Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What's so special about the Israel Festival?

Ruth Abraham
Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies    www.jiis.org

The program of the fifty-fifth Israel Festival was unveiled on April 11, and tickets have started to be sold. The festival originally began in 1961 as a festival of classical music, and over the years it grew into a multidisciplinary event. Today, it hosts dance, theater, music and art performances. The festival takes place during an eventful month, beginning in the end of May. The goal of the festival is described on the official website as "enriching the cultural landscape of Jerusalem and Israel, encouraging international cultural relationships, and promoting discourse on art".
Up until the 1980s, the festival, financed mainly by institutional funds, stood out in Israel as one of the main importers of international culture. In July 1983, however, Davar described a situation in which other private and institutional bodies were also bringing shows to Israel throughout the year: "The main difficulty [of the Israel Festival] and benefit for the consumers of culture is that a yearlong festival is taking place, unofficial, and unsponsored by national agencies."(Mai Paz). Unlike the Israel Festival, these shows were based mainly on self-generated income, namely commercial sponsorships and ticket selling.
According to the report Festivals in Israel, 2011 by the culture administration of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the Israel Festival was the longest in Israel: it lasted 27 days, hosted 66 productions, and was the second largest in terms of number of productions and of Israeli shows specially produced for it. The number of paying visitors reached 28,600, which was second only to the dance festival in Karmiel, visited by over 53,000 paying visitors.
A look at the Israel Festival programs since 2007 reveals that visiting (international) productions form approximately 55% of the hosted acts, and 35%-70% of the running shows (see graph). At the most recent festival (2015), the international shows formed 59% of the hosted acts, and 69% of the running shows. Budget reports of the last seven years show that the self-generated income covers approximately one-third of the festival's budget, and number of tickets sold is around 40,000. The year 2014 was an exception, with 59,000 tickets sold.
To conclude, in its over thirty years, the Israel Festival is not the single actor in the arena of culture imports to Israel; as such, its task is not only to maintain high standards of both local and international acts, but also to include an exceptionally large volume of work.


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