The show must go on

Nissan Nativ director: It's absurd - our arnona payments are more than we get from the city.

nativ 298.88 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
nativ 298.88
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
The second annual Jerusalem Jazz Festival, which begins this week, is the latest addition to the Holy City's ever-growing roster of art and music events. Whether it is the sounds of the Oud Festival, the prestige of the Israel Festival, the long-running Jerusalem International Film Festival or the ethnic arts and crafts at Hutzot Hayotzer, the capital city is awash with cultural events and performances. There are numerous smaller festivals and events year-round, not to mention the various public celebrations organized around the holidays. This is a far cry from years past. "It's as if someone decided to wipe off the city's old image... they decided to almost literally pour an avalanche of events on our heads," Cinematheque director and cultural maven Yigal Molad-Hayo told In Jerusalem in September. Yet despite all the activity, arts funding can still be hard to come by, even for venerable educational institutions. The Nissan Nativ Acting School in Talpiot, founded over two decades ago, recently set off alarm signals throughout the Jerusalem arts and culture scene by announcing that its extended financial crisis has reached a critical point and it is in danger of closing. The studio is the only drama school in Jerusalem and is a branch of the original Nissan Nativ Studio, founded in Tel Aviv in 1963. Nissan Nativ himself is a legendary figure, a veteran of the War of Independence who studied and worked in Paris, England and Holland before returning to Israel to start his studio, regarded as the best in the country. Nativ still teaches at the institution he founded, where competition is extremely fierce - only 15 applicants are accepted for an incoming class out of hundreds. The closure of Nissan Nativ would be a major blow to the capital's small but prolific theater community. "We are colleagues and neighbors," says Eldad Brik, deputy director of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, which is housed in the same building as Nissan Nativ. "We know them, and it's a pity. Our own situation is a bit better - we are living on the edge and it's not at all easy, but we are not in danger. "For theater, the city has just disappeared as far as funding is concerned. The situation is not good for culture in Jerusalem, and the solution is a public effort - it won't happen alone. If there isn't a solution, Nissan Nativ will only be the first to go." Known for its rigorous three-year program and for the success of its graduates, who make up a who's who of television, movie and theater stars, the Nissan Nativ Studio was invited to open its Jerusalem branch in 1986 by then-mayor Teddy Kollek, with the funding to be provided by the Jerusalem Foundation. "There was an influential time at the end of the '80s," recalls Arik Eshet, the director of the Jerusalem branch, "when the Jerusalem Foundation started a bunch of arts schools: Ourselves, Sam Spiegel, the Musrara Photography School and others. It changed Jerusalem, and caused the young people to stay in the city and learn art." According to Nissan Nativ officials, over time the foundation began reducing the budget, until in 1999 it ceased allocating operating costs altogether, although it continued to pay the rent for the school's 1,555 sq.m. facility until 2004. The Ministry of Culture and the Jerusalem Municipality stepped in at that point to provide support, which prevented the school's immediate closure, but last year the municipality cut its allocation by more than 50 percent. At the same time, the school was requested to pay retroactive, increased arnona [property tax] payments to the tune of NIS 450,000, in addition to the NIS 650,000 deficit administrators predict for the end of this fiscal year. "We tightened our belts as much as we could," explains Eshet. "But the arnona was the straw that broke the camel's back. It's absurd - our arnona payments are more than we get from the city! It's a regression, and the mayor and the prime minister are not really paying attention to what is going on in Jerusalem. These days there are a lot of festivals and events, but you can't build a city on that. It's like a show, like everything is okay. They make parties, but for the day-to-day they are not there." According to Eshet, many of the students at the school come from traditional Jewish households - in contrast to the Tel Aviv school - and have been drawn from the entire area including east Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, giving the Jerusalem branch a specific flavor. Much of the theatrical activity in the city is conducted by graduates of the program, including the Incubator improvisational troupe, the Psik Theater Company and many of the actors for the Living Museum period performances that are put on around the various holidays. In addition, the school recently launched a new initiative with Beit Avi Chai to explore the intersection between theater and Judaism, and has a program in conjunction with the Jewish Agency to send students and graduates to New York to perform and conduct workshops. A STATEMENT released by the Jerusalem Foundation explains that the total funding provided to Nissan Nativ over the years has been nearly $4.5 million, but that "when the first agreement was signed with the school, it was clear that the support was limited. The Jerusalem Foundation collects donations for specific purposes, and therefore naturally is not obligated to provide continual funding like the government or the municipality, which have sources from taxes. The foundation appreciates the activities of Nissan Nativ and its contributions to the cultural life in Israel and Jerusalem." "It's very sad after all these years, and I am not optimistic," says Nissan Nativ general manager Miki Warshaviak, who says that the main Tel Aviv school is going strong. "The moment the [Jerusalem] Foundation ceased paying the rent, it became too difficult. The city doesn't have funding for culture, and the government is not interested. What does [Mayor Uri] Lupolianski care if there is a theater school in Jerusalem?" Arts organizations, large or small, often need to have multiple funding sources to survive, and usually the government provides just a small percentage. For example the Sam Spiegel Film School, founded in 1989, lists over 30 individual donors, including fiscal powerhouses like Teva Pharmaceuticals and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The school was named after the legendary Hollywood producer of classics like Lawrence of Arabia and the Bridge on the River Kwai. A small percentage of the royalties from his movies are also earmarked for the school. Other organizations are lucky enough to get the majority of their funding from one source. Hama'abada, which quickly became an important performance and cultural venue, was started in 2003 as an initiative of Jerusalem Venture Partners, an investment group headed by venture capital mogul Erel Margalit (who was also director of business development under Teddy Kollek). A common complaint in the artistic world is that Jerusalem simply does not allocate resources for culture, especially compared to other municipalities. This causes artists of all kinds to seek education and performance opportunities elsewhere and exacerbates the secular, middle-class exodus from the city. Those who really want to stay in Jerusalem sometimes have to search abroad for sponsorship. The Barbur artist's co-op in Nahlaot, founded in 2005 by graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, receives the bulk of its funding from the Guggenheim Foundation in Switzerland. In a related development, the Israel Broadcasting Authority announced this week that it was cutting its funding to the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra by 60 percent. The IBA, which is facing a financial crisis affecting many areas of its operation, has been the major sponsor of the orchestra during its almost 70 years of existence. The JSO also receives support from the municipality and the government, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to step in to make up the difference, and the orchestra's future is unclear. "It's not only irresponsible, but criminal," JSO director-general Yossi Talgan told The Jerusalem Post. He questioned how the IBA could make such a large budget cut without prior warning, and was concerned that the orchestra musicians might not receive their salaries next month. "The general situation is very bad," says Yaki Har-Tal, manager of the Khan Theater, Jerusalem's only mainstream repertory theater. "The city allocates NIS 4.5m. to 60 arts organizations. To keep it in proportion, Rishon Lezion will give NIS 4m. to one group, and Tel Aviv will give NIS 8m." According to Har-Tal, the nationally known and award-winning Khan Theater gets most of its funding from the Ministry of Culture. Effie Benaya, director of Confederation House, which has also had some arnona difficulties, agrees that the situation for arts in the city is difficult. Although known as the premier venue for ethnic music in Jerusalem and organizer of the Oud Festival, Confederation House also schedules theater performances and provides a home to the Hulgab Ethiopian Theater Troupe, which is partially supported by the Jerusalem Foundation. Benaya thinks there are still possibilities for theater in the Holy City, despite the common complaint that the secular population is decreasing and the haredi and Arab sectors are not theater-goers. "Actually I see a large secular audience, and today there is a large religious audience that arrives to theater and music performances. So, it is possible to expand the theater culture in the city, but the moment Nissan Nativ closes that won't be possible." "I really believe in Jerusalem, and I see a lot of potential," Eshet concurs. "They want to bring young people back to Jerusalem, but there are a lot of artists who are holding on by their fingernails. The Psik Theater, our graduates, is surviving after six or seven years, but many others have tried and not succeeded. The municipality has funding for buildings and roads, but what is the effect? Everyone knows that education and culture are what keeps people in a place. What do they think, if there are more roads, people will stay?" Jerusalem municipal spokesman Gidi Shmerling says that "for the past several years, the municipality has given Nissan Nativ hundreds of thousands of shekels each year, including this one." He points out that in 2005, the city had extra funding available so the culture budget stood at NIS 7m., but that in 2006 the culture budget was "around NIS 5m.," so it wasn't possible for the city to increase the funding to cultural organizations. In regard to the increased arnona payments the Nissan Nativ school is faced with, he says: "The authority to increase the discount in arnona lies solely with the Interior Ministry, not with the city. The district authority of the Interior Ministry has refused the request for an arnona discount, and the efforts of the city on this subject have come to nothing." Shmerling also notes that the city is now partially funding the Incubator project, the improvisational group composed of Nissan Nativ graduates. According to Eshet, the group has put on almost 240 performances over the past two years at different venues around the city. With the new funding it will be able to have a permanent home and expanded programming. "The city is now funding a studio for the Incubator, so there is a place for the students to perform," comments first-year student Shai Skiba, "but at the same time it is closing the school." Skiba says that the course load at Nissan Nativ is so heavy and involved that the students have not been able to effectively organize a response to the situation. "We don't have time to really deal with it. We are not political and so we don't know exactly what to do," he admits. Nevertheless, about two weeks ago he started an on-line petition aimed at saving the school (at, which nearly 700 people had signed by press time. In addition, there is a demonstration to protest the closing of the school scheduled for 3:30 p.m., Tuesday June 19 at Kikar Safra. DEPUTY MAYOR Yigal Amedi has taken up the cause as well. He has proposed a three-part solution that addresses not only the problems of Nissan Nativ, but some of the other difficulties faced by art and culture organizations in Jerusalem. "We are going to increase the culture budget from NIS 5m. to NIS 9m.," he says. "This is just a stopgap measure. We are also looking into buying the building [that houses Nissan Nativ]. Then they won't have to pay rent, which was once done by the Jerusalem Foundation." The third part of the proposed solution involves a deal with the government according to which non-profit, cultural organizations in Jerusalem would become exempt from certain taxes. According to Amedi this is in the discussion phase, but if it goes through it would free up around NIS 10m. for the various groups. "We always need more money for culture," Amedi admits, "but I think the municipality made some mistakes that we are now paying for." At the same time he points out that Jerusalem hosts "multiple festivals and events honoring Jerusalem" that the city also funds, and is dismissive of the idea that there is no future for cultural activities in the Holy City. For the moment, the Jerusalem branch of Nissan Nativ is still active - the latest in-house production, Hanoch Levin's Krum, just completed a week-long run. Meanwhile, the Nissan Nativ administration has been attempting to arrange a meeting with Minister of Science, Culture, and Sport Ghaleb Majadle to discuss the situation, but after a recent meeting with his deputy, Dr. Yoav Rosen, Eshet did not come away optimistic. "The problem is that there isn't a main person for culture, for the city or the government. There really is the feeling that there is no one in charge," Eshet says. "Yigal Amedi is the only one who wants to do something and he has his plans, but the city always blocks him. But we need the city and the government, you can't depend on philanthropy for the future." According to Nissan Nativ director-general Warshaviak, if no solution is found, one possibility is that the school will simply not accept a new class for the next academic year. Current students will hopefully be able to complete their program, allowing for a gradual shut-down of Nissan Nativ's Jerusalem branch over the next two years. "It's important for Nissan Nativ to stay in Jerusalem and I hope they won't close," says Avi Sabag, director of the Musrara Photography School, which receives funding not only from the city and the Ministry of Culture, but also the Jerusalem Foundation, the Bracha Fund, the Caesarea Fund and others. "The city doesn't give enough, especially to the art schools; it's a problem for a lot of organizations," he continues. "There needs to be a general solution that will have a lasting influence. Today the students learn, but tomorrow they go out and influence the cultural life of this country. 'Because from Zion, Torah comes forth,' as it is written. What will happen if there is no more Torah?"