Maria Khoury: Walking into the Art World

By Maria C. Khoury
PalestineChronicle.com

On my first day at work with the project to establish the new International Academy of Art in Palestine, I had no idea what Tayseer Barakat, the popular Palestinian artist meant when he said "We will start this academy and just fly."

I had just stepped into a new and different world of art this November 2006 that overwhelmed me with all of the talented artists around me, on the board of directors and in the office dropping in to check on what’s the status of such a unique and alternative educational project.

Fly? I thought in my mind I surely need a helicopter to fly from my home in Taybeh to the Ramallah office since the last six years I have suffered terribly just trying to bring my children to school every day under the worse conditions I have experienced in Palestine the last 25 years.

I had no idea Tayseer Barakat meant I will have the honor to fly with the dreams that Palestinian artists have had for over thirty years in creating a space for artists to express themselves and to be a reflection of the cultural, political and social atmosphere of our times and use art as a powerful tool to promote change. The work involved literally flying to the printers to create an introductory brochure, a website and invitations to launch on 7 December 2006 this fascinating project of establishing the only higher institution of education in Palestine wishing to grant a B.A. degree in fine arts following the first steps of making an application to the Ministry of Higher Education for accreditation.

This new academic year held the goals of accepting and teaching the first art students in September 2007 with the deadline for Fall applications being March 15, 2007. We need everything around the academy just to quickly fly our way including talented students, expert teachers, money and of course a large building that would eventually house a larger exhibition hall, studios and state of the art library currently available at the Aref Al Aref Renowned House, also known as Gallery 79, behind the Arab Bank El Bireh Branch, Ramallah entrance.

The individual who has made a huge difference behind the scenes of this institution-building project is Henrik Placht of the partner institution, Oslo National Academy of Arts in Norway, an extraordinary artist himself, who has worked hard for more than four years to organize, lobby, curate, network, fundraise and give birth to an alternative form of peaceful resistance and find an institution that will focus on offering new images of Palestinians to the local population and international community. He came to Palestine and met with many local artists including the leading Palestinian artists Suleiman Mansour and Nabil Anani with the charming artist Khaled Hourani, Sameer Salameh, Tayseer Barakat, all serving as co-founders for the project to establish the International Academy of Art in Palestine. Musleih Kananeh, professor of Birzeit University was also very instrumental in establishing the first contacts for this capacity building project.

In 2001 and 2002 when Ramallah was under severe curfews and bombings, there were actually people on the ground thinking how to fly out of the cycle of violence and think creatively in alternative peaceful ways to resist the brutal military occupation aimed at wiping out Palestinians from the face of their beloved homeland. Academic Art Education by its nature promotes tolerance and reconciliation through visual arts. The International Academy of Art Palestine will take a leading role to maintain the collective Palestinian history and identity.

I must admit I do have some people that help me fly with the ideas, objectives and goals in establishing the International Academy of Art in Palestine with the prominent Jerusalem lawyer, Mazen Qupty, the chairman of the board of directors with the very brilliant Reem Fadda, the director of the Palestinian Association of Contemporary Arts (PACA) are a huge driving force behind this exceptional project.

I have promised PACA to represent this prestigious institution with all of the passion I have for Palestine and symbolically fly to the highest star in the sky so that one day after much dedication, commitment and perseverance, the International Academy of Art Palestine will be the new shinning star of the region seeking to educate the artists of tomorrow and hopefully finding donors to sustain the project beyond the initial three years funding generously provided by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

The Norwegian partners have agreed to provide consultation in helping anchor the curriculum within an Arab-Middle Eastern society. I have the honor to fly with the dream of establishing a distinctive educational institution having a new voice in Palestine and make it a reality starting with the first students September 2007. Thus when the sparkle in Tayseer’s eyes said "fly" it really meant the sky is the limit to the success the International Academy of Art Palestine can achieve with local and international support.

-Maria C. Khoury, project manager, IAAP is a graduate of Hellenic College, Harvard University & Boston University with a Doctor of Education degree and returned to Palestine with her husband Daoud C. Khoury, the Mayor of Taybeh, following the Oslo Agreement to help boost the economy by producing Taybeh Beer. She has published many articles world wide about the brutal Israeli military conditions.

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