Reminiscent of Alexandria’s Hellenic past, Agora is a newly-launched Egyptian company based in the Mediterranean city and is trying to revive an ancient concept of culture in public spaces.
The word Agora comes from the Greek, meaning a place of gathering and the initiative aims to provide a place where the exchange of culture and ideas is allowed to flourish.
“There was a place in Alexandria that served this purpose and we want to revive this concept. We want to jumpstart creative community involvement and provide a public space for it,” said Reem Qassem, founder of Agora.
Qassem says that Agora started as a Facebook page but soon the initiative grew into what it is today. “In 2010, it was very difficult to organise anything that took place in public spaces because of the strict bureaucracy and laws in Egypt at the time. Now that people have taken to the streets, the public space has become a venue for all sorts of activities and it has become much easier.”
This increasingly blurry line between what is private and public is why Agora organises most of its events in public venues. Their biggest event, called Ebdaa Be Nafsak, or Start With Yourself, has been hosted four times and changes location to a different public square each time,
“We go on a bit of exploration and pick a public square for it each time we organise it. The event is held every six months and was attended by 4,000 people in its last session. It features underground musicians, handicrafts and artists whose only source of income is art, as well as activities for children and debates,” said Qassem.
The festival runs for one day but Agora hosts other events as well, such as the Moulid festival, which are based in Alexandria. Recently, Agora has launched an exhibition of Hellenic-inspired jewellery by artist Rana Ghazy, in collaboration with the British Council in Cairo, in the framework of economic development through art.
“We did a workshop for widows called Calligraph where the purpose was to teach them that art can be a source of income. The 200 pieces of jewellery produced were shown in Cairo as well,” said Qassem.
Qassem says Agora is planning on expanding from Alexandria into neighbouring cities: “Our goal for 2013 is to go out of Alexandria and into other governorates like Port Said. Our aim is to spread culture through producing it.”