Exhibiting fair and square

This year Hutzot Hayotzer to be bigger than ever.

Hutzot Hayotzer 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Hutzot Hayotzer 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
‘We bring the outside world to Israel because we know that the Israeli public won’t get to every country,” explains Sara Malka, the producer and artistic director of the Hutzot Hayotzer International Craft Fair, which is embarking on its 35th year this August. “We don’t want people to stop traveling! It’s just that we haven’t heard of many Israelis traveling to Macedonia, for example, which is fairly close and has some beautiful art.”
Artists from 39 countries will spread out their handiwork at the base of the Old City walls almost every evening from August 2 to August 14, when the fair makes the city’s cultural nightlife come alive. This year’s festival will feature the usual attractions: 150 artists from 39 countries, Israel’s top musicians playing nightly concerts, and 165,000 expected attendees.
The international component continues to expand this year with new guests from Portugal, Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Russia and Thailand, in addition to Aboriginal artists from Australia.
Malka, who works for the semi-public Ariel Municipality Company which produces the festival, notes that they’ve been able to expand from focusing just on the Far East and South America, as the brand of Hutzot Hayotzer has become well known internationally.
Festival favorites Café Tav, an interactive performance group, will return with their multi-level scaffolding extravaganza that includes a working café, where the servers are also performers. New this year is a pavilion spotlighting Bezalel students, dedicated to nurturing Israeli talent in an international arena.
“They wanted to give new students a chance, and they thought it would be a refreshing wave of art,” explains Malka. She has produced the festival for all 35 years of its existence with the municipality, including lean years during the wars and intifadas when attendance shrank dramatically.
THE EVENT takes on special meaning this year for the festival’s namesake – the 27 artists of Hutzot Hayotzer, a tranquil lane filled with studios at the foot of the Old City walls. In December, the 41-yearold artists’ collective was threatened with eviction by the East Jerusalem Development Corporation, the owners of the buildings. The artists accused the EJDC of kicking them out to build a Mamilla-style luxury mall. The EJDC claimed it just wanted to find artists who would keep their studios open for tourists, and they needed to do construction on the area.
After international outcry from art lovers and Hutzot Hayotzer supporters, the EJDC pushed back the eviction notice for a year – but raised the rents by 30 percent. The artists, who are having difficulty planning for the future in such a precarious situation, have paid part of the rent but refuse to pay the increase.
“We’re using the fair as a means to promote ourselves, show we’re still here, still alive and kicking,” explains Anat Galili, the spokesperson for the artists and daughter of Motke Blum, one of the founding members of the artists’ colony.
“We just decided that things are the way they are, we should stand on our own feet and have a say… that we exist and that we’re still capable of doing things on our own.”
George Goldstein and Motke Blum, along with Motke’s wife, were some of the original organizers of the festival when it started 35 years ago. After four years, the municipality offered to help the festival grow, and the artists happily accepted. But recently, the artists have felt increasingly marginalized by the mammoth festival and forgotten by the attendees.
“They never brought artists here,” says Uri Ramot, an artisan who works with ancient metal and coins and has been on the Artists’ Lane for 34 years. “Now we’re taking action – that’s the difference this year. We’re making a happening here, bringing energy to the area.”
For the first time, the artists are inviting their own guests – 13 Israeli artists, including world-renowned photographer Teresa Machado – in addition to street performers and children’s activities.
Studios will stay open late, and most artists will be on hand to give demonstrations.
Both Ariel and the artists noted that this year, cooperation between the two entities has been much improved, perhaps because the artists found their voice as they united to save their studios.
Ramot explains that the smallest things can make a world of difference. Last year, the entrance to the lane was blocked off by guards because people had been entering the festival without paying. This year, a ticket booth at the entrance means that visitors can freely move throughout the studios.
Big-name acts at the festival’s nightly concerts include Gidi Gov, David Broza, Mosh Ben-Ari, Shlomi Shabbat and Aviv Gefen. The festival runs for 11 nights (except Fridays) from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Entrance to the festival is NIS 45 for Jerusalem residents and NIS 190 for non-resident families with three children. Critics complain that spending money to enter a craft fair seems a little far-fetched, but Malka counters that this is not “just a craft fair.”
“It’s really a huge festival, each day, and it’s also really long.
There are music and events going on all over the festival,” she says. “There are children’s workshops, Gypsy musicians, circus people – it’s really an experience for the whole family.”