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The MENA Blogs Part 8 – The view from the citadel

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This blog post is the eighth in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’. This post, The view from the citadel.

The View from the Citadel

A recent world survey of tourists placed Amman behind Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro as the ugliest city on the planet.  And true enough, though it is a city built on seven jabals, or hills, like Rome, it does not bear comparison.  The hillsides are scarred with rubble and scrub.  In between the hilltops and the valleys are ugly half excavations, left bare like abandoned quarries.  There are few architectural gems, no obvious green spaces in the city centre, and no real sense of an exotic street culture.

To get any sense of Amman’s history and status as a centre of civilisation, you need to go to the hilltop known as the Amman Citadel in the centre of the city.  The first settlements were established here more than 7,000 years ago.  Traces of Roman civilisation are evident alongside the later Ummayad Mosque.  Looking down into the city a Roman amphitheatre that can seat 6,000 is still in use for cultural events is clearly visible.

Today, the Citadel itself is a venue.  Stands are erected for special events like the Friends of Jordan Festival whose programme last year included the celebrated Lebanese composer and singer, Marcel Khalife, and The Palestine Youth Orchestra.  Festivals of jazz, sacred and classical music are on the calendar for 2014.   

You can also see Al Balad Theatre from the Citadel.  One of the Tamasi Collective with which The Management Centre is working, Al Balad offers free rehearsal, workshop and performance space for aspiring young playwrights, actors, film directors and solo performers.  Al Balad prides itself on being the only free, accessible and, most importantly, uncensored space in Amman and Jordan where an experimental and diverse Arts scene can flourish.  The problem for both the Friends Of Jordan Festival and Al Balad Theatre is that culture remains a low priority.

I am discussing this issue at Al Balad Theatre with Samer Kher, the Director of Culture for the Greater Amman Municipality. Samer is concerned that nobody wants to pay for culture.  There is an expectation that some combination of the Greater Amman Municipality and companies will pay for it.  Most often, individuals don’t choose to support cultural causes, and there are plenty of anecdotes from Arts organisations in Jordan about people who believe they shouldn’t have to pay at all for any performance that they attend.

There should be a public awareness campaign about the importance of supporting culture, according to Samer.  “Culture could be a way to make people more aware about respecting differences in society”.  Culture helps to make people more tolerant of others, he says.  It just makes people better.

Al Balad Theatre and other Arts organisations will certainly continue to champion cultural diversity and enrichment.  In time, the view from the Citadel may look very different.    

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