Kassem Istanbouli: “Art is a right for everyone”

News overview

Tiro Association for Arts reopens closed cinemas in Lebanon, to turn them into independent and free cultural platforms for the public. Festivals and Carnivals with music, theatre and cinema are organized, as well as training workshops for young people. All this has contributed greatly in to making culture accessible for everyone in Lebanon. We spoke with Kassem Istanbouli, a Lebanese actor and director, and founder of Tiro Association for Arts.

Reopening cinemas
After graduating from University I was part of a street- and interactive theatergroup with some university colleagues. This experience, where we learned to attract the public with theatre and cinema, helped us in establishing the Tiro Association for Arts in Lebanon. When we started, the culture of attending the theater and cinema did not exist in southern Lebanon, as theaters and cinemas were closed due to the war and the economic conditions. We rehabilitated and reopened a number of these cinemas, including “Hamra Cinema”, “Stars Cinema” and “Rivoli Cinema” in Tyre and Nabatieh, to turn them into independent and free cultural platforms.

Founder Kassem Istanbouli during a parade

Free and available for everyone
We wanted to make culture and cultural development available for everyone. So also for people outside the cultural capital of Lebanon, for instance in the culturally marginalized areas far from Beirut. Not only using the closed cinema’s, but also by opening free and independent cultural platforms and movie screenings in towns and public squares through the "Art and Peace Bus" for mobile shows, launched by the association in 2018.

Cinema for the arts
On the cinematic level, Tiro Association for Arts programs artistic and educational cinematic shows for children and youth. Also they open up the cinema to any director who wants to present his movie for free. Another goal is to establish networks with festivals abroad and offer the opportunity for young directors to display their films. In this way the public can learn about the history of local and international cinema.

Learn, create and come together
In the year 2019, we launched eight different festivals with Tiro Association for Arts. We aimed to create a common cultural space for everyone through cultural meetings, exchanging experiences and engaging trainee performances. With the festivals and various shows (some from outside Lebanon), we want to support the youth and local artists.

Empowering the young
Tiro Association is based on the concept of volunteering, so we have worked on building groups of volunteers in the different cities. We have contributed to setting up training courses on various arts to enhance the skills and talents of children and youth. Within this strategy, the trainees become members of the association and within the various committees in the association. For example, today the president of Tiro Association for Arts started as a volunteer and student of interns. This is part of the dream we all believe in unites and shapes us. Enabling young people to engage in festivals and shows.

Art and Peace Bus on the road

Art is a right for everyone
We are proud to be an artistic family that managed to shine a candle in the dark in southern Lebanon! We opened a theater and 3 cinemas, we organized training workshops and carnivals, and have set up 27 festivals with the participation of 23 nationalities in our theatrical and cinematic shows. We, as a team of volunteers, are proud that we have freely shared love, art and culture. We believe that the future and continuity of our project is in the hands of those youngsters and children who are waiting in front of the cinema to see the shows.

Keep dreaming
Through our experience we realize that nothing is impossible as long as there is a good mix of a dream, faith and action. No one can kill our dream, despite what happened in Cinema Al Hamra (in Tyre) and Cinema Starts (in Nabatieh). We reopened both cinemas (in 2014 and 2017) but they were forcibly closed afterwards. It’s this kind of systemic repression we are facing under the control of religious and political parties and institutions that Lebanon has suffered from for 30 years. This is why it is important to continue! We believe art is a right for everyone. And our goal is to bring about cultural, social, economic and political change. We will keep doing this by opening independent platforms, launching initiatives and enabling young people to engage in festivals and shows. Keep dreaming!