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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Beirut Blast: A Map of the Damage to Educational and Cultural Institutions

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The organization has resumed normal operations after completing structural repairs in early September. 

AWAC has provided emergency support for arts and culture practitioners who were directly affected by the port explosion through a “Lebanon Solidarity Fund” co-managed with Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy). (Culture Resource reported only minimal damage to its own office in Beirut.) The campaign to raise funds is continuing. 

AWAC  has provided emergency support for arts and culture practitioners who were directly affected by the port explosion through a “Lebanon Solidarity Fund” co-managed with Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy), and is continuing to fund artistic research and cultural works related to cinema and music. Donations are being accepted at the following link: https://www.arabculturefund.org/News/102

Ashkal Alwan

Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, is a nonprofit organization that aims to create networks of exchange between artistic and cultural practitioners and institutions, support emerging and established artists, and help enrich critical discourse in the Arabic language, among other activities.

Damages to its space in Beirut included breakage of external and internal glass façades, interior metal and glass partitions, doors, ceilings, lighting, piping and computers, said Edwin Nasr, assistant to the director. Ashkal Alwan’s plan for 2020–21 consisted of gradually redesigning their current 2,000-square meter venue to house a larger number of artists’ studios so it could host a total of 22 independent studios and around 55 artists. This project was started in January 2020 as more and more practitioners and collectives were losing their income due to Lebanon’s financial and economic crises. Now the organization is tending to urgent repairs so it can welcome additional artists and cultural workers whose workspaces and studios were destroyed as a result of the explosions.

The association is working alongside funding initiatives and institutions to determine the best way to distribute emergency aid as well as long-term financial support to artists and cultural workers. “The cultural sector has been facing an unprecedented crisis throughout the past couple of years,” Nasr said, “and the challenges it has had to respond to are not strictly to do with the blast itself, but rather with the ongoing economic and financial crises the country as whole is traversing.”

Creative Space Beirut

Creative Space Beirut is a free school for fashion design offering quality design education to talented youth who lack the resources to pursue an education. Its building suffered major damages in the explosion, namely broken window glass and window frames, heavy damage to walls and ceilings, and some minor damage to office gear.

“We were inside the premises in the midst of a photo-shoot when the explosion happened,” said co-founder and board member Sarah Hermez, “but, luckily, no one was hurt.” 

While the psychological weight of the tragedy is still very present, Hermez said she was thankful that no major damage was done to valuables such as textiles, sewing machines and fabrics. 

Creative Space Beirut’s key assets are presently stored in a warehouse as the institution looks for new spaces in and around of Beirut. “We are left with a day-to-day planning process as we put things together again,” Hermez said. “However, once the space is secured, we can then estimate the costs of reopening.” 

Creative Space Beirut is accepting donations through its website: https://creativespacebeirut.com

Instituto Cervantes de Beirut

Instituto Cervantes de Beirut is an international educational institution supported by Spain for learning Spanish and promoting Hispanic culture. Its facility in Beirut, with a glass exterior, was seriously damaged in the port blast. Two of the three façades were damaged, and replacing them will be expensive because they were made of a high-security glass with anti-explosive and anti-seismic protection.

An exhibition hall and an assembly hall were also affected. The explosion destabilized interior partitions, and seven of the center’s 11 classrooms have been taken out of service. The institute also lost computer equipment and some furniture.

Two security officers are still recovering after having suffered fractures and cuts that

required surgery. The coronavirus restrictions then in place were key to avoiding further casualties, said the institute’s director, Yolanda Soler Onís. “We were teaching the classes over the Internet. The explosion occurred minutes before the start of the afternoon sessions,” she said. “At that time, there were only five workers left in the space.” 

The institute has resumed activities in the four available classrooms. More information about thee institute’s activities is available here: https://beirut.cervantes.es/fr/default.shtm

Litani Cultural Center, Beirut

Litani Cultural Center is a resource center that focuses on encouraging women’s social participation in and around greater Beirut. The center’s office is located on two floors, both of which were ravaged by the explosion. In addition to the destruction of the building’s façade, the space also suffered fallen ceilings, dislocated doors, broken couches and chairs, and the loss of technological equipment, said Maria Lena Gonzalez, who’s in charge of the project’s conceptualization and key member in the center since moving here 23 years ago. 

Lena Gonzalez was at the center right before the blast happened. “I was trying to calm a lady who was standing outside, telling her not to worry about the planes,” she recalled. The blast was preceded by a smaller explosion that sounded like it may have come from a plane. “I immediately knew another one is coming,” Lena Gonzalez said, “so I accompanied the lady to the corridor within the premises, and shortly after, the blast happened. We thought war had broken out.” 

Lena Gonzalez tried to pull herself together as she searched for colleagues to make sure everyone was safe. She was pleased to know everyone was doing okay, and only grasped the loss of safety and of memories. 

Thanks to many donations, Litani Cultural Center is slowly being rebuilt. Windows and doors are still being installed, while the workers are in the process of returning to a normal working pace. However, the center is still trying to extend its help to the communities that have also experienced loss. Donations are being accepted through this link: https://promocionsocial.org/en/donacion-litani/

Zoukak Theatre Company & Cultural Association

Zoukak is a non-hierarchical cultural “laboratory” that uses theater as a space for reflection and solidarity against marginalizing systems. It focuses on cultural production and theatrical interventions in emergency situations such as working with incarcerated youths, children with multiple disabilities, women subjected to domestic violence, migrant domestic workers and other marginalized segments of society. 

None of Zoukak’s team members were hurt in the explosion, but their studio, located about two kilometers away from the blast site, was heavily damaged. Walls and windows were destroyed, said Maya Zbib, a theater director and founding member of the theater company. Damage included cracks in the ceiling, floor and door frames, and equipment. Zoukak also lost 80 percent of its light equipment stored in the space, as an indirect consequence of the blast. 

Zoukak has been able to clean the space and install some windows and doors, but the space still needs repairs to gaps in walls, doors and windows. In additions, it is struggling with some uncertainty over how to sustain its 10-person staff and its ability to operate the venue or simply to keep it. Donations are being accepted at the following link: https://zoukak.org/support-us

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