While Cairo has a robust arts and culture scene, with several new spaces and initiatives opening over the last 18 months, there is a sizeable gap when it comes to finding skilled arts professionals trained in the technical aspects of exhibition design and production. So when Cairo’s Townhouse gallery decided to embark on a training programme to remedy the gap, they approached the British Council for help.
‘We thought of the British Council first because they have a strong interest in educational initiatives, especially for young people,’ says Ania Szremski, curator of the long-established, independent art space.‘There are only a very small handful of professionals in this field and they are always in demand so it was vital to train and create a new generation.’
The idea was to provide a groundbreaking six-month programme of workshops named ‘How To’ – conceived after conversations with other leading arts spaces in the city – that would cover all the technical aspects of producing exhibitions. This included everything from art handling; sound and light design and engineering; and video post-production, to strategies in exhibition design and an intensive practical course on creating pop-up temporary spaces.
As well as providing funding for the scheme, the British Council also assisted with finding highly experienced, specialist trainers like British art professional, Lucy Till-Awny, who provided a workshop in art handling. After one-on-one interviews with the programme manager, Saad Samir, 14 participants were chosen from the 85 who applied and the workshops began in November.
The programme has been a resounding success and there are plans now to create a training manual for budding technicians, in both English and Arabic, as well as broaden its scope to include more practical workshops. As Ebrahim Sharkawy, technician at the Townhouse says: “The How To workshops were my first real experience of ‘hands on’ learning and will benefit me hugely in the future.”
Ania is grateful to the British Council for making the project happen. ‘On a very broad level, it solidified our relationship with all the different arts spaces, bringing us all together and enhancing the communal working together,’ she says.‘Most importantly, it has provided new skills that were completely lacking, which can only enhance the contemporary art scene in Egypt.’