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Step Beyond report: Excited me in Tunis.

As part of my reporting upon receiving an ECF grant to travel to Tunis to engage in some work, this factual report emerges


The recent uprisings and their political consequences  in Tunisia have led to a creative release of unprecedented scale. Youth groups, but also more established organisations, have discovered their voice, power of self- organisation and the possibilities open to a civil society long repressed by a totalitarian security state under Ben Ali. 

My journey to Tunis was motivated by a deep curiosity for the effects this outburst of artistic energies had on the cultural scene in the country, glimpsed only fleetingly from images in media and a brief visit, confined to a hotel, in November 2013. A desire to see new faces and experience new locations and feelings and gain insight into the changes on a local level that would otherwise not be reached. 
My journey to Tunis was a very welcome opportunity to see the city and meet many cultural actors, not all from the expected countries and some old friends. I am grateful for this opportunity to spend more time than expected in this wonderful country and explore its history and current cultural production. We found many points of intersection, both on personal levels and in cultural production- a fruitful journey in many ways. 

I went there representing Plays2Place productions, a Greek production company with whom we are running- and planning- several long-term, transnational projects. The trip was divided between three main project activities, described below. 

1) Tandem/Shaml
The Tandem/Shaml meeting brings together cultural managers from the Middle East and EU to meet and participate in a year-long project that takes place in two countries.

I went there to represent Plays2Place productions, a Greek production company which I have collaborated with on previous occasions. 

After three days of intense networking, discussions on cultural policy, sustainability and collaborative project management, I am happy to say that P2P productions will be participating in the second round of the Tandem programme. 

We developed a programme concerned with the Greek History of Alexandria and the cities fading cultural diversity, after many years of existing as a cosmopolitain hub of arts and culture in Egypt. 
We will be tracing histories of migration, cultural parallels in the cities and the traces of Greek culture that remain in Alexandria. 

The main participant in this project will be Martha Bouziouri, who will collaborate with Abdallah Sharkas from Janaklees in Alexandria on the project. 

I also engaged in many fun and some serious conversations with cultural managers from Serbia, Syria, Egypt, Tunis and the Yemen, while widening my personal network in Germany. 

We will also collaborate with Ettijahat in the framework of the Artivists4Change programme in the production of a work of cultural relief in Syrian Refugee camps in Lebanon, hopefully helping, in a small way, to ease the prevalent conditions in those camps.


2) Street Art
Though often underestimated, Tunisia boasts a vivid and productive street art scene, mixing elements of the activistic with ideas of tagging, pieces and throw-ups more familiar from New York or Europe. 
I met with Karim ben Smail, the head of Ceres Publishing in Tunis, to discuss the possible production of a book on the street art of the Tunisian Revolution. After some comparative studies with Egypt, and the book Walls of Freedom, which I had previously worked on, we came to the conclusion that allthough the street art scene in the country remains lively, it would be a more feasible approach to focus on the artistic aspects of street art in the country, as street art as media is not as prevalent as the more familiar aspects of the form. 

In the course of my journey, I met many artists, who prefer to remain anonymous- we discussed the various difficulties and joys of producing art in public space in Tunisia. They face many of the same problems as do artists in other countries- illigality, persecution and rapid overpainting - new canvas for their expressions. 


However, I was able to find a partner for the planned continuation of Infiltri, the topical street art archive, in theAssociation Chaabi, who organise  the only Hip Hop festival in Tunisia and use street art as part of their efforts in alternative cultural education in the country. It will hopefully be a long- term cooperation that lasts several years and spans several projects, including a network of production studios, free for most use, around the country.


3) Demystifying FTCA
The only point of regret in my journey is that I did not have more opportunity to interact with the members of the FTCA, the Tunisian Amateur Filmmakers association than I did. In spite of some attempts at contact, it was difficult to meet them in the planned framework, though I did have the pleasure of meeting some of their members and engaging in preliminary talks surrounding training and longer term project planning for a project that is due to take place over the course of 2015 and 2016.
However, a beginning has been made. I also had the opportunity of visiting other potential collaborators in the field of film and cultural education through film. 


Overall
The two weeks spent in Tunis were a very enriching experience. Personally, they were, after a first, very brief visit, a welcome opportunity to explore the country in some more detail and walk the meandering maze that is Medina, the old city in Tunis. Through planning and some chance, it became a success on a professional level as well, allowing me to establish new connections and find partners for projects that are currently in preparation. 

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