Spreading their wings

An artists' co-op adds to the mix in eclectic Nahlaot.

On a quiet street in Nahlaot, a tight-knit group of artists has created a new gallery and performance space in Jerusalem: Barbur, which means swan in Hebrew. Located in a residential area near a few used clothing stores and next to a lively religious kindergarten, the one-year-old cooperative arts space seems to fit right into the eclectic neighborhood. The non-profit project, which provides artists of all kinds with a venue to display their work, is the brainchild of a group of friends who graduated from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 2004. Although after graduation each pursued his or her individual career, the idea percolated to open something together, and once talk led to action Barbur officially opened in July 2005. "We started as five people who learned and finished together, and then we rented a studio," says painter Masha Zusman, one of the founders. "In the first year we worked independently, each one beside the other. Eventually, we wanted to do an exhibition all together, and from that came the idea to have a permanent place together." The group found a suitable location to rent at 6 Rehov Shirizli. The space was run-down and semi-abandoned when they entered, but using their own money the group began a series of renovations, resulting in a clean, high-ceilinged gallery/performance room with a light-filled entry area. The property also has a large patio/yard that is currently being landscaped to serve as a community garden. "We are all working artists, and besides that we are all individuals... each one has their own style, also in our art," continues Zusman. "We have a very good connection and we help each other. We are friends first of all... it's not like somebody came and had an idea and then found the other people." After their official beginning, Barbur managed to secure a series of small grants from Omanut La'am, Keren Hayesod and most importantly, from the Georg and Josi Guggenheim Foundation in Switzerland. This support has enabled them to cover basic operating costs and to adhere to their vision: to be a community arts space where lesser-known visual artists, photographers, filmmakers, musicians and others can find a place to present their work. In keeping with this ethos, admission to nearly all events at Barbur is free, and the exhibiting artists or performers do not receive monetary compensation for their efforts. "People who are coming don't completely get what's going on here," explains Hagit Keysar, one of the core group and currently a graduate student at the Hebrew University. "We don't just take people [to exhibit] who have an impressive CV, and they don't have to pay to put on the exhibition. How can we explain to people that we are not just looking for art by itself?" "They [the artists] don't earn money but they receive something spiritual," says painter Yannai Segal, who recently moved to Tel Aviv but maintains close ties with the group. "This is a meeting place for everyone." "Of course, we are very happy when someone comes and sees the work of an artist and wants to buy it," adds Zusman. "We are happy to make those connections." The members of Barbur are especially keen on maintaining the community aspects of their endeavor; during their interview with In Jerusalem, a neighbor appeared and, with a quick wink for permission, brought his pack of dogs and puppies to frolic in the still-to-be completed garden. Because of its proximity to the Mahaneh Yehuda market, the street sees a lot of foot traffic and this in turn has enabled a diverse mix of people to become aware of the space. Barbur typically hosts two to three events each week, besides its regular gallery hours. Recent events have included a screening of the film The Katif Dream, about Neveh Dekalim at the time of the evacuation from Gaza, a music performance by the group Hakoma Lemala, a new folk/Latin trio that came out of the Rimon School of Contemporary Music and a three-day visual arts intensive that featured visiting artists from Germany. Also regularly featured are group dinners, lectures and other community events. Although it has multidisciplinary programming, Barbur remains rooted in the visual arts and hosts a different gallery showing each month. The last show, A High Wind in Jamaica, was the premier exhibition of the work of Avi Stern, who created a series of drawings that combine everyday features such as roads, trees, tunnels, grates and bricks into surreal combinations somewhat reminiscent of Escher. The previous month's showing was of paintings and dolls done by senior citizens at the Lev Ha'ir Community Center. Last week, an exhibit opened by photographer Tal Adler, who has spent the past two years chronicling, and sometimes living with, the Beduin communities of the Negev. His traveling show, entitled Unrecognized, combines unconventional landscape photos with personal stories and information with the aim of exposing Israeli society to the plight and culture of the Beduin. Things have been going well for the young cooperative, and the members interviewed seem by and large open to different ideas about the future of Barbur, including the possibility that some members might move on to other things, or that the space could be used by others in the future for different purposes. Until then, they seem content to live in the present, relishing the opportunity to realize their ideas as they go along. "We're too busy thinking about the day-to-day to worry about the future," explains Segal. A complete listing of events and more information in Hebrew and English can be found at www.barbur.org.