The cure within

The Mekudeshet music festival is all about making Jerusalem relevant.

Eviatar Banai (photo credit: SHAHAR RATZENBERG)
Eviatar Banai
(photo credit: SHAHAR RATZENBERG)
Over 200 years ago, a British scientist named Edward Jenner treated an eight-year-old boy with diseased cells resembling those of smallpox.
One blister emerged and dissipated, leaving the boy immune to smallpox. Jenner had thus created the world’s first vaccine. As scientists moved forward in their quest to cure other infectious diseases, they followed Jenner’s example, turning not away from but to the disease at hand for answers to their questions.
Nine years after starting in his post as artistic director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture and the annual Mekudeshet Festival, Itay Mautner takes a similar approach to Israeli politics. We meet in a café on Nahalat Binyamin in the morning. Mautner, 43, has just dropped his two children and a neighbor’s child off at kindergarten. Over iced coffee and sandwiches, Mautner tracks the learning curve he experienced since taking up the reins of these unprecedented cultural events.
“Jerusalem is so far away, consciously, from people like us.” He takes a moment to consider this and adds, “I don’t like to say ‘people like us’ because we don’t know each other well enough. But, for secular or liberal people in Israel, living in the center… We treat it as this irrelevant city. The city is close to me for two reasons, because of the nation’s biography and because of my personal history, having grown up there. As a person and as an organization, we have had a very meaningful process. I understand that it isn’t just that Jerusalem is important, but that the solutions to our problems are there. We can learn so much about how to move forward by looking at the way the city functions.”
Mautner is impressive if nothing else. His career has included jaunts in television, radio, magazines, newspapers and stage. He is a cofounder of two of Tel Aviv’s most successful arts events to date, the Art TLV Biennale and Pecha Kucha Nights. He considers himself “a curator, artist and whatever lies between.”
Grappling with the challenges of producing an arts event in a Jerusalem, a wholly different animal than Tel Aviv, forced Mautner to take stock of his own upbringing.
“My liberal ethos, the one I was raised on, was only true in a sector I felt comfortable with. I had a very important revelation here. I had to ask myself what it means to be truly open. Jerusalem is so divided, everyone has their camp. The city is in an eternal, post-traumatic state and every sector blames the other. But with all this tension, the city forces everyone to make it work somehow, to get along. I think it is redefining what pluralism is.”
Mautner describes Mekudeshet as a “city-specific” event.
“We looked at the separation between art and life and tried to find ways to take something from the studio and bring it back to reality. A lot of the events take place in public spaces.”
One section of the program, titled “Rites of Here and Now,” is dedicated to creating new communal rituals. Yasmeen Godder will present “Simple Action” in the foyer of a hospital in east Jerusalem. Renana Raz will present “Running in Jerusalem,” an audience- participation running performance through the streets of the city.
“It’s about new perspectives and how you can get them. Running can change your perspective, so can movement,” says Mautner.
Making the ‘opposite of regular’ music at Mekudeshet: Eviatar Banai.
(Shahar Ratzenberg) Trilok Gurtu. (Elio Guidi) Aviv Bahar. (Thomas Radlwimmer) Mekudeshet Festival artistic director Itay Mautner: Making Jerusalem relevant. (Dan Peretz) Dudu Tassa. (Dudi Hason) Another perspective-changer is “Above and Beyond,” an art exhibition held on various rooftops.
“I have spent the past many months going up and down stairs,” laughs Mautner. “I want to broaden our focus, I want people to be disoriented for a second. If you are oriented, nothing radical or different will happen.”
In “Five Ways to Dissolve Boundaries,” audience members will be taken on guided tours unlike any they’ve experienced before.
“Our lives are full of walls, the ones we put up and the ones put up on us. In this project, we ask people to give us five hours, NIS 100 and their trust. They will meet four or five people who are boundary dissolvers, who can’t be labeled. We have people who break apart all the conceptions of what you can and cannot be at the same time. These are the people who inspire us.”
The name Mekudeshet was chosen with great care, he explains.
“The festival existed before as part of Jerusalem Season of Culture; it became Mekudeshet three years ago. I think that word is one of the most charged words in the Hebrew language. The definition of ‘mekudash’ is ‘the opposite of regular.’ That is what we are trying to get at… at those moments that are out of the norm, the routine.”
Jerusalem Season of Culture and Mekudeshet are sponsored predominantly by the Schusterman Foundation. Following the closing of Mekudeshet, Mautner will step down from his role, leaving the festival in the hands of general director Naomi Bloch Fortis.
Mekudeshet will take place from August 24 through September 15.
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