“Al-Fan Midan” (Art is a Square) festival is returning this month on 7 January with a wide range of music concerts, puppet shows and theater performances, as well as caricature exhibitions, after being put on hold in December in solidarity with the cabinet sit-in. How long the monthly arts festival will be sustainable remains uncertain as the official sponsor, the Independent Arts Coalition, is currently facing major financial problems.
The first official edition of the festival took place on 2 April at Abdeen Square in downtown Cairo, engaging cultural enthusiasts, as well as passersby. But, the idea actually came up in February, when the Culture Resource set up a stage in Tahrir Square, inviting artists, theater troupes and musicians to perform for protesters demanding Mubarak to leave.
Ever since, “Al-Fan Midan” has promoted pro-revolution artists like singers Ramy Essam and Hamza Nomira, the communal Choir Project, and playwright and theater director Laila Soliman. Some of the artists have been well received internationally. Along with the performances, an arts corner for children and handicrafts stands was set up. Held on the first Saturday of the month, its scope has expanded to 14 cities across Egypt. In each city, where it’s held, local community members and artists organize the event and perform. And participating artists have been performing for free.
In a statement published on the coalition’s Facebook page, one of the founding members, Basma al-Husseiny wrote: “We depended on individual donations since we first started… It was only in October and November that the Culture Ministry supported us financially. But, now most of these donations have stopped, as donors are giving priority to treating protesters injured in recent clashes.”
Al-Fan Midan isn’t the first modern-day street festival; it was preceded by the occasional Korba festival held in Heliopolis, as well as the SOS Music Festival. But it’s one of the few that are highly inclusive and enjoy a great margin of freedom of expression. That it gives artists space to perform freely on the streets and engage with the public, thereby overcoming social and cultural barriers, is one of its strengths. And in many cases, the performances have advocated the revolution’s demands, campaigned against referring civilians to military courts and taken strong positions on ongoing events like the Maspero violence and the November clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
“The festival gave the streets back to the Egyptian people after being controlled by security forces for so long,” writes Hosseiny. "It's one of the revolution's achievements."