Small groups of people from all over the world were spotted around downtown Alexandria in January. Sometimes they were covered with dust from head to toe, causing people on the street to playfully ask "Why are they so dirty?" or "Are the foreigners working for us now?"
They didn’t roam aimlessly, however. This group of 27 volunteers from across continents was working on a three-week project themed Spaces of Expression
During the day, they broke down walls, sanded and plastered an apartment in a traditional Wikala 1900s building, which was throughout the 1930s and 60s the office of Egypt's leading film distributor Behna Films Selections. At night, they discovered the music, theatre, dance and other cultural treasures tucked around Egypt's second-largest city.
This project falls under the umbrella of International People's Project (IPP), one of the programmes of the international NGO, CISV, which has a volunteer-run branch in Cairo.
Alexandria has seen an upsurge of new independent culture spaces opening within the past few years. Some have been brought to life thanks to the Gudran Association for Arts and Development, the same association featured in Ahmed Abdallah's 2010 award winning film Microphone where Khaled (Played by Khaled Abu El-Naga) is a project manager seeking to find a stage for independent musicians to perform.
This film, is partly to thank in paving the way for this project to happen. The film inspired some CISV volunteers during the revolution and later met some of Gudran's staff socially. A friendship was formed between members of both organisations that quickly turned into a partnership for this project. (...)
While Egyptians are far from reclaiming their freedoms, seeing many are still put behind bars for expressing their opinions, Gudran and spaces like Behna give a glimpse of a not entirely bleak future for Egypt’s art scene.