Nabad: The Lebanese-Palestinian cultural initiative giving momentum back to cultural actors

Nabad: The Lebanese-Palestinian cultural initiative giving momentum back to cultural actors
5 min read
11 March, 2021
Organisations like Nabad wish to give artists and cultural institutes their spark back to help them go on with their projects and ideas post the devastating Beirut port blast.
Beirut's art gallery Tanit Galerie was devastated the day of Beirut's port blast [Getty]
The heart of Beirut – devastated by the August 4 explosion – was the home of many artists, cultural actors and companies that were part of the social fabric of the city.

Outside emergency relief initiatives, some organisations like Nabad wish to give them back the spark to go on with their projects and ideas.

Nabad was launched last November as an intervention in the artistic and cultural milieu in Lebanon. It's a Lebanese-Palestinian programme financed by Dar al Kalima University in Bethlehem, whose director Dr Mitri Raheb is a friend of Pamela Chrabieh, founder and programme manager.

For now, they are at the first phase of activity, in Lebanon until May 2021, hoping to secure more funds to become permanent and evolve regionally.

"After the explosion, Dr Mitri called me, he asked me how his university could help," Chrabieh recalled to The New Arab. "Emergency help was big for the first three months, so we were wondering how to make an impact on the long-term."

After contacting her friend Roula Salibi, the projects coordinator, they started a two-months work of field research, identifying the different cultural actors of the area, talking to them and identifying the real needs on the ground. They ended up conceiving a hybrid programme, based on art intervention, outreach, empowerment and artistic creation.

"At the beginning, we thought we would focus on relief," Salibi told The New Arab. "But we saw that people were already helped a lot by NGOs and small organisations, to renovate studios and galleries for example. What they were wondering was: how can we survive and work on the long-term?"

The explosion is also coupled with a dire economic situation in Lebanon, which affects everyone. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 80 percent of its value to the dollar on the black market and more than half the population is now in poverty. In that situation, it is hard for Lebanese artists and cultural actors to project themselves in the future.

Nabad's identified a dozen of small companies and independent artists or collectives in need of support, and let them free to start their own projects with a set budget.

For example, their partner Meadows NGO organises art therapy workshops for over 100 nurses at Saint-Georges hospital, which was destroyed by the blast, and the company Plan Bey is publishing a book on traditional Beirut architecture. They have also financed the organisation for an exhibition focused on women by Haven for Artists by the end of March, and the organisation of six live and six virtual concerts with Beirut Jam Sessions (BJS).


Nabad is an innovative programme that aims at
empowering artists, arts organisations and
creative enterprises []

The latter is a music organisation promoting and organising concerts. "You have to imagine that we can't afford to rend sound equipment anymore so we do music unplugged now, the sound is great," NJS co-founder Anthony Semaan jokingly told The New Arab.

"There are also not so many venues left, and the pandemic has left us without the opportunity to have artists meeting their audience live. With Nabad, we managed to make six concerts live, of course with social distancing and masks, and it was great to have our artists so happy to perform again for an audience," he continues. 

"The six virtual concerts were made to support the artists who had to leave the country because of the situation. All the tickets' money went straight to the musicians, it's important to be able to help them."

Semaan hopes the collaboration continues and that, hopefully soon, BJS will go back to programming events.

For Haven For Artists, a local NGO specialising on the modern underground scene, working with Nabad was the opportunity to do a street intervention.

"Haven believes in radical social change, and that's the principle of that exhibition," founder Dayna Ash told The New Arab. "Women are at the front of everything, especially in terms of care during the pandemic and since the explosion. It was the opportunity to pay tribute to them."

Nabda also developed personal projects, such as the publication of a book called The Beirut Call, with 21 contributors, mainly Lebanese but and also Palestinians, living both in Lebanon and in the diaspora. They are artists, poets, academics and authors from various backgrounds, telling their story of Beirut.

In order to support artists and creative companies efficiently, Nabda launched a platform called Arleb with a first online exhibition of more than 500 works made by 61 emerging and established artists.

"Because of the pandemic, it's not possible to go see an exhibition," Chrabieh said. "So we decided to give artists a platform, free of charge, where they could exhibit and sell their work, mainly abroad because they need "fresh dollars" in order to be able to afford material.

"But it's not just financial. The theme was set, on cultural resistance and Beirut, so most of them did create something new. I think the most important for us is to see artists be dynamic again, feeling boosted to create."

Among their multiple ideas and projects, the team members try mostly to give back a voice to the cultural actors who may be overwhelmed by the situation.

"We're doing whatever we can with the budget we got," Chrabieh said. "Everything we do is based on community and solidarity, so that the heart of cultural Beirut beats a little. The situation is very tough, and we just want to give to artists, promote their work, and hope better days will come."

Florence Massena is a freelance journalist based in Norway after six years spent in Lebanon. She reports on the environment, women's issues, human rights and refugees in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Follow her on Twitter: @FlorenceMassena