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After being ravaged by an explosion of catastrophic proportions last week, Beirut is calling for help. In the absence of a functional government, which resigned earlier this week, artists and cultural nonprofits are stepping in to fill the void.
The blast that shook Beirut on August 4 has not only killed more than 200 people and injured thousands but also left vast areas near the city’s port in ruins, including buildings that housed Lebanon’s leading art galleries and cultural institutions.
A number of initiatives, lead by individual artists or arts nonprofits, have sprung up in the aftermath of the explosion, with the goal of raising funds for relief efforts in the city and reconstructing its devastated cultural sector.
Mohamad Kanaan, a Beirut-born artist who is now based in the Netherlands, has launched the Instagram account Art Relief for Beirut, through which Lebanese and international artists are offering their works for sale to raise donations for the Lebanese Red Cross and the grassroots disaster relief nonprofit Impact Lebanon.
Leading artists like Emily Jacir, Diana Halabi, Younès Rahmoun, Rafael Domenech, and all four winners of the 2019 Turner Prize — Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani — have contributed artwork for the fundraiser. Artist Saba Innab contributed the only work she could rescue from Marfa’ Projects, a gallery at the Port District that was reduced to rubble.
The project has so far raised $84,000 by selling 32 artworks and 200 prints, exceeding its initial goal of $50,000.
“I felt helpless after many of my friends and family members had near-death experiences; witnessing from afar the destruction that happened was heart-breaking,” Kanaan told Hyperallergic in an email. “The scale of destruction is incomprehensible, my family and friends are safe but they are not okay. No one is okay. The explosion was traumatic on so many levels.”
Kanaan launched the initiative on August 7, three days after the explosion, with drawings by the Lebanese artist Ali Cherri, who was first to participate. The response on social media was immediate: “We sold 10 drawings in less than 15 mins,” Kanaan said.
Since then, more artists and galleries have reached out to Kanaan to donate artwork for the fundraiser. “The art community is really coming together in this initiative and it’s great to be part of it,” he said. “Beirut holds a special place in many people’s hearts and that’s why many are eager to help.”
Mophradat, a Brussels-based arts nonprofit headed by Lebanese artist Walid Raad, has launched an emergency fund for affected artists and art institutions in Beirut.
A letter penned by Raad and Mophradat’s director Mai Abu ElDahab begins with a somber acknowledgment of the devastation that has befallen Beirut and its residents. It reads: “People are still missing; The dead are being buried; The wounded tended to; Psyches are scarred; Debris is piling up; Shortages abound; And top of our mourning, tears, and fears, we feel anger, defiance, resignation, horror and disgust wrapped into a single continuous consuming emotion.”
The letter continues: “As we live this (up close and from afar), we will do what we can so that our arts communities return to studios and workspaces, gathering spots and centers, art schools and residencies, museums and theaters.”
Donations are accepted through direct bank transfer or PayPal. The nonprofit said it will soon announce its priorities and methodologies in distributing the donations while vowing to “make choices that can have lasting consequences, while prioritizing those already disadvantaged, and those who influence in a thoughtful manner the community around them.”
The Beirut-based nonprofits the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) and Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy) have jointly launched the “Lebanon Solidarity Fund,” an international fundraising campaign to support the culture and the arts community within Beirut.
“The August 4 catastrophe has struck an astounding, unprecedented blow to all aspects of life including the arts and culture sector,” a statement by the two organizations reads. They continued:
The survival and sustainability of the once vibrant creative field is now in a critical condition. Recovering from the shock will require time, as will the reconvening as a community to identify priorities, articulate visions and bolster the myriad ways in which people will rebuild their lives from the ruins of devastation.
Donations will go to the reconstruction of damaged premises, assistance in renting alternative venues, and securing collections and archives. The fund will also support individual artists who lost their homes, instruments, and equipment and assist them in relocating to new homes or workspaces.
The group Artist Fundraiser for Beirut is streaming films and live performances via Twitch through August 13 to raise funds for Beirut-based charities. The 24-hour livestream includes contributions by artists Sulaïman Majali, Reman Sadani, Dala Nasser, and Firas Shehadeh, among others.
Other art organizations in Beirut are assisting the relief efforts in different ways. Haven for Artists, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ artists in Lebanon, has repurposed its space as a shelter for single mothers, immigrant workers, and other people from marginalized communities who have lost their homes.
Hammam Radio, a feminist radio collective, has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to support Haven for Artists and Beirut’s Anti Racism Movement. Donations will be split equally between the two organizations.
“Nothing will ever be the same, and as we stand looking dazed at the ruins of our beloved, beloved city,” Hammam Radio wrote on the GoFundMe page, “We can not help but feel our anger soar at a political and ruling elite who have long lost all and any type of shame.”