For the love of Jerusalem

The scope and quantity of cultural events in this city are burgeoning.

lupolianski 88 (photo credit: )
lupolianski 88
(photo credit: )
A few weeks ago, the Hebrew press reported that Mayor Uri Lupolianski was trying to bring Sting, the well-known British rock-pop musician, to Jerusalem. Sting in Jerusalem? Brought by Lupolianski, Jerusalem's first haredi mayor? "Nothing is as hard to change as a stigma," Gidi Schmerling, municipal spokesman, sighs in response. While some criticize the mayor for not attending public cultural events, a senior high-ranking municipal official told In Jerusalem, "The mayor has never tried to prevent any cultural event from happening. But we finally understood that because of his delicate position vis a vis the haredi community, he prefers to present these events as something with which he is not involved." And while this might raise the question of whether the mayor is able to call himself the "mayor of all of this city's citizens," as he promised, it is impossible to ignore that the scope and quantity of cultural events in this city are burgeoning. "We are trying to prove that Jerusalem is no longer a city without or with only a low level of cultural life. We are succeeding. And the prime motivator of this initiative is Mayor Lupolianski, even though people rarely see him at festivals or grand openings." According to Gil Sheffer, head of the Spokesman's and Information Department at the municipality, this week's fireworks display in Tel Aviv provided yet another confirmation of his cultural-municipal philosophy: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Tel Avivians and Jerusalemites are very different, and what works in one city will not work in another. "People spent more than two hours in traffic to see beautiful fireworks that lasted 15 minutes. Just try to imagine Jerusalemites going through the same thing. They would kill us, the officials, first." He continues, "I say this with complete respect and in total agreement: "Jerusalemites are very patriotic to their city, but they are also very critical." Yet, he says, citing recent statistics, "83 percent of the residents of Jerusalem say that they are very satisfied living here. I don't think that statistics in other cities even come close to these numbers." Sheffer is a member of the "Repertoire Committee," recently established at Kikar Safra to oversee the increasing explosion of cultural events in Jerusalem. Tzion Tourjeman is head of the Ariel Company, the municipal auxiliary company in charge of production and logistics for cultural events. As such, he has nothing to do with the municipal allocations to cultural institutions, which have, until this year, been less than NIS 4 million and this year are only NIS 7m. (not including the monies allocated through the "Jerusalem Regulation," which are transferred directly to those institutions). He is elated over the "avalanche of events" that is coming down on our city over the spring and summer. "In the year 2000, the municipality and the citizens were in a state of high expectations for the events planned for the millennium. But before we really began to see any of the benefits, we sank into the trauma of the intifada," says Sheffer. "We had no budgets, people didn't leave their homes, there seemed to be no point in planning anything, because no one would have come anyway," says Tourjeman, recalling the first years of the 21st century. The city wasn't plagued only by the dearth of cultural events. "Hotels shut down, employees were fired, taxis had no clients and neither did the restaurants and the coffee shops. The previous administration in this municipality had to decide: are we going to let everything die, or dare we keep on living?" Sheffer continues with a surprising comparison. "We were in the same situation as the Chechens," he says. "Their representative to the recent 24th International Mayors Conference just told me that, in the middle of their tragedy, they decided to produce a jazz festival. Why? Because they believed it would give the people hope." This was the reason, Sheffer says, that Ehud Olmert opened the first "City Courtyards" project in 2002, in the midst of the terrorist attacks. And the municipality continued to invite artists and performers, often several years in advance. "This is what enabled us to reach the point that we have reached," he declared. Sheffer and Tourjeman both agree that the "traumatic years" (2000-2004) were followed by the years of "getting back to business." "Last year, we were already offering Jerusalemites and tourists, from within Israel and from abroad, a wide range of high-quality events. This year, we are preparing events at a level and pace never before seen here." Sheffer reveals that now that the city is "back to normal," the municipality is less involved. "We are more of a facilitator and overseer. We deal with traffic and facilities, with the calendar of events, content and locations. The repertoire committee no longer has to convince people or the media to take an interest in what we are doing.. we are almost at the point where we to try to hold the galloping horses back." He aims high. "We are marketing Jerusalem as the first option for large cultural events," he says. In the past, the Yarkon Park was considered the only spot for large open concerts. This year it will be Sacher Park in Jerusalem. Or Independence Park, which will hold events similar to the musical events in Central Park." But in all cases, he says, it will not be merely "more of the same." "That's because Jerusalem is not 'more of the same.' It is a unique and very different city and we are emphasizing the special characteristics of the city, its architecture, location and specialities. "For example, we're seeing a new trend here - kosher bars and pubs. In Tel Aviv, if you are observant, you have no where to go. Here it's not just a fad - it's a wonderful way for people to meet each other, religious and non-religious, the guy with the peyot (sidelocks) and the girl who just came back from India. And that can happen only in Jerusalem." One of the problems with this growth in art and culture is the uneven level and quality of the performances and venues. Says Tourjeman, "When you work with private producers and promoters, you take a risk. This, for example, is what happened with the Flower Market during Pessah. It was a flop and not professional enough. That is why at Ariel we are very careful when we chose our partners and very cautious. But you can't avoid 100% of the mistakes." As head of Ariel, Tourjeman is responsible for most of these events, and his organizational and production abilities are universally admired. One of his innovations: this year, the Book Fair, which will start on June 5, will be located in the Old Train Station. "Ariel started to gear up with the Mayors' Convention," Tourjeman says. "And we will not have a free hour until the end of September." He listed a few, clearly struggling to remember everything on the long list: the Peace Tents; Book Week; the International Jazz Festival; the Open Cinema in the framework of the Jerusalem Film Festival; Taste of the City, a food festival; the City Courtyards Festival; the Barman Fair; the Beer Festival; an Artists' Marathon in the Middle of Town; and the Puppet Festival. He makes it clear that this list was far from exhaustive, then stopped for a moment to catch his breath and continued, "We will have a special event in the Mahaneh Yehuda compound - a silent movie with live music. And concerts and performances by leading musicians and performers every night at the Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts festival, which is celebrating its 30th year. And all this is only what Ariel is responsible for - there are also private initiatives." But as the flood of culture continues, who decides what to bring and who decides what is good and what is inferior? Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi responded, "Until now, we have merely held on over these terrible years. At the moment, various institutions work together. But soon, we will have a new Authority for Culture, Tourism and International Relations." Amedi has been promoting this new authority for more than a year. "It will happen very soon. The authority will have the right to raise money, to invite and promote private and public initiatives and maintain them, and we will also be able to emphasize specific events, monitor quality, and enable local artists to find their way to the center stage." Added Sheffer, "We also think about the local artists, creators and performers, but we have to develop cautiously, to maintain an equilibrium between the big names and the local names who will one day become famous. Once we create the proper atmosphere, there will be many more opportunities." Meanwhile, Sheffer promised, the municipality soon hand out a "residence's card," which will entitle Jerusalemites to significant reductions in the prices of these events."