By Maayan Jaffe
Israeli artists are cutting-edge and dramatic, said American filmmaker Aviva Kempner. The founder of the Ciesla Foundation, she described Israeli performing artists as “just incredible for a country that small.”
Now, the American public will have greater access to this dynamic art, thanks to a former Israeli Cultural Attaché Sarit Arbell. She recently completed her post in Washington and founded Israel on Stage, currently under the umbrella of America-Israel Cultural Foundation, with application to be its own 501(c) 3. The organization, she said, will serve as a matchmaker between Israeli artists and the venues that might want to host them by showcasing their work and creating opportunities for the artists to meet agents and venue directors.
It was a logical next move for the former emissary, who served in her role for five years.
“She was just the best,” said Kempner. “She has all of these positive, wonderful connections all over the city [of Washington, D.C.] and all over the country.”
“For us it is such a good thing,” said Ilan Sztulman, head of public diplomacy at the Embassy in Washington. “Culture is one thing we do among so many other things. To have a body just for that – working full time without the limitations of the government – she will be much more agile. We expect this to be quite an improvement in exporting Israeli art to the general public of the United States.”
Arbell expressed similar sentiments. She said that in her role at the Embassy there were often limitations to the ability to move the cultural agenda forward because of her ties to government. For example, Arbell attempted to book a booth to showcase Israeli performances at the mainstream Association of Performing Art Presenters conference each year for four years. Two years she was able to get the tables and two years she was not, for political reasons. And when staffing it, the artists were represented mostly by consulates.
This past January, Arbell brought 17 top Israeli artists to a booth, sponsored by Israel on Stage. The conference drew 3,600 people and she said the Israeli booth was wildly successful. In addition to meeting with the performers, Arbell gave away her new Israeli performing arts directory, which lists 600 of Israel’s top performing artists.
“There was such a hunger for it,” Arbell recalled. “We had people come over to the booth and say they were dying to bring an Israeli choreographer and we have 25 in the booklet. It was just an, ‘Oh Wow!’”
While Arbell admits the project is still in its infancy so she cannot site facts and figures of success to date, AICF CEO David Homan said he expects Israel on Stage to “elevate the scale of awareness” about Israeli artists and it could “really give them a leg up” in the U.S. marketplace.
Additionally, Israel on Stage has the ability to improve the Jewish state’s public image, to reduce anti-Semitism and counter the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“How can you hate what you love?” Homan asked.
Arbell said Israeli artists tend to be the most inclusive of all Israelis and that there is more collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians in art than probably in any other area. She cited three recent examples in David Broza’s “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem,” in the joint performances by Noa (Achinoam Nini) & Mira Awad, and those by Idan Raichel, Ali Amr with American singer Alicia Keys.
Sztulman said what people usually know about Israel is conflict.
“When you show them cultural arts, you can change the way they see Israel,” he said. “We call it art diplomacy.”
Sztulman said he does not expect that Palestinian and Israeli artists will collaborate and the next day there will be a peace agreement. Rather, it is a tool for bringing people together.
Arbell knows that success will not be an easy path. Unlike Israeli startups that sell for billions, said Homan, cultural arts reaches a niche audience, brings in less money and is far less sexy.
Still, Arbell is determined to make a go.
Said Arbell, “We want to bring these talents to the world.”
Maayan Jaffe is senior writer/editor at Netsmart and an Overland Park-based freelance writer. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.