Abu Dhabi: Beirut Fund Launches Finance Program

"The Return to Homs"

The Beirut-based Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), supporter of four Arab pics at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, has launched a self-financing platform called the Arab Creativity and Entrepreneurship Fund, which is seeking to have a far-reaching impact on how arts are financed in the region.

In March, AFAC issued a thousand symbolic “shares” in the fund for sale at $1,000 per share and set a goal of of reaching $1 million. They are already half-way there.

Some of the donors are artists; some of them are young producers in Saudi Arabia, all the way to (Arab) businesspeople who (previously) did not want to hear about culture,” said AFAC executive director Oussama Rifahi.

They thought culture was just hanging fancy pictures in their homes,” he added. That is starting to change.

Rifahi points out that the Arab world doesn’t have tax incentive systems for the arts; they also don’t have direct support for the arts, like they have in Europe, “so we had to create something and we did this after looking at several models.” Donations to the fund from U.S. are tax deductible, he hastens to add.

Donors become part of a community that is kept informed of events and new developments as they unfold, with newsletters, events with grantees and grantee success stories, creating an impulse in people to start to give, but not as a straightforward charity play. “The return on investment for shareholders is the social impact these projects will provide to their communities and societies,” Rifahi said.

Concurrently, AFAC is collaborating with the Arab world’s two main crowdfunding platforms, Aflamnah and Zoomal, providing them with content and consultation.

On the other end of the spectrum, there could be multimillion dollar donations to pursue.

But Rifahi says he wants to create something in-between “that works longer-term.”

Eventually, he would like about one-third of AFAC revenues to come from the new platform. The other two-thirds will be from the corporate sector and from international foundations.

AFAC is not government-funded in order to maintain its independence. In 2009 they set up a special program to support documetnary makers in tandem with Sundance and also have links with the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms initiative.

The four AFAC-supported pic screening in Abu Dhabi are Lebanese director Ghassan Salhab’s “The Valley”; Palestinian director Amer Al Shomali and Canadian director Paul Cowan’s docu “The Wanted 18,” about how 18 cows pasturing on a Palestinian collective farm became a security threat to Israel; Egyptian director Nadine Salib’s “Mother of the Unborn”; and Sundance-winning docu “Return to Homs,” pictured above.

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