Katherine Volk: What do you think the 4 August catastrophe says about the wider Lebanese predicament?
Rima Mismar: It was something that was totally beyond the scope of what we, as people, individuals, and organizations could ever have imagined. But it’s totally indicative of the injustice, corruption, and disinterest of this country’s entire political class. Lebanese people tried to process the history of the civil war and cope with the new reality by finding their own ways of being meaningful, and creating their own sense of belonging and community. Just to be able to survive in a place like this you need to create your own bubble – your own safety net and support system. The uprisings of 17 October last year represented a moment of trying to bring these different worlds and bubbles together. It was definitely an awakening, of people to believe again that they could bring change. The explosion shattered all of this. I think there’s a sense of defeat inside of us because we feel that even the little corners that we managed to actually build and belong to – those corners just collapsed over us, both in a literal and metaphorical sense.
KV: Do you see the blast as simply another in a series of tragic events or as a real turning point?
RM: It’s definitely a turning point, but that does not always mean a positive outcome. We cannot change the course of history overnight. What I am sensing in the arts and culture sector are people coming together and thinking of small steps and different ways to move forward. It’s a huge undertaking, but when those small steps accumulate, they might lead to change at a grassroots level, which is desperately needed today. One thing we are sure about is that there’s no normal to go back to. KV: What has the impact been on AFAC’s funding priorities?
RM: Things are moving very quickly and just when we feel that we have reached a worst-case scenario, something even worse happens. We have a regional mandate as our core raison d’être, but we also have the responsibility to react in times of crisis and must balance the immediate needs with the more strategic. In normal cases, the government would step in, but we don’t have that support here and so are working to keep this sector alive because we believe in the long-term role that it plays. But even with all our emergency responses, we are still continuing with our annual grants programs to support artists, projects, and institutions across the Arab region.
KV: How did the Lebanon Solidarity Fund arise as a collaboration with Al Mawred Al Thaqafy?
RM: Discussions started in November 2019, during the uprising and revolution. We came together organically as a group of cultural workers and held a series of discussions on what we could offer the arts and culture industry at that time. As grant-making regional organizations, AFAC and Al Mawred Al Thaqafy overlap in our thinking. We both felt the passion, the responsibility, and the importance of doing something. It made sense to come together, and it was natural and productive to continue with this partnership after the explosion because we made use of the same platform. We had all of this knowledge and we felt it made sense to carry on.
KV: How has your background in film criticism helped in your role at AFAC?
RM: It allows me to be critical about the kind of work that we do and to always create while keeping sight of our own wider agenda, to allow the organization to grow organically and develop from within, based on the sector’s needs and not the agendas of anyone else.