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LAU alumna assumes executive directorship of Arab arts fund

Rima Mismar talks about her vision and expectations for AFAC, the Arab world’s most prominent independent arts funding body.

Rima Mismar began the new year with a new role as executive director of the Beirut-based Arab Fund for Arts & Culture (AFAC). “I have grown with and contributed to the growth of the institution,” says the LAU communication arts graduate, who has been with the organization for over five years, first as head of its film program, then as deputy director. “It’s very fulfilling and rewarding to now be entrusted as head,” adds the one-time journalist and film critic whose appointment followed an open competitive call.

Mismar sees her transition from writing critically about film and culture to managing grant programs for the arts as a natural evolution. “I was on the receiving end and now I’m in the kitchen.”

Known to most independent cultural actors in the Arab world, AFAC has for ten years been among the only sources of independent funding for many artists working in visual arts, film, music, writing and other disciplines related to and advancing arts and culture in the region. To date, AFAC has awarded close to one thousand grants.

“We have accumulated a great deal of experience and created a sense of support for artists across the region, so now we can think about broader strokes,” says Mismar of AFAC’s vision moving forward. “We want to expand on the strong foundations we’ve built by promoting and enabling collaborative and cohesive structures and initiatives.”

The media is often among the actors that support and push the boundaries of cultural expression, but Mismar is skeptical about the role it has played in the arts in the region. “There’s a lack of art criticism in journalism and little sense of obligation to the reader. I don’t know if it has any real impact on the processes or products of arts and culture,” she explains, adding that a general lack of appreciation for the direct impact the arts have on society is part of the problem. “The arts are societal, political and humanitarian, and have an impact on independent and critical thinking.”

Such thinking is what she remembers most about her time at LAU―from which she graduated in 1998―when Lebanon’s independent art scene was flourishing after the war. “There was a burst of questions during my student years. People were experimenting and we developed a critical eye.”

Discovering new films, working collectively and researching for critiques are among her most vivid memories of her years at her alma mater. “Each critique required multiple visits to the library,” recalls Mismar, acknowledging the dramatic shift brought on by digital technologies. “The arts are more accessible now, to both audiences and producers of art. It is no longer intimidating or a privilege of the few.”

This mainstreaming of the arts among students is also, however, a point of concern. “Students are being taught how to reach out to mainstream audiences. This may be a practical consideration, but students should explore and experiment unhindered by concepts of marketing,” explains Mismar. “University is a place where hearts and minds are shaped.”

 


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