Art-up Nation

Israel is an Art-up Nation. It is the cultural equivalent to the more familiar high-tech Start-up nation status not only because it is literally overflowing with talented young performing and visual artists and designers. Not only because it is bursting at the seams with artistic creativity expressing our society’s vitality and diversity, including the tensions and seeming contradictions so prevalent here. Not only because cultural entrepreneurship and export are economic engines fueling many of our local and regional localities, not just the cultural capital of Tel Aviv.

Israel is an indisputable Art-up Nation because cultural leaders and consumers around the world are embracing our artists’ individual talents in a vast array of endeavors. They are recognizing and reaffirming this vitality as they view our film (could “Bethlehem” win an Oscar?), our television programs and inspirations (some of them anyway), or our classical, jazz and contemporary music, video and media art, photography, contemporary dance and theater. Our artists’ achievements on the international stage inspire and reflect back on us and those who’ve tied their fate with us. And yes, even when their work boldly treats edgy and risqué issues that seek to jar us as citizens.

As a compulsive consumer of the arts, I am clearly living in the right place. I am also clearly working in the right place, with the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, AICF, which seeded the field of Israeli culture in pre-state days and the first decades of the State of Israel and persistently cultivates Israel’s future artistic leaders at critical junctures of their development.

In this blog, I will share my experiences working with and on behalf of these talented young Israeli artistic visionaries and entrepreneurs, the country’s current and future cultural leaders, and offer my insights on how we raise our Art-up Nation to the next level.

Take the Israeli Chamber Project, for one. Their members’ passion and their mission, both wider than the music they play, define Art-up Nation. Tibi Cziger, Michal Korman, Yael Kareth, Itamar Zorman, Daniel Bard, Guy Ben-Ziony, Sivan Magen and Assaf Weissman are a group of eight late twenties/early thirties-something, highly accomplished classical musicians (strings, winds, harp and piano) who defy Groucho Marx’s quip, “These are my principles… if you don’t like them… I have others!” They consciously strive and succeed in performing exquisite chamber music of all shapes and forms, while pursuing prestigious solo and teaching careers outside of the group. While they don’t all live in the same city or even country (three live in Israel and the rest in Europe and the U.S.) they remind me of some of the intentional young adult communities in Israel – they share a mission and pursue it with an infectious mix of idealism and pragmatism.

And this mission extends to a web of educational outreach programs they conduct, most notably in Israel’s social and geographical peripheries in cooperation with local music conservatories. Clarinetist Cziger, the Project’s co-founder and artistic director, explains that the educational programs are not a haltura, a gig for some extra bucks. Like their insistence on consistently performing and often commissioning new works by Israeli composers, such as “Ice Palace” by Zohar Sharon, winner of Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition for this piece…

…their education work is also driven by a vision – a tangible way to give back and provide more young Israelis of all backgrounds opportunities to fulfill their potential, regardless of where they live. Cziger feels strongly that the young listener in Dimona, Arad, Ma’alot-Tarshikha and Shefar’am should receive exactly what his or her peers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem receive.

The Project, founded in 2008, has developed groups of followers, fans, both here in Israel – where they’ve performed as part of the Ted and Lin Arison Israel Conservatory of Music year-round chamber music series in Tel Aviv – in NY and throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. They also attract a lot of first rate musicians (Beethoven Trio Opus 11 with Peter Wiley of the Guarneri Quartet.

I marvel at how they embody and model collaboration – giving and taking, team work, openness and creativity.

Israel’s Art-up Nation didn’t start yesterday or even a decade ago. Though different Israeli arts fields have emerged, and in some cases, exploded, at different paces and times, our cultural entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in the beginning years of the country. And it continues to thrive because of new generations of artists committed to reaching the highest standards of excellence and, like the Israeli Chamber Project members, expressing their artistic truths that inspire, enrich and challenge.

About the Author
Lee Perlman is the Executive Director in Israel of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. Manhattan born and bred, Lee has lived in Israel since 1982. Ha'aretz newspaper named him in 2013 as one of "Israeli Culture's 100 Most Influential Figures". He received his Ph.D. on Israeli theater from Tel Aviv University. Lee is a research fellow on Israeli culture at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University.
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