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£16m Palestinian arts centre opens in the occupied West Bank

The view of a new Palestinian arts centre in West Bank [Qattan Foundation]
The view of a new Palestinian arts centre in Ramallah, West Bank [Qattan Foundation]

A new, £16-million Palestinian arts centre has opened in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in what its creators hope will be a “beacon of culture”, reported the Guardian.

The new home for the AM Qattan Foundation is a “dark, grey cube” that “shimmers on a hillside on the edge of Ramallah”, and was designed by Seville-based Donaire Arquitectos.

“It has been years of fighting to achieve anything close to the standards we wanted,” said the firm’s Juan Pedro Donaire. “There are defects, but it is the best we could do while building under [Israeli] occupation,” he added.

“It is more than just an arts centre,” says Omar Al-Qattan, chair of the foundation. “We hope it might be a modest microcosm of urban public life, something that Palestinian cities lack.”

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The Qattan Foundation was found in 1993 by Omar’s father, Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan, and employs more than 100 people in the West Bank and Gaza, “running educational outreach programmes and public activities with a focus on science, drama and the arts.”

Now, everything can be “brought together in one place, with a gallery, library, theatre, artists’ residencies and studios for dance and art, along with one of the first public plazas in the city.”

According to the Guardian, “visitors to the new complex will enjoy the rare treat of standing on a car-free limestone plaza, where fountains will soon spurt, with a cafe and views of the rolling valley beyond, all shielded from the street by a long, perforated stone wall”.

“The building’s multilevel terraces teemed with excited families at the public opening on 28 June, when more than 1,500 people showed up to explore the facilities,” the report noted.

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The project suffered “endless delays, with imported materials held up by Israeli customs”, including library shelves “mysteriously detained for three months, while a container of light fixtures a sheet of bulletproof glass needed for the gallery space to be able accept precious loans have yet to arrive”.

“We are used to the daily harassment,” says Al-Qattan, who received permission last year to visit his foundation’s Gaza children’s centre after a decade’s wait, “but this is an absurd abuse of power”.

“We want this to be a place where strangers can meet, where ideas can be exchanged, where you can just come and be anonymous,” Al-Qattan told the paper. “A public space in every sense of the word.”

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