Cultural coincidence

Two new reports ask: Is NIS 24 million enough for the capital's cultural budget?

Maybe it's just a coincidence that two different reports on the status of art and culture were released almost simultaneously in Jerusalem last week. But it's certainly more than coincidence that although the two reports deal with different aspects of the topic, taken together they provide an over-view of the situation on the ground (very shaky) and the provisions for the future (not very encouraging). The first report was prepared by the Zuckerman Commission, appointed by Vice Mayor Yigal Amedi to propose detailed and viable criteria for the distribution of moneys to the art institutions in the city. The second report examines the allocation of funds to these artistic institutions, the origins of those sums and the manner is which these funds were used over the terms of three consecutive mayors Teddy Kollek, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski. This report was prepared at the request of Martin Weyl, the former director-general of the Israel Museum and current head of the Bracha Foundation. The author, Avner Rotenberg, formerly a high-ranking official in the arts department of the municipality, describes the report as a photocopied view of the situation. The Zuckerman report originated about two years ago, when the struggle in the municipality over financial support for cultural institutions was at a peak. Amedi, who holds the Art and Culture portfolio in the city council, appointed Prof. Arnon Zuckerman, president of the Bezalel Academy, to head a special commission that would propose a computerized model for the distribution of financial support to the artistic institutions in the city. But it is hard to build a viable model for such a small sum of money. The municipal budget allocates only NIS 4 million to cultural and artistic life in the capital and distributes this sum among 65 institutions. In contrast, Tel Aviv, whose population is less than half that of Jerusalem, allocates NIS 80m. to some 82 institutions. "In principle, the scale of the budget should not bother us," Zuckerman wrote in his report, "but the commission views with deep concern the process of reducing, year by year, the municipal budget for culture and arts, and especially the recent decision by the Culture Ministry to distribute the moneys in Jerusalem directly to the institutions, without going through the municipality. This procedure leaves only a tiny amount of money in the hands of the municipality to distribute." Yigal Hayu-Molad, director of the Cinematheque, was one of the initiators and an active member of the Zuckerman Commission. He is more optimistic. "Let's start with a fact," he told In Jerusalem. "It's not that there is less money, it is the same amount of money [as before], except that instead of coming from one source it reaches us from two different sources: the municipality and the Culture Ministry, which, for its own reasons, has decided to distribute the money directly to those institutions instead of sending it first to the municipality. "Taken together, the two sums give us NIS 24m. [NIS 20m. from the ministry and NIS 4m. from the municipality]," he explains. "I can tell you that there is a very serious effort under way at this time to enlarge the municipality allocations in 2006, which may reach NIS 7m., and we have reason to believe that the sum will be even larger in the future." Yet is even this increase enough? "No, it is not enough," Hayu-Molad replies. "That is exactly the reason why I was the main supporter of this commission. Now I'm going to put the pressure on with the help of others to assure that these sums will keep on growing, I have no intention of resting now." Hayu-Molad is close to Amedi and considered to be Amedi's favorite candidate to head the municipal cultural department, a position which has been vacant for more than a year. "The next issue on the agenda will have to be the reorganization from the bottom to the top of this thing called 'culture department' at the municipality," Hayu-Molad adds pointedly. Says Ruth Zadka, head of the Artists House, "What matters is: are we going to have money to distribute according to the new criteria? Until now, the money has been distributed in a very vague and unclear way." However, she says, there are other, even more acute problems. "The fact is that no director of any cultural institution can tell you how much money he is going to receive. We never know, we always receive the money very late, and sometimes the quoted sum of the allocation changes several times between the day we are notified about the allocation and the day the money actually arrives. You work in the dark, and to put it mildly, this is not the proper way to handle it." The crux of the problem, she says, is political. "As long as culture is perceived here as a photo-op for politicians, we will go nowhere." As an example she cites the various parades that the municipality lists as 'cultural events.' "It's nice to have farmers and their products paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, but is that culture? Is that art? Yet this is where no small part of the public money goes, and this is not a way to strengthen the local artistic creation and activity." Rutenberg, whose report reviewed the patterns of allocations, agrees. "Most of the money has been invested in walls and bricks. Theaters, concert halls we have plenty of them and even some new projects on the way. But consecutive mayors have not invested in a single local theater company or group." By even further coincidence, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies also released its Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem last week. (See "Jerusalem by numbers," In Jerusalem, October 30). This report reveals that more Jerusalemites abandon the city each year, and in 2004 alone, more than 18,000 people left, most of them non-haredi. The JIIS report supports one of Rutenberg's main conclusions. In the report, he writes, "In Jerusalem there is no money, thus no local artistic creation. "This is a city abandoned by most of its culture consumers, and unless the state and the government initiate a revolutionary change, Jerusalem is lost to us." "But," Hayu-Molad says, "I am still convinced that these things can be changed in one twist for example a radical change in the priorities of the state, a substantial growth in the budgets allocated to art and culture. New municipal projects launched recently could become a real turning-point: students and young couples, who will be offered large subsidies if they choose to stay here." Hayu-Molad does not hide his disappointment with Jerusalem's cultural community. "There is a terrible apathy among the secular public here. And I really think you cannot always accuse the establishment and the municipality," he says. "We can also move things by ourselves. I have a very clear idea of what we can and should do, but I need the other heads of artistic institutions... to put pressure on the system." Of course, it should be noted that these reports, prepared earlier, have been paradoxically released at a time when the city is full of cultural events, most of them initiated directly by the municipality or by its subsidiary company, Ariel, and some of them supported by the Tourism Ministry. However, most of these cultural events were not based on local performers, but rather on imported shows and performances. Says Rutenberg, "Young artists from all over the country know that Tel Aviv is the place where they have to be in order to meet artists, producers, filmmakers, authors and so on. So they study in Jerusalem and then they move to Tel Aviv." One of the reasons for this situation, according to Rutenberg, is the demographic structure of the city: "Art and culture are not rooted in the religious world. They represent the mityavnim ("Hellenistic") world, so it's not very surprising that in a city where one third are haredim and another third is Muslim, there is no urgent need for a more active cultural life." Yet he notes that culture and art suitable for the haredi community isn't unfeasible. "We could develop Oriental culture, we could propose answers to the demand of new immigrants, the Orthodox community... but even that does not happen." Responding to the Bracha Report, a spokesman for the muncipality noted that the municipality is in the process of developing new criteria for allocation to arts and culture institutions and that the overall allocation to these institutions has not decreased over the past few years. Furthermore, the spokesman promised, the municipality is making every effort to increase the arts and culture budget.