Ministry of Culture or No Ministry of Culture? Lebanese Cultural Players and Authority

Nadia von Maltzahn

Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2018) 38 (2): 330-343.

This article looks at the relationship of Lebanese artists and cultural players to state institutions, in particular the ministry of culture. Why do cultural players in Lebanon call for the state’s involvement in cultural production, while in most countries of the region they wish for less involvement? What is it that artists and cultural players who are not content with the status quo ask for? This article argues that artists and intellectuals look for state support of culture as long as it does not intervene in their artistic freedom, showing that this search is connected to the idea of citizenship and rights to culture. By looking at the debates around the establishment of a ministry of culture in the early 1970s and 1990s, this article sheds light on the formulation of cultural policies in Lebanon.

You can find the article here.

Please get in touch if you do not have access to the article through the link provided.

Rethinking Cultural Policies in Lebanon

Zaitunay Bay, Private Property

By Nadia von Maltzahn, Research Associate at the Orient-Institut Beirut and member of the Working Group on Cultural Policies in Lebanon

In Lebanon, the perception that there are no cultural policies is widespread. People’s first thought goes to the Ministry of Culture and its perceived lack of action in the field of culture. However, cultural policies do not only pertain to the work of ministries of culture, but rather are determined by a variety of actors and actions.

In this new article, entitled “What Cultural Policies?”, I apply the concept of explicit and implicit cultural policy to the case of Lebanon, and extend the terms so that the former does not only include cultural policies designated as such by the state, but also those created by civil society and other non-state actors, and that the latter does not only include political strategies, but also encompasses practices that in the end determine cultural policies. By looking at different ways to talk about cultural policies in Lebanon, I aim to show some of the power struggles between multiple actors involved in culture. Cultural frameworks are negotiated by a multitude of actors on the basis of both explicit and implicit policies, but also unwritten laws and practices. Continue reading

A Few Things You Need to Know When Creating an Art Project in a Public Space in Lebanon


Check out the new tool guide on art in public spaces in Lebanon, a project by T.A.P (Temporary Art Platform). This is what T.A.P. says about the project:

A Few Things You Need to Know When Creating an Art Project in a Public Space in Lebanon
Art in public spaces in Lebanon: A research project and tool guide on the legal and administrative challenges and opportunities

In collaboration with Nayla Geagea, Attorney at Law

This research project and tool guide is part of the long-term vision that TEMPORARY. ART. PLATFORM (T.A.P) holds, particularly in the encouragement and development of art in public spaces in Lebanon. Continue reading

IETM Satellite Meeting Beirut & History of Censorship in Lebanon

IETM will hold its Satellite Meeting Beirut between 6 and 9 October 2016, focusing on Freedom of Expression. In the words of IETM:

The Satellite’s programme will thrash out such crucial topics as mobility, cultural policies, funding, gender equality in the cultural sector, decentralization of culture and more.

Multifaceted discussions, roundtables, encounters, visits and performances will reveal Beirut as a place where, similarly to the rest of the Arab region, artists and cultural operators are reclaiming public space, defying mobility restrictions and persistently making art as a form of resistance. 

The programme is backed by an International Campaign for Freedom of Expression, launched by IETM, with the aim of endorsing on-going reforms of censorship laws in Lebanon and similar campaigns in the South-Mediterranean region. 

Political and ideological realities weight heavily on the cultural sector everywhere today. To resort to our strongest remedy – solidarity, we invite you to Beirut to revolve around the challenges and values of working together. 

The full programme for the meeting can be found here.

In the run up to the meeting, cultural activist and journalist Mona Merhi has written a short overview of the history of censorship in Lebanon, which can be accessed here (in both English and Arabic).

Screenshot History of Censorship in Lebanon


Internationales Promotionskolleg Kulturvermittlung/Médiation Culturelle, Hildesheim UNESCO Chair for Cultural Policies and Université Aix-Marseille

Hildesheim University’s UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policies is offering PhD fellowships as part of their joint programme Cultural Mediation/Médiation Culturelle with the Université Aix-Marseille. For further information, see the poster below. Deadline for applications is 31 August 2016.

Ausschreibung internat. Promotionskolleg Frist 31.8.2016

USJ: Master Professionnel en critique d’art et curatoriat, Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines

In order to connect researchers and contribute towards creating a knowledge base on cultural policies in Lebanon, we have started to collect information on MA and PhD theses completed at universities in Lebanon on relevant topics.

At the Université Saint-Joseph (USJ), a professional Master in art criticism and curatorial studies was launched in 2010 at the Department of French Literature at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

According to its website, the programme aims to train specialists of art from the region as well as experts in artistic and cultural professions. It allows students to familiarize themselves with issues of contemporary practices and the local context, and to become actors in the artistic and cultural scene. It responds to a growing demand for professionalization, and contributes to the emergence of innovative projects.

In a conversation with Nayla Tamraz, head of the French Literature department and programme director, we learn that graduates of the Master’s programme are in high demand, and often work in parallel to their academic studies (read an article about the Master here). Since the degree programme is still fairly young, only a small number of Master’s theses have been completed to date.

Of these, the following two are of particular interest to us:

Hage, Maya. Art et devoir de mémoire dans le Liban d’après Guerre: le musée d’art au cœur des enjeux nationaux. 2014-2015. (108 p.) Description bibliographique

Homsy, Ranine. Méditation culturelle et jeune public au Liban: les 7 a 12 ans dans les centres d’art. 2013. (109 p.) Description bibliographique

They are both accessible at the library of the Arts and Humanities Faculty, which is open to all researchers.

This is a programme to watch; a number of Master’s theses are currently being written on other relevant topics!

Open Call to Apply for Grants Related to Cultural Policies

Al Mawred Logo-01

Al Mawred Al Thaqafy launched an open call to apply for grants related to cultural policies. The call is open to organisations, individuals and groups. Grants of up to 8,000 USD are awarded for each project selected. An independent jury made up of cultural policy experts from the Arab region will select the projects.

Applications will be accepted for projects that seek to monitor, assess, research and develop the state of cultural policies in a number of Arab countries concerning the following themes:

  • Freedom of expression and cultural rights.
  • Making culture more widely available in Arab societies.
  • Financing culture.
  • Exploring forms and methods of community and professional organisation for artists and cultural groups.

Deadline for submission of applications is 15 May 2016.

Read the full call in Arabic and in English.


“لنا ذاكرة في هذه الأرض”

المفكرة القانونية والهيئة المبادرة لإرساء سياسيات ثقافية في لبنان
وردّا على منع فيلم “لي قبور في هذه الأرض”
يتشرفان بدعوتكم
:لحضور مؤتمر صحافي تتبعه ندوة بعنوان

“لنا ذاكرة في هذه الأرض”

من الساعة الخامسة حتى الثامنة مساء، في 28-10-2015. المكان: مترو المدينة، مسرح المدينة، الحمرا، بيروت

في شهر حزيران 2015، تبلّغت المخرجة اللبنانية رين متري قرار وزير الداخلية نهاد المشنوق برفض عرض فيلمها “لي قبور في هذه الأرض”. ويشكّل منع هذا الفيلم الذي يستعيد بعضاً من مآسي الحرب اللبنانيّة 1975-1990 مؤشّراً جديداً على النيّة في طمس هذه المآسي ومعها ذاكرة الضحايا. كما أنه يؤشر الى سوء نظام الرقابة في لبنان. وأمام إصرار وزير الداخلية على قراره، تتوجه متري إلى الطعن به أمام مجلس شورى الدولة، دفاعاً عن حرية الإبداع والتعبير. وهي بذلك تلتقي مع نضالات ضحايا الحرب وفي طليعتهم ذوي المفقودين لتكريس حقهم بالمعرفة. كما تلتقي مع نضالات عدّة لصون حرية التعبير في لبنان في مجالات متفرقة (مطبوعات، مسرح، اعلام مجتمعي..). للتحدث بهذا الشأن، نعقد مؤتمراً صحافياً نتناول فيه الخطوات القضائية لمواجهة الرقابة، وتعقبه ندوة للحديث عن آخر توجهات السلطات المعنية بشأن الرقابة في مختلف مجالات التعبير.

يتحدث في المؤتمر الصحافي كلا من المخرجة رين متري ورئيسة لجنة أهالي المفقودين والمخطوفين في لبنان وداد حلواني ومحرر المفكرة القانونية نزار صاغية وممثل عن جمعية مهارات وتديره المخرجة حنان الحاج علي، ويستمر من الساعة 5 حتى الساعة 6.

ويتحدث في الندوة كلا من السيدة ليا بارودي من جمعية مارش والمحامية رنا صاغية والصحافي محمد زبيب، وتديره المحامية غيدة فرنجية، ويستمر من الساعة 6 حتى الساعة 8.

Cultural Policies in Lebanon: A beginning

To improve existing policies and create awareness about cultural policies, a project was launched in 2009 to research the state of cultural policies in a number of Arab countries. Following an open call, the regional NGO Culture Resource (al Mawred al Thaqafy) in close cooperation with the European Cultural Foundation selected researchers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to research their national cultural policies along the following axes: historical background, organisation and infrastructure of all institutions involved, objectives and principles, state of the debate on cultural policies, legal frameworks, financial frameworks, the role of civil society and partnerships, and supporting creativity. A summary of the results was subsequently published in both Arabic (download here) and English, and a regional conference on cultural policies in the Arab World held in Beirut in June 2010.

One recommendation of this conference was to set up an Arab group for cultural policies, consisting of representatives of participating countries who in turn would set up national groups for cultural policies in their countries, to advance research and the debate on cultural policies. A second meeting was held in Amman in April 2011, at which the notion was reinforced that cultural work in the region suffered from similar problems, including lack of cooperation between state institutions and the independent sector, a legislation that gave little room to artists and intellectuals, as well as financial restrictions. The change the region was going through was seen as providing an opportunity to examine the organisation and development of cultural work based on a well-grounded understanding of the present situation and a long-term vision, and to make recommendations for new or reformed infrastructures.

The initial research on cultural policies in Lebanon in 2009 was undertaken by Watfa Hamadi and Rita Azar, and is available on al Mawred al Thaqafy’s website (in Arabic, download here). It was updated in 2014 by Mona Merhi (download here).

Working group on cultural policies in Lebanon

This is the new blog of the working group on cultural policies in Lebanon. The core group initiated a number of activities for the upcoming months. These include a cultural mapping exercise to research and document cultural institutions and actors active in Lebanon, resulting in an interactive map. A series of seminars on cultural policy topics will be held with researchers working in the field of culture to discuss cultural policy research priorities and to disseminate initial findings. A first study on festival policies in Lebanon and the role of municipalities is currently being prepared and will be disseminated upon completion. The aim is to launch a public debate and prepare the ground for a large conference on cultural policies in Lebanon to take place at a later stage. Watch this space!