An ArtsVan in Jerusalem
In a New York idea, Jerusalem planners see new dynamic for promoting the arts in Israel.

In the aftermath of 9/11, and after two surveys estimating the impact of the attacks on the Downtown creative economy, DowntownNYC! came up with a unique Arts promotion idea: a traveling box office and cultural kiosk, to be called ArtsVan. Until that time, there had never been a district-wide program to capture Downtown tourists and channel them into local theaters and other cultural attractions.

DowntownNYC!'s ArtsVan initiative has come to the attention of The Jerusalem Foundation (www.jerusalemfoundation.org), which is now planning to launch a similar operation in the Holy City and make it the centerpiece of a collective arts marketing effort there. The goal is to revitalize the city's arts organizations by having a truck running through different neigborhoods of the City to sell tickets and give free information on arts events of all kinds.

Arts organizations in Jerusalem have undergone drastic reductions in funding as a result of declining business conditions since the Intifata broke out in October, 2000. Many businesses have closed since residents and tourists stopped frequenting them, fearful of terrorist attacks. The municipality of Jerusalem, already one of the poorest in Israel, has encountered increasing difficulties in collecting taxes since that time and has made draconian cuts to its funding to arts organizations.

According to The Jerusalem Foundation, monthly turnover in downtown shops and restaurants dropped 73% between the six months preceding the Intafada and October, 2002. In this context, a drop in "turnover" means that establishments which have closed have not been replaced. It is now estimated that there are 80% less tourists in Jerusalem than three years ago and that the city has lost about a half of its economic resources in that time.

The drop of economic activity has resulted in reduced patronage to the arts organizations, and in turn, the stimulating effect of arts organizations on the local economy has diminished as arts programming has been cut back.

Private donors have also cut contributions to cultural organisations by half in Jerusalem because of economic difficulties. The budget of The Jerusalem Foundation has been less affected since its contributions mainly come from abroad--about 50% are from donors living in The United States--but as we know, Americans have their own problems. Closings of cultural and artistic organizations in Jerusalem have lead to their own economic chain reactions. Jobs in related services--such as cleaning and security of concert halls--are inevitably affected.

It occurred to Keren Zfania, Head of the Cultural Department at The Jerusalem Foundation, that the cities of New York and Jerusalem were similar enough to benefit from the same remedy. She had become aware of ArtsVan during her posting in New York last year. She shared the idea with Oren Rosenstein, Senior Director of The Jerusalem Foundation in New York City, and asked him to begin the process of adapting New York's idea for their own use.

The Jerusalem Foundation has taken a leading role in cultural and artistic improvement of Jerusalem. Founded in 1966, it participated in creating, among others, the Jerusalem Cinematheque and Film Archive, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Theatre and the Khan Theatre. Its commitment to coexistence issues is exemplified in its sponsorship of a Peace Kindergarten in the YMCA, the Bilingual School (where children learn in Hebrew and Arabic), the Jewish-Arab circus and a Jewish-Arab film workshop.

As explained by Mr. Rosenstein, the ArtsVan project combines two main advantages for Jeruslem: economies of scale and mobility.

As a cooperative project, an ArtsVan would lower the publicity costs for artistic and cultural organizations in Jerusalem by grouping them. For instance, most of these institutions cannot afford producing their own individual newsletter. The ArtsVan could distribute a detailed collective listing of all cultural events going on in the city. The more organizations involved in the project, the lower the editing and publishing costs would be per insitution.

Mr. Rosenstein expects that an ArtsVan will catch the the attention of prospective audiences in different parts of the City and attract people who otherwise may not have thought of attending certain shows or art exhibitions, since it would bring them up to date information and add the convenience of mobile ticketing.

Mr. Rosenstein consulted in New York with officials of DowntownNYC!'s ArtsVan in December, 2003. A variety of operational and budgetary aspects of the project were discussed. Mr. Rosenstein will be leading an effort, with his colleagues, to adopt similar mobile hospitality center and ticketing truck as the centerpiece of a master plan to revive the creative economy in Jerusalem. In a few months, the Jerusalem Foundation will organize a conference in Jerusalem--probably led by an American specialist in Arts Management--to make artistic and cultural institutions aware of the need for a master marketing plan. The ArtsVan project will be proposed as a rallying point and a cheap solution to their problems. If there is agreement on it, a survey will be conducted in order to evaluate locations and guide other operational decisions. Then, according to Mr. Roseinstein, it should not be very difficult to find Israeli contributors and cultural institutions to fund the project, since, as he said, "it will be the head of the spear to revitalize cultural and artistic life in Jerusalem."

Asked about security concerns, Mr. Rosenstein asserts that recent violence has not affected most Jerusalemites' determination for coexistence or deterred their artisic inclinations. The point, for him, is to create a new dynamic for promoting the arts in Jerusalem. Security questions will of course be taken into account in the determination of the ArtsVan's route. Ideally, the promotion will be inter-cultural. Some Arab districts, for instance Beit Safafa, are safe enough to be included in the operating route. Project planners will research whether there are Arab cultural organizations willing to participate. But the first priority is "to help save culture in Jerusalem and for it to be used by whoever can use it." [Veaudor]



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