Visual Arts Forum Aiming for Sustainability
Founded in 2002, the Visual Arts Forum, formerly the Young Artists Forum, launched its School of Visual Arts as an initiative to teach visual arts to children under the Second Intifada. It was, at the time, one of the few institutions to offer a systematic arts education to children in the West Bank.
The Forum continued to deliver its visual arts programmes until 2014, after which, however, the financial difficulties it experienced over the subsequent three years led to its closure. The Forum’s Board of Directors has striven to find solutions to the crisis and to enable it to open its doors again and resume its services to children. A first step in this direction was the organisation of an auction of a number of artworks donated by a group of local artists. The auction took place in the Ramallah Municipality’s Recreational Headquarters, who provided the space rent-free. The initiative was supported by the KfW Development Bank and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in partnership with the Municipality.
The grants announced by the “Visual Arts: A Flourishing Field” (VAFF) project, implemented by the A.M. Qattan Foundation (AMQF) and funded by Sweden, have also provided a great opportunity for the Forum, and a number of other institutions working in the visual arts that have also suffered, with a clear marked decline in this field, from a lack of financial support. This opportunity has enabled these institutions to regain their active role in the cultural realm and enabled them to contribute to its continuation and sustainability.
After receiving the VAFF project grant, the Forum has been able to reopen its doors to the public and in 2017 it was able to announce the continuation of its main programme in teaching visual arts for children and young people. The grant, which amounted to US$161,760, allowed the Forum to cover its overheads and programme expenditures during the period from October 2017 to May 2019.
“The grant supported the recruitment of new administrative and technical staff and has contributed to furnishing and purchasing equipment for the Forum, in addition to developing its financial and administrative manuals and strategic plan” commented Tamador Shalanah, the Fundraising Officer at the Forum.
Since receiving the grant, the Forum has delivered five visual arts courses in which 277 students have participated. A course typically runs over a period of three months, and is structured into cognitive and technical skill sets that move children from kindergarten through to academic education, aiming to develop the skills of learning shapes and their attributes, with a focus on perspective exercises, depth and dimensions and in learning sketching and watercolor painting among other skills.
Majd Al-Masri has experienced all these stages. After wandering the Forum space as a student there at the age of ten in 2005, Majd currently works as a trainer, gratefully communicating what she learnt as a young child to the Forum’s current participating children and its adolescent pioneers. “I learnt a lot here and made good progress artistically, and I would like to pass on what I learnt as a child”, she says. Today, Majd is a freelance artist and teaches art at a school in Ramallah.
The Forum is one of the success stories of the first round of the VAFF Project, according to VAFF Project Manager, Yara Odeh: “Our objectives in the project coincided with the Forum's efforts to develop and implement programmes in the field of visual arts education for future generations. We value the importance of an institution such as the Visual Arts Forum, which reaches a wide range of children and delivers diverse creative techniques such as painting, sculpting, recycling, and other domains not covered by the official curriculum in our schools.”
Odeh is looking forward to a new partnership with the Forum with its nomination in the second round of the VAFF Project grant. The Forum’s invested interest in and focus on developing and strengthening the content of the visual arts education programme will support the efforts to accumulate a greater and deeper impact in the field of the visual arts in Palestine: “We appreciate the role of the Board and the Executive Team in the previous phase”, Odeh concluded.
With the support the grant has provided, the Forum has completed the development of its curriculum and the implementation of courses on the new curriculum for trainers. The artist Khaled Hourani has supervised these training courses, and more than 40 artists have benefitted from them so far.
Regarding the opportunity of the sustainability of the Forum, the Chairman of the Forum's Board of Directors, Sameh Abboushi, confirmed that the implementation of a financial resource mobilisation plan has recently begun to reap the results of some great work and effort, the most significant of which is a grant from the Swiss-based Drosos Foundation that will support the Forum during the next three years. In addition to mobilising funds through traditional methods, the Forum has generated up to US$80,000 in revenues.
Deema Irsheid, the Executive Director of the Forum, pointed to the importance of the VAFF grant in the second round. The second-round grant will build on what has been achieved in the first round and deepen the educational aspect of the visual arts education programme, reinforcing the chances of sustainability in the future.
Albert Husari, 15, is eager to continue his education, stressing his desire to finish all 12 levels offered at the Forum: “When I first joined the programme I faced some difficulties with drawing in front of the others, but the programme has helped me to overcome that and has improved my focus on drawing. I ended up spending hours working on a painting, and I learned to estimate the dimensions of the face and finished the course with two paintings.” After completing all the course levels, Albert will receive a certificate from the Ministry of Education to mark taking his first step towards his dream of studying a discipline that employs art.
Tasnim Farah, 14, from Ramallah, participated in the Art and Creation summer programme in 2019 and took an interest in mosaics, clay sculpting and recycling. “This is my first experience in this field and I really enjoy it, so I’m considering studying either the arts or interior design. I also loved my teachers very much and want to continue with the Forum”, says Tasnim.
The Forum will launch the new academic year with systematic art practices for the ages of 5 to 11, and academic art levels for the ages of 12 and above in mid-September 2019.