Walking down the streets of Al-Haram on a busy weekday is notoriously consuming of both time and energy. The area’s hustle and bustle is inevitably linked to unreasonably prolonged traffic congestion accompanied by the dark grey smog of vehicles, the noise of car horns, and the enthusiastic swearing of pedestrians.
Thanks to the newly launched art centre and café Joud, however, Al-Haram residents can now break free from the hectic day-to-day routine, engage in new artistic experiences, and indulge in a tranquil getaway. Located inside an old low-rise building parallel to Al-Haram Street, the centre provides a relaxing atmosphere for residents who usually resort to similar but further locations.
Unlike other art-themed venues in Haram, however, Joud is starting off with multiple, integrated activities that will provide viable solutions to persistent issues faced by art education. These activities include a wide range of arts and crafts workshops on theatre, music, photography, and creating handmade products.
Joud’s soft opening just a few days ago was met with a huge turnout. The centre will kick off its first round of workshops in June, along with customised activities for the holy month of Ramadan.
Ahmed Mostafa, one of the co-founders, told Daily News Egypt that Joud is the result of three years of work by the Terhal arts centre. “We have been organising these workshops since 2013, but without a headquarters,” he said.
The team faced several obstacles while establishing Joud. Most were focused around the lack of financial resources, which affected the project’s sustainability, as well as the team’s capacity.
Using the bootstrapping concept in which a business is launched without external help, Joud was co-founded with some of Terhal’s past coordinators as well as some new investment partners. “Terhal now has a fixed location, which is Joud, in order to ease communication with our audience and expand our activities,” Mostafa said. “It was all an independent effort. However, we did not start from scratch as we already have a network of trainers and past partners from Terhal,” he added.
This bootstrapping methodology is reflected in several aspects of the venue’s furnishings and decorations, which are simple yet vivid. The library on one side of the entrance is made of recycled wood and the paintings on the wall were made by the co-founders. There is also an entire room filled with colourful puff seats, and other rooms housing a small number of tables and seats. This approach, according to Mostafa, helped the team cut establishment costs down by almost half.
Regarding the workshops, Mostafa said they are unconventional in the sense that they empower qualified participants to later become trainers.
“Not everyone is able to study the arts because of the higher education system. It is a waste of real talent,” Mostafa said. “We aim, through the arts workshops, to nurture talents and help people make a living from them. Many of our past participants have become trainers upon finishing the workshop.”
Prior to settling into the headquarters, Mostafa said the team used to select empty art education venues. Government locales were a favourite as there are many scattered across Cairo. Those venues included Saad Zaghloul centre, Beit Sezef, and Beit Al-Rassef.
“We used to target as many places as possible in order to make the workshops more efficient for our team and the participants,” Mostafa said. “But when it came to choosing a headquarters, we focused our attention on a location that serves different segments of society between Omraneya district and Al-Haram,” he added.
Furthermore, Mostafa noted that the location needed to be close to the arts academy in Al-Haram, which could be a potential partner for the workshops.
Joud also provides other services and activities, such as a cafe and bookstore and movie nights, which focus on viewing and discussing films that are not considered popular. “Those quiet art spaces are rare to find in Al-Haram amid the prevalence of street cafes and normal restaurants,” he said.
The team is currently focused on launching a new initiative entitled Build Your Own House or ‘Ebn Beitak’. This workshop aims to empower participants by teaching them how to manage daily tasks in their homes, such as carpentry, painting, or decorating.
The team is also planning to start marketing the workshops through Joud and other channels.