s crown is a 400-seater auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment (Credit: Yoni Kelberman/Tranquilo Productions)
YOUNG JERUSALEMITES with thespian aspirations will also be able to pick up some tips.
“We want to run cinema courses. Together with the Jerusalem Filmmakers Guild we have put together a very interesting syllabus. For example we have a course called ‘Acting in Front of the Camera.’ A lot of kids who take bagrut (matriculation) in theater take that course, so we want to offer it here, too.”
Not just for junior patrons.
“You also have managers and other professionals taking the course, when they learn how to do presentations and the like. You know, these days, we are always in front of some camera or other.”
Naturally, you can’t have culture consumers and creators coming over to your place without offering them some tasty sustenance. That is not yet available, but Turjeman hopes to rectify the situation soon. “We want to open a café in the near future, so people can grab a coffee a bit before or after a show or activity.”
Turjeman is painfully aware of the new pandemic-fueled economic reality. “The coronavirus has presented us with a really tough challenge, when people don’t have much money.” Which, she feels, makes the opening of the new center all the more commendable. “The municipality took a very brave step. They said we are not going to stop this. We should have opened on March 22. We were hysterically busy then, to get everything in place for the opening, and then the COVID-19 thing arrived and stopped us in our tracks.”
Meanwhile, virus or no, the center is now open for business. There were a bunch of celebrities in attendance on Sunday, including veteran crooner Yehoram Gaon, who did a turn on stage for assembled VIPs and members of the press. The mayor was even pressed into gainful vocal service and joined Gaon in an impromptu duet rendition of “Rosa,” one of Gaon’s best-known numbers. A flamenco performance and some music of a more Eastern classical orientation completed the entertainment for the evening.
If anything, Turjeman says, the enforced furlough has made her even more eager to see the project through, and get the center up and running ahead full steam.
“I take nothing for granted anymore. We need to reassess things and to be thankful for what we have.”
That, it seems, also applies to someone who has been playing to large crowds for over six decades. 
“Yehoram Gaon said that in normal times he might have been put off by playing for such a meager audience, but now he is just appreciative of the fact that anyone came to see a show,” Turjeman laughs. “When they took culture away from us, they robbed us of air for our soul. Suddenly, when you get it back after so long, you say, wow! I really missed that.”
Looking forward to more of the same.