Interconnected in Culture for a Stronger Ecosystem

The Ecosystems Academy II Launches in Nuweiba

Start Date: 2023-03-15

End Date: 2023-03-19

Nuweiba - Sinai

The Ecosystems Academy II Launches in Nuweiba

What may seem like a networking event at first sight, the Ecosystem Academy is a self-governed and self-organized space that connects different learning needs and fosters knowledge exchange among the attendees. The bar for the second edition of the Academy was set high. The first edition took place in Amman, Jordan last year and was a successful tryout that inspired the team of All-Around Culture to do it again, and do it better. Led by MitOst, this year’s event gathered grantees from all four programme components in a beautiful, intimate and harmonious Dayra Camp in Nuweibaa, Egypt. Accompanied by the wider team of the programme and external guests, the group shared a unique and ambitious environment that brought them together as individuals representing various positions within the cultural sphere in the MENA region. 

The three-day meeting was facilitated by Olha Kotska and Silvana Naguib from MitOst. In a manner of Open Space technology, more than 32 sessions were hosted by attendees who felt like sharing their expertise and artistic practice through different mediums of their choice. After long days of conversations, the clear night sky, light Red Sea breeze and sand under one’s feet were an alluring field for theatrical readings, movie screenings and continued chats around a bonfire on the topics that matter  – including questions about how the cultural ecosystem of the region can become independent? And the different ways for knowledge sharing and learning from each other’s practices.  

The first day started as usual in these gatherings – physical exercises and ice-breakers served as a smooth welcome and helped to ground everyone after long travels from different parts of the region and beyond. With many new names and faces to remember, attendees split into smaller groups to agree on key principles of their participation in the upcoming three days. Once the consent on that was reached, workshop facilitators presented an extensive, colorful, and most importantly, self-led agenda and the methodology of the Open Space. Participants were invited to navigate through it intuitively and follow its principles, while keeping the reflective model of “What? So what? Now what?” in mind.

 On this day, the group convened into smaller groups to delve deeper into topics of reporting, anthropology, graphic design, collaboration, digital archiving, financial management and cultural policies. The room was filled with practical advice and the spirit of artistic engagement and showcasing. Mohammed El Tannir from Culture Resource shared his experience with reporting and invited others to share their thoughts and insights. Attendees identified key issues including the complexity of reporting, the high time consumption, the fact that reporting time is unpaid, and the lack of cross-sharing of information among donors. Later that day, financial consultant Yasmin Ouberri offered some golden rules in relation to it, one of them being “At every point in time, you need to have an overview”. Another highlight of the day was an interactive and participatory workshop “How to walk the dog?” offered by Beyn collective founders Nike Dieterich and Doha Elwazir. By debating and bringing their own understandings, participants established key values of collaboration and had a chance to embody them during a short improvisation session.

The second day began with a local visit to the Habiba Community. Founded as a small family enterprise in 1994, Habiba has evolved into an exemplary community of practitioners engaged ecotourism, agriculture, and synergizing differences in South Sinai. Guided by founder Maged El Said, academy participants learned about organic farming, community development and simply being human in situations of societal, economic, and political shocks that this Community has experienced throughout the years. “All solutions for humanity came from experimentation, everything that has happened, is a response to a challenge”, shared Maged.

During the second half of day two, several sessions raised new questions that had not yet been addressed and provided attendees with valuable opportunities to pause and contemplate. Artists Léon Dubois, Fethi Sahraoui and Abdallah Kassem invited the group to think along and get to know their individual projects, or simply have a hands-on experience of their artistic practices right there on the sand of Nuweibaa. As the sun went down and the day’s harvest of insights  was collected, the cinema screen lit up for a screening of carefully curated films selected by Sarah Bahgat and Habiba Laoui.

As the Ecosystem Academy neared its end, a wide range y of topics were still in the air and workshop hosts invited the group to join them in discussing the power of arts in rural areas, exploring tips and tricks of strategic management, delving into the concept and practice of Commons, and much more. The circle of practitioners working in rural areas in different hosted by Hebah Omari, Mustafa Adnan Al-Sakran, Sandra Sleiman and Tareq Khalaf  countries sparked the energy of solidarity and understanding of commonalities of opening up spaces and running activities in often underserved communities. A stimulating conversation, steered by Stephano Mendelek and Ahmed Borham about the practice of Commons made participants wonder about future possibilities of being and working together, especially in urban contexts. Many more passionate conversations sprang up over lunch – discussing the human futures of work together with Dr. Claudia Gross, sharing memories about the Little Prince with Léon Duboison, or exploring the latest trends of social media.

The question of the last day was “Now what?” – what can be done with all that was learned, discussed, and contested in the previous days? In the last hours of the programme, everyone reflected on the intensity and density of the connections made and the conversations that happened. Many emphasized the significance of implementing structural changes, building more bridges between countries and sectors, and shared a common will and determination to keep the conversations and act on them. 

The second edition of the Ecosystem Academy had its closure with music performed by a local bedouins band. With their heads and hearts still buzzing, people mingled in the warm night air and continued building connections and sharing their stories. This gathering was a manifestation of the ecosystem of the All-Around Culture programme and a great example that by bringing people together we foster the art of collaboration.  The ecosystem of people working in the arts and culture and civil society sectors in the MENA region is not indefinite, hence connections made in those three days enhanced it and gave a strong impulse for future collaborations and knowledge transfer in this interconnected environment.

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