A closer look at Amar A. Zahr, founder of Beirut Art Residency (BAR)

A closer look at Amar A. Zahr, founder of Beirut Art Residency (BAR)



Would you please introduce yourself? And tell us how you decided to start an art residency in Beirut?


Starting out as an artist myself, after exploring a few residencies around the world, including Istanbul, Dubai and New York, I was convinced that this would be the next step for me. Born and raised in Beirut, I studied Business with a Studio Arts minor at AUB.  After graduating, I moved to the United Arab Emirates for seven years working in marketing and media. My last job there was with Art Dubai where I was managing Art Week Dubai, the yearly platform highlighting art, design and cultural events across the city. 

I ventured to Istanbul for a three-month residency; it was during the Gezi Park riots of 2013, which happened to make the experience even more inspiring. Soon after, I went off to New York for another residency at the School of Visual Arts. Along the way I met a lot of artists who showed strong interest in coming to Beirut and would often enquire about the residencies available to them. I then noticed that there are no cultural institutions in Lebanon with the sole focus of running a residency program.  

Ashkal Alwan, in fact, has a residency as part of their overall program however it’s by invitation only and hosts mostly established, well-known artists. With that in mind, I saw the need for Lebanon to have a continuously running residency program, and that is what we are doing here at BAR.




How does it work? And what does it take to manage an art residency?


The residency program is two months long and hosts up to five artists during each round. We opened in September 2015 and have had four rounds of residencies so far. 

Primarily, the way the residency was built was to encourage artists to work together and collaborate on their projects. We have a shared studio space that is divided up among the artists. The rest of the residency’s structure includes three bedrooms, which can either be taken individually or shared with two artists who would pay a lesser fee.

The team consists of four people. I am the founder and director; we have a program manager, a studio manager and a content manager.



Do you welcome artists from other countries than the Middle East?


Yes, that is definitely our goal,; to invite artists from all over the world to come here and create work while inspiring one another.  We have had artists from South Africa, Serbia, Belgium, The United States, Australia, England, Yemen, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.



What kind of activities do you have?


We don’t want to be just a place to house artists and hold exhibitions but also we want to engage with the local community in Lebanon: to have some kind of a dialogue. So we have an alternative program where we do panel discussions, film screening, etc…. For example in April we have organized a panel discussion with Raya Mamarbachi co-founder of artscoops.com, Tara Nehme founder of ticklemybrain, and Nasri  Atallah founder of  Keeward, who discussed their experiences as entrepreneurs starting their creative businesses in Lebanon.




What kind of interaction do the residents have with the local community?


We take our artists to visit museums and to all the openings and exhibitions that are happening during their stay.  In addition to that, we ask them to identify a list of artists or art professionals that they would want to meet while they are in Lebanon and facilitate those meetings for them.

At the end of each residency period BAR organizes an exhibition, titled ‘Open BAR’ showcasing the works-in-progress that artists have created during their stay to which we invite members of the community. The reaction has been very promising; as we have had a turnout of two to three hundred attendees per opening. People are discovering what we are doing here and showing interest, which is very rewarding.

What has made this experience particularly unique is getting to see Beirut through new eyes. It’s refreshing when we take the visiting artists to Byblos, Rachana or Bcharre and realize aspects of our country that we sometimes overlook.



Such project is quite expensive and artists are not known to be wealthy how do you manage to cover expenses?


For the time being, the artists pay a fee to attend our program, however we are actively seeking funding so that in the future we will not require artists to pay fees. However, this has proved to be quite difficult.




Any projects for the future?


During September we will be hosting Beirut-based artists in the space under a project called ‘Local BAR’. This two month long initiative will invite up to ten artists who live and work in Beirut to use our space as their own studios. After we’ve noticed a growing interest from local artists to apply to our program, we believe this would be a great way to open communication channels between artists residing in Lebanon. The current situation is that artists usually work from home or in their private studios, so Local BAR will produce an inspiring co-working environment with the potential grounds for collaboration. Furthermore, we will be showcasing emerging local talent to an interested audience.



You have lived in Dubai, do you think it has replaced Beirut as a creative hub for artists in the region?


Beirut is still a hub. The best art of the region is coming out of Beirut. That being said, I believe Dubai is doing great things now: primarily, they are bringing a lot of international attention to the Middle East. Also lots of attention is being spotlighted on Beirut from Dubai, and this I have noticed while I was there. Due to the media’s exaggerated portrayal of our political situation, not many tourists and members of the international art community come to Beirut. It’s good to have an outlet like Dubai to showcase what Beirut is working on. Kind of like a looking glass.

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