BEIRUT: Cultural spaces in Lebanon are in constant search for funding in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis burdening the country. While foreign funding acts as a saving boat at times, what is really required to sustain such a fundamental aspect of any community; culture, is public institutions' support.
That, however, is very scarce, acting as barely 5% of Metropolis Cinema’s annual budget, as Hania Mroue, Founding director of Metropolis Cinema Association told Annahar.
Metropolis, one of the most prominent cultural venues in Beirut, is suffering. “Due to the financial crisis that the country and the region are going through today, the Metropolis Cinema Association is forced to launch its first fundraising campaign ever,” Metropolis mentioned in a post on its official Facebook page.
For this reason, it will be organizing a cine-concert on October 1. Support filled Metropolis’ page, revealing the passion for culture that its target audience is thirsty for.
ART HOUSE CINEMA PROMOTING INDEPENDENT FILMS
This cultural association, which has been providing rare movies not find anywhere else in Beirut for 13 years, first started as a non-profit organization in 2006. It is the first and only arthouse cinema in Lebanon, focused on programming independent Lebanese, Arab and international films, Mroue said.
Since its creation, Metropolis has been dedicated to promoting independent cinema in Lebanon and the MENA region through diverse programming, industry training, young audience outreach, and preservation of film heritage, in order to allow for greater accessibility to alternative films locally and regionally.
Mroue mentioned that it’s due to “our local and international partners such as cultural centers, Embassies, international festivals, cultural institutions and arts organizations and producers’ networks that we were able to maintain our diverse programming throughout all the previous 13 years”.
Knowing that the fundraising campaign is a one-time procedure, Annahar asked Mroue about the association’s future plans to keep Metropolis alive.
“Any support we get through this fundraiser will allow Metropolis to survive this transitional period, keeping the association afloat until the end of 2020,” she said, explaining that it’s a period during which Metropolis aims to take the first steps towards becoming financially independent and hopefully running its own venue.
During such challenging times, Metropolis is on the constant search for grants and funding opportunities and private donors/sponsors that help it maintain its operations and independent program, along with the great support of local and international partners.
Yet, even that, has been decreasing in the last 3 years, which “have been quite challenging times”, with all the budget cuts happening with both funding bodies and private sponsors.
Other modern factors affecting theaters, include the rise of streaming platforms and audience preferring to watch films on their small screeners in the comfort of their houses. This has led to a decrease in the attendance rate when it comes to commercially released films, knowing that the cinema runs regular screenings for film releases besides the one-time non-commercial film festival screenings.
“2019 in particular has been extremely challenging,” Mroue mentions, as the association does not own the venue where it organizes its screenings. Rather, it depends solely on the full ticket revenues to be able to pay the rent and keep having a space for its programs.
URGING PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
The association presents an application to the Ministry of Culture every year, to get back a very small amount of financial support.
Knowing all of the above poor resources and obstacles facing culture, who is responsible for encouraging Metropolis and other cultural spaces in Lebanon?
Even though the Ministry of Culture’s support amount is symbolic (it only represents 5% of Metropolis’ annual budget, “it is still very important for us as a Lebanese cultural organization to be funded by local public institutions to give us credibility when seeking foreign funding for our projects,” Mroue mentioned.
It seems that there should be more organization and timeliness in public institution’s support, which plays a huge role in sustaining any cultural venue.
“The main problem is that the support comes very late, and to date, we still have not received the grants promised in 2017 and 2018,” Mroue says, adding that “this delay due to a decision by the Minister of Finance (as we have been notified) has contributed to having our financial situation reach a critical point”.
What is important to note is that in order for Metropolis and other cultural spaces in Lebanon to become sustainable, they need to receive annual, auto-renewed and unconditional funding, Mroue says. The funding should come from the Council of the City of Beirut, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism, since “our work contributes significantly to build the reputation of Lebanon as a land for cultural diversity, openness and freedom of expression”.
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