Born in 2007, AFAC (Arab Fund for Arts and Culture) was established in 2007 as an independent grant-making initiative. AFAC facilitates individuals and organizations from the Arab region working in the fields of cinema, performing arts, literature, music and visual arts while facilitating cultural exchange, research and cooperation regionally and globally.

Oasis magazine spoke to the organization in an exclusive interview.

When asked about how philanthropy came into play at AFAC, they said initiatives in the Arab region that are actively promoting philanthropy for arts and culture are still very few. Charities for orphanages, medical aids and relief aids abound, but making the connection between giving for social good and support the arts is not as obvious. “We work hard on changing the perception of arts and culture in the Arab region, particularly contemporary arts. We impress upon individuals, corporations, banks and foundations their crucial role supporting the arts as an essential aspect to society’s well-being and progress. Every year, we invite new donors – individuals and organizations alike – to become supporters of our work. Some have offered their first ever contributions while others have been long-time philanthropists and have offered multi-year commitments.

Definitely the private sector has a larger role to play and AFAC is raising awareness on this matter.” AFAC are co-sponsoring an independent study on social responsibility that targets 200 corporations across 7 Arab countries, with the aim of understanding current trends in corporate philanthropy and advocating for the recognition of cultural expression as a valuable social investment.

Talking about their plans to increase and enhance contemporary art and culture production, they said currently, production needed to be supported by distribution. “Great works have been created in recent years, yet access to them is often limited. Independent films, for instance, are often only seen in the film festival circuits and don’t reach wider audiences. Commercial productions marginalize independent musicians. AFAC can play a crucial networking role in offering Arab artist’s opportunities for greater visibility. We can facilitate contacts with art spaces, residencies, coffee shops, university halls and relevant festivals. We work on supporting cross-cultural engagement and coming with innovative ways to reach wide audiences at a time when much of the needed infrastructure is still lacking.”

Discussing the role AFAC plays in encouraging investments in arts through tax revenues, public and private investment, and entrepreneurial business practices, they said there are three avenues for supporting the arts: the government, the private sector and individual philanthropists. “In the Arab region, governments do not usually offer tax incentives to encourage investment into arts and culture. Public sectors take on the responsibility of creating a context conducive to cultural production and fine arts – museums, operas, ballets, orchestras, art prizes, etc. – but, in most cases, government structures are old-fashioned and not the best suited to supporting new and contemporary art works. This is already starting to change, with lobbying and increasing sensitivity to the creativity of the new generation of artists.” AFAC believes the private sector is better equipped to be a strong and effective player in the cultural scene. AFAC is actively widening CSR awareness on this potential and, in Saudi Arabia they are currently in discussions with SABIC and ARAMCO, among others.

“The real philanthropy, however, is through individuals, and we are grateful to our benefactors; those generous people who are convinced of the positive impact that artists and cultural practitioners create for the Arab region and globally and are willing to invest in that.
As for supporting the entrepreneurial spirit, not only do we encourage artists through financial and professional support but we also push artists to develop their creativity, sharpen their concepts and become entrepreneurs in their own right. Many small cultural institutions and local art spaces that are beneficiaries of AFAC have also become thriving art spaces that attract creative collaboration and offer opportunities for capacity building in the artistic field.”

In December, AFAC will announce the winners of the Cinema, Music and RTR – Research/Training/Regional Events – categories and in February they will tend to the Literature, Visual Arts and Performing Arts categories.

“We are also currently running a ‘Why Culture?’ campaign. Does art matter? Is Culture important? We are inviting video artists to submit their original video works – up to 2 minutes – telling us why cultural production makes a difference. We look forward to receiving entries from the Saudi scene!”

Talking about their biggest accomplishments till date, AFAC said it has been their ability to give voice to creative artists that had previously lacked visibility and support.” Artists that nobody even knew existed are now screening their premiere films and producing their first albums, from Morocco to Yemen to Iraq and the countries in between. We have supported over 500 projects since our inception and many AFAC grantees go on to make it to prominent international festivals and biennales.

We also make it a point to reach out, search for and nurture talent in places that are outside the mainstream limelight. It matters for us to include as wide and diverse a scope as possible and, every year, we visit countries and explore the peripheries of their art communities as well as the core. Each city has its own cultural vibe and we are eager for the inclusion of all the different voices and perspectives across the Arab region. We have already conducted a weeklong visit in Algeria earlier this year, visiting not only the capital city Algiers, but also Oran, Mostaganem and Constantine. Before the end of the year, we will have also visited Iraq and Libya.”

In summary, they have established a professional regional institution that provides grants and professional support in a transparent way. AFAC has become a model for governance for supporting culture, not only within the region but also internationally, and are often called upon to consult international foundations seeking to play a role in the Arab region and to speak at prominent cultural forums and seminars.

There is a tendency for some artists to be marginalized from society. AFAC believes the value of art is an experiential and subjective matter; more interaction with community broadens the artistic experience and enriches the general public. “We dream of confident voices, curious listeners, critical thinkers and healthy discussions that revolve and weave around the artist’s work and his publics. We envision a thriving Arab art and cultural scene that is confident in its expression open to dialogue, accessible to all and sustained locally by committed patrons.“