Organising an arts festival – whether it’s theatre, music, film, or a mix of several different art forms – can be hard work, especially if you’re trying to build one up from scratch. At the British Council, we use our know-how and extensive array of contacts to strengthen festivals in Egypt, by taking organisers to the UK for our arts showcases and helping them bring the best of the UK and international arts scene back to Egyptian audiences.
Ahmed El Attar of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-Caf) is a case in point. He set up D-Caf in 2012 to fill what he saw as a major void in the Egyptian – and regional – cultural scene for an international contemporary arts festival. He’s attended a number of UK showcases with the help of the British Council brought the Art of Movement by Billy Cowie to D-Caf 2014.
“It’s how programmers like myself see performances, select them, meet artists, see new things and start a conversation and discuss ideas for the future,” he says. “You’re also connecting festivals with each other and that generates new projects and collaborations. And because English is an international language, the British Council showcases attract a much wider variety of programmes than other countries. There’s more varied work and a wider variety of expression.”
Mohamed El Ghawy, who founded and directs the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children, agrees. He started the festival in 2011 and this year brought English company Tell Tale Hearts to its fourth edition in March. The British Council supported his trip to the Imaginate Festival in Edinburgh, one of the world’s biggest international arts festivals for children, in 2013.
“I learnt a lot about the administration and organisation of a festival because we don’t have this infrastructure in Egypt,” he says. “I learnt about the strategy of the artistic director, fundraising and marketing, and I definitely made some changes after that. I also saw some very good shows, met the artists, and discovered new work, which was very inspiring. When I came back to Egypt, I created a programme to support emerging artists who want to work with children after seeing a similar project in the UK.”
Amro Salah, who founded the Cairo Jazz Festival in 2009, has also benefited from our showcases. He went to the London Jazz Festival in 2012 and brought the Neil Cowley Trio to Cairo in 2013, and award-winning jazz saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch to this year’s festival in March.
‘I was very lucky,’ he says. 'I met lots of people like festival organisers and booking agents and artists and also had the chance to see some really good British jazz. The Soweto Kinch show was very successful. We did a two-day workshop with local rappers beforehand, which also went down very well – all together on stage they managed to do something really different.'