Yousef Yousef in an interview with Lina Al Tal, head of the National Center for Culture and Art
Art and Society: The Road to a Creative Future
Each one of us can enjoy and draw inspiration from the arts. As per the words of my guest, whom I shall introduce later, “It is like swaying with nature.”
As an SAE Institute graduate, I started my career in directing and scriptwriting. This world requires an artistic sense and an ability to translate reality into writing, drama, and acting creatively. I drew on my interest in art as a development tool and wrote this blog to convey the reality of art in Jordan.
I’m looking for answers to my questions and those of other young women and men of my generation. I aim to contribute, albeit in a small way, to sending a message of hope and encouragement to others interested in art in a country where the topic is not considered a priority.
I was delighted to interview Lina Al Tal, Head of the National Center for Culture and Arts and a passionate drama artist who believes in the role of art in developing societies. She transferred this belief to her surroundings and gained the required support to establish an art center in 1987. The center is now considered a prestigious destination for spreading creativity and consolidating human values and cultural acceptance.
What if we didn’t have art?
If we imagine our world without acting, writing, drawing, music, singing, and theater, would we miss much?
The first thing we will lose is our connection with our surroundings. Our way of judging things may be affected, and we will have a narrow-minded view of the world. We will not learn about other cultures, stories, and social issues; it might even be challenging to learn about history. How can we communicate our voice if our words lack emotional depth and imagination?
There is no denying the correlation between art and psychology.
“A person who explores art at an early age normally grows up more balanced and reconciled as someone who can understand human behavior. In theatrical drama, for instance, the skills that an individual is exposed to, such as improvisation, writing scenes, and teamwork, contribute to increasing their awareness and self-confidence and establishing a creative means of expression, critical thinking, and analytical skills that enable them to see other perspectives and understand them,” Al Tal explains.
On the other hand, arts play a significant role in preserving national identity and heritage. UNESCO aims to add diverse types of art to its list of intangible cultural heritage, which will contribute to promoting and preserving them, especially the ones practiced by relatively few people. Among traditional Arabic art included in the UNESCO list are Arabic calligraphy, Palestinian embroidery, traditional Emirati Talli, and the popular Algerian Rai dance.
Arts as a means for acceptance and understanding
In theatrical drama or interactive theater, the “magic if” concept helps us trade shoes with others and think of reality from other perspectives. How would we behave? What would our reactions be? This affects our thinking, influences more balanced behavior, and makes us more mature.
Going back through the history of art and its impact on youth in Jordan, Al Tal says, “Theater and music were part of the curriculum in both public and private schools in the 1970s and 1980s, and we even developed a guide for teachers on drama in the late 1980s. This was supported by a clause issued by my late father, Ahmad Al Tal, stipulating that theater and drama should be a central part of education within the five-year plan in 1985. But all interest began to decline in the 1990s due to external interferences in educational curricula. We witnessed neglect and exclusion of the arts in our schools. The effect reversed when schools and universities began witnessing higher violence levels. There has been a trend towards extremism, and the state has awakened to the importance of reviving the arts to rebalance these matters.”
Many civil society organizations seek to use art to create inclusive spaces and safe zones, especially in divided communities. Through planned artistic activities, the members of these communities can express themselves and their traumas and issues and raise awareness to understand each other via the common language of art.
Inclusion is the most distinguishable characteristic of art, making it an excellent means for reinforcing social cohesion. Al Tal adds, “People with disabilities are often the most talented. We collaborated with them in our center, and despite their physical challenges, they produced amazing artwork where they sang, danced, and painted passionately.”
Art curriculums in private and public schools, a gap to be addressed
Some private schools adopt an international education system where art is a key subject. On the other hand, we see public schools replacing art sessions with other subjects, like math or science. Are there any efforts put in action to correct this situation?
Al Tal believes that the arts enrich education for youth and are strongly related to the psychological and physical development of children and adolescents.
“Art is joy and a terrific addition to the curriculum that makes a student grow fonder of school. Unlike other subjects, there isn’t a good or bad art student. It is a space for expression without judgment.” Al Tal adds, “Every human is an artist and has a unique mode of expression, but what we need to promote and refine their talents and passion.”
In 2018, the Ministry of Education issued a law stating that 20% of school curriculums should be extracurricular activities, equating to two weekly sessions. This provided teachers with enough space to conduct extracurricular activities, but they still needed access to enriching content to provide their students.
Nowadays, we have an official and approved approach for musical, theatrical, and visual arts to become official school subjects. Moreover, the Ministry added about 60-70 extracurricular activities to their website so teachers can implement them in their classes.
The challenge remains in application and continuity; if the content and training are systematically institutionalized, the activities will remain consistent and sustainable. We need to train graduate teachers and qualify them on how to integrate drama into education, and there is a plan to employ theater and music graduates to teach these subjects in schools. These are all positive indicators.
During her talk on the support that the center provides, Al Tal pointed out that 300 teachers from Amman, Irbid, Karak, and Zarqa received training on the use of drama in education and performing arts techniques. They were celebrated during the Drama in Education Conference that was held a few days before our interview.
This issue is not limited to school students. There are around 200 youth centers and directorates affiliated with the Ministry of Youth and the Ministry of Culture, respectively, spread across the kingdom, all of which can be invested in to bridge this gap and conduct artistic activities directed by the youth.
“Support is not necessarily financial. It can be intellectual, as these centers and directorates welcome local artists to share their talents and creativity and train others within the community,” Al Tal continues.
When will art become a self-sufficient tool to support the economy?
In Jordan, we still need a vision for employing art in the growing economy, which is when art movements fund themselves instead of relying on financial support that may not continue.
“Creative industries are particularly important to the economy, but we fall short regarding implementation. Support can take several shapes, such as facilitating logistics like tax exemption for art performance tickets, preparing an artistic agenda to be marketed globally for artistic events that will be held throughout the year in Jordan, and enabling cooperation between the public, private, and civil sectors to support local folk groups to perform at hotels and tourist destinations,” says Al Tal.
She continues, “In Jordan, we have a culture support fund, but unfortunately, it is not yet activated. We offer funding and support for theatrical and folk groups, and the one with the best performance wins the funding the following year. Imagine the significant positive competitivity this approach can create if properly implemented.”
Art is a culture, not a luxury
Adding to the solutions mentioned by Al Tal, the youth can contribute to reviving arts as a tool for development. With the rapid growth of social media, talented artists can use their accounts to advertise and promote their products.
Each of us can contribute to transferring knowledge to our surroundings by supporting initiatives, teams, and small projects, nurturing the younger generation’s sense of art and raising awareness of published works. These are ways to encourage us to express and consolidate art as an inherent culture, not as a secondary luxury.
Image: Yousef Yousef in an interview with Lina Al Tal, head of the National Center for Culture and Art
This blog highlights the opinion of Yousef Yousef after an interview with Lina Al Tal, one of the most prominent specialists in art and drama in education, as a part of the “Jeel 01” Program implemented by Generations for Peace with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.