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"It's All About Jerusalem": The Season of Culture Team Previews 2016's Festivities

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This article is featured in the July 2016 edition of The Slice, a monthly digest that offers news, stories, ideas and opportunitieswith a Jewish twist. Below, we chat with the team at Jerusalem Season of Culture, an annual summer showcase of the city’s contemporary cultural treasures, about what's on tap for 2016. JSOC produces an annual series of original, multi-disciplinary events that weave the highest quality art, world renowned artists, and up-and-coming talent into the unique cultural fabric of the city. This year, the showcase includes Mekudeshet, a three-week multidisciplinary celebration of art, culture and the spirit of Jerusalem.

In 2015, over 200 musicians descended on Jerusalem for the Sacred Music Festival. Can you preview some of the music on tap this year?

Sure, there’s a lot! As in previous years, we’re proud to host some legendary names in world music, including Ethopia’s Mulatu Astatke, who was the first artist to fuse Ethiopian music with classical jazz; Baaba Maal, the high priest of African rhythm from Senegal; and the band Misty in Roots that will bring reggae, truth and protest all the way the way from London to the heart of Jerusalem.

We’re also very excited to present several originally commissioned productions that traverse musical genres, continents and faiths, including a performance by Israel’s prince of Yemenite groove, Ravid Kahalni with the Gambia’s Sona Jobarteh, the first female kora virtuoso; percussion master Zohar Fresco will host extraordinary drummers from Italy, Spain, Azerbaijan, and India; Ziv Yehezkel, a Haredi singer who cannot remember a time when he was not listening (sometimes secretly) to classical Arabic music, will perform new arrangements of classical Arabic music masterpieces with the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra who special guest Nasreen Qadri; ney player Kudsi Erguner will sing maftirim in ancient Hebrew from the heart of Islamic Turkey; and there’s a bunch more.

We’ll open the week-long music celebration with the largest singing circle in the Middle East. We’re proud to invite all residents and lovers of Jerusalem to join us in a huge circle with no division between audience and stage, with no borders or walls, in which we will all sing together, a resounding voice that will emanate from Jerusalem to the surrounding hills and maybe even throughout the world.

This event is not only about the music, of course--but also art, dance, theater and more. Any chance you can tease some upcoming exhibits, installations or performances?

Yes, Mekudeshet is a three-week festival that traverses all artistic disciplines and is all about stretching the boundaries of art, identity and sacredness in Jerusalem.

After many years of doing city-specific art in Jerusalem, we reached the conclusion that the city’s most compelling creative possibilities are contained within the potential to break out of what is reflexive and automatic in this place that people tend to stigmatize and caricature, to reevaluate the conventional categories through which people divide themselves up here, and generally to grapple with the city’s seen and unseen boundaries. The upcoming festival is a reflection of that conclusion, and therefore features events like Seven Ways to Dissolve Boundaries—a series of doco-theatrical journeys that follow Jerusalemites who are creating radically new social, cultural and political paradigms;Amen—a shared house of prayer for Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Valley of Gehenna; Recalibrating: A night of dozens of lectures, workshops and art that rethink reality at Van Leer; Out of Zion: an installation in the city’s central square made up of 24 fruit trees in lego-like boxes on wheels that the public can arrange in various constellations in the hopes that nature can bring some softness and common ground to one of the most complicated public spaces in the city; Rustling: a nighttime experience of voices, music, and sounds in the bends of a valley where city and forest become intertwined; and much more.

Do you have a favorite moment from last year's eventful Season of Culture?

That’s like asking us to choose a favorite child. We’ll get in trouble if we do that!

Jerusalem is a unique place to host an event of this scale, and certainly presents some challenges. What compelled you to choose Jerusalem and why do you think this event has been so successful in the midst of such a complex environment?

For us, it’s all about Jerusalem. She is our source and our foundation. She is the inspiration and the performance itself. She’s the backdrop and also center stage. She is the challenge and the solution. She is the well from which everything we do springs forth.

All of the artistic creations in Mekudeshet 2016 derive from Jerusalem or flow back into it.  They explore and question everything that Jerusalem holds sacred. They feed off and into her complex reality.  They rethink and examine the harmonies and discords that emanate from Jerusalem.

Our success is rooted in the complexity, and if our art is interesting, it’s because it is city-specific, and Jerusalem just happens to be the most interesting city in the world.

Aside from a great time, what are you hoping that attendees take away from their Mekudeshet experience?

We hope that attendees come out of the festival a little differently than how they came in. We hope we can stretch, if only just a bit, their notions of what constitutes art and creativity in Jerusalem. We hope that our audiences will be exposed to individuals, ideas and phenomena that defy easy categorization and refuse to be contained by conventional wisdom. And ultimately we hope they will leave with a deeper sense not only of the city’s undeniable complexity, but also of the beauty, good and shared humanity that are equally undeniable.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or program participants.