Darb 1718- Egypt Today/Anna Bernsen
CAIRO - 29 June 2017: Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Culture Center sits amongst pottery shops and Coptic churches in Old Cairo. The buildings are kept in light colors contrasting with the dark wooden doors with green plants and colorful artworks breaking the light color palette. Since its opening in 2008, Darb 1718 has hosted countless art exhibitions, music events, movie nights and workshops: And it’s exactly the many high quality art events that has earned Darb 1718 its importance in the Egyptian art world.
“I think we’ve become as significant as we are, partly because we’ve been going for so long, partly because of our credibility. And work talks. When people see you work and see the quality of the work you’re doing, you gain favorability,” explains artist and founder of Darb 1718, Moataz Nasr.
But the art refuge that extended a hand to artists and the surrounding community needs a helping hand from the public to continue their mission.
Darb had recently initiated a call for funding—they need the public’s help to keep on going. But artist and founder Moataz Nasr explains that it’s not only financial help the art space needs. Showing up to events, doing projects in collaboration with the art space or even donating spare wood or paint can also help Darb—and the art space gives something in return with year-round community outreach programs for residents of Old Cairo.
We look back to the history of Darb, just what it presents to the community and why everyone should help in their own capacity to maintain the place that served as an arts and music haven for the past nine years.
The idea of founding an art space had been forming in Nasr’s head for a long time, before he took the first steps towards establishing the place in 2007. He wanted to help artists by creating a space where they could exhibit, develop their art and collaborate with other artists. On his travels abroad, Nasr had seen the success other countries have had with establishing art spaces without the government’s involvement. A similar concept was missing in Egypt, he thought, and so Nasr began building Darb 1718.
“However, we were shut down in late 2007 because a government official found out that we were building this place. How can a private person build something that is usually handled by the Ministry of Culture? He came and sealed the building with red wax and raised a case against me,” Nasr says, adding that he was very surprised by the government’s reaction to the project.
Despite the struggles from the very beginning, Nasr carried on, and the result speaks for itself. Darb 1718 started out with a space of about 330 square meters. Today, the art space is the size of a museum, around 1,500 square meters. And it’s not just Nasr anymore, the team has now grown to 20 members.
“There are so many people who have dedicated their time and love to the project,” he says. “We decided from the beginning that we were not going to be commercial, we are some sort of NGO. We’re depending on the small fees we collect from the cinema, the shop and the restaurant we hope to open soon.”
Darb is reaching out to kids too to develop their love for the arts early on. “It’s a bit difficult to work with the old people, but much easier to work with the kids. For example, we have workshops on recycling, painting, acting and we even taught them how to skateboard. At the same the kids are getting used to being inside art spaces—we’re teaching them that it’s not forbidden.”
In a way, Darb 1718 has become a way of mixing different social classes. Nasr explains, that it’s often the same 200 or 300 faces that show up to art exhibitions in Cairo, but with Darb 1718 he wanted to open up the art world for the broad public. Today, Darb’s events can be composed of 10 people for a workshop or host up to 2,000 people in concerts.
“Darb is essentially a place where everyone can express their feelings or what they believe. I want the space to be for everyone and for every kind of art.”