Tel Aviv arts schools battle over remains of Camera Obscura

As the opening of the new academic school year approaches, students are with two competing institutions.

A battle between two art schools, both of which see themselves as the true heirs of the Camera Obscura School for the Arts, has broken out in Tel Aviv. When Camera Obscura closed down this summer for financial reasons, many of the students at Israel's most well-known school for avant-garde cinema and photography felt they had reached a professional dead-end. As the opening of the new academic school year approaches, however, these same students are now discovering that rather than having no options, they are faced with two competing institutions literally across the street from one another. Last week, a group of private investors announced that they had purchased the venerable school, which will reopen in the same location. The announcement came several weeks after the artist Oded Yedaya announced that he was founding a new art school called Minshar Le'Omanut. Last June, Yedaya took over the position of Arye Hamer, the long-time director of Camera Obscura, who resigned following the dire financial straits the school entered after accumulating NIS 12 million worth of debt. Six weeks later, however, Yedaya resigned from the position as well on the grounds that he was unable to financially save the school. Yedaya has stated that Minshar Le'Omanut is being financed by a loan based on his personal capital, which consists of a diamond export company. The new school will offer the same majors in cinema, new media, photography, and writing that were previously offered at Camera Obscura, as well as a new major in the plastic arts. Yair Barak, the former chair and faculty member of Camera Obscura's photography department, will soon be teaching at Minshar, where he will chair the new school's photography department. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Barak said that Minshar was in the process of being recognized as a nonprofit organization. In addition to himself, Barak said, the school would include senior faculty members formerly employed by Camera Obscura and by other academic institutions, including Haim Lusky, Ariela Azulai and photographer Roi Kuper. While some former students of Camera Obscura have expressed their concern that Yedaya's radical left-wing opinions would set the tone for the new school, Barak said that Minshar's art gallery and screening room would insist on exhibiting pluralistic contents. He also said the gallery would acknowledge voices on both sides of the political spectrum that are often ignored by the mainstream art establishment. Barak, himself a graduate of Camera Obscura, noted that the decision to open Minshar took place at a time when Camera Obscura seemed unable to reopen and that a significant number of Camera's former faculty members and students had already affiliated themselves with Minshar. "In the Israeli reality," Barak said, "our estimate is that there is no real room for two schools with identical departments in such close proximity. We believe in the long run only one of them will remain, and we believe we have the power to persevere." The newly-reopened Camera Obscura has been purchased by Oded Gera, the owner of the Sound school for sound engineering, and by Miki Dotan, the owner of Haozen Hashelishit, Israel's foremost distributor of independent, alternative film and music. Haozen Hashelishit owns three video and DVD libraries and music stores in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. In addition, it holds the exclusive rights for film distribution in the non-theatrical sector of Israel and now also offers films on demand through Hot cable. Akiva Tevet, who chaired Camera Obscura's film department previously, will continue to serve in that capacity. Speaking to the Post, Tevet underscored that, while the purchasing of the school by Gera and Dotan would be meaningful in terms of the formerly-embattled school's financial stability, it would not change its academic and artistic character. Dotan himself told the Post that the school's new owners would maintain the "creative and slightly anarchist spirit" that gave the school its reputation. "That won't change unless the students themselves decide otherwise," Dotan said. Dotan added that while the distribution powers of Haozen Hashelishit would no doubt indirectly influence the films being made at the school, he believed such influence would be a blessing.
More about:Tel Aviv, Israel