Art is a unique way to connect cultures. The Givat Haviva Art Center believes that art is a means to development, expression, freedom, connection and most important – a shortcut to minds and the ability to change them. Art can influence beyond logic, common sense and fixed ideas; it can rock your foundations, create an experience that will imprint on a body and a mind and thus change, really change reality. Anat Lidror, Director of the Collaborative Art Center for the past five years, says that the Art Center has been leading this way of thinking through projects in the center. I was impressed by one of the photography programs. It’s called, A New Look – a joint photography program for Jewish and Arab teachers. The program started back in 2019. It was shaped by understanding inspiration, learning and experience firsthand on every level, and personal development in pairs (Jew and Arab) and of course in a group when it comes to photography. The program includes both group sessions and working together in pairs. So, while learning and advancing in photography, people also become culturally acquainted through an open, honest dialog.

This program is based on two things: photography and a shared society. Learning is achieved in a group setting with an emphasis on photography assignments, for example pictures of couples from both communities. Anat says that the interesting thing about this program is that while on the one hand, a group is developing, on the other hand, there’s also individual development and growth.

Anat also says that the target audience of teachers was selected because of their role in educating others. The process that they go through as a group with a camera justifies the program name – “A New Look”. The new perspective that the teachers experience while learning photography also influences their teaching style. The creative activity of photography, mainly in pairs of Jews and Arabs opens the mind and shows us how we all subconsciously lean on what we were taught which may include prejudices and baseless assumptions. The creative process promotes freedom from fixed perceptions. Taking pictures from different and new angles, being hosted by each other or visiting a museum together. Suddenly, your entire mindset could change. Anat says, “the mind now sees differently things it’s used to seeing one way. This develops the conscious mind, breaks us out of our automatic pattern and changes our habits. The program also exposes its participants to Israeli and global photographers, you visit exhibitions, get to know one another, create together through photography and even discuss the creation of a new reality through education.”

The instructors are also a pair, Rula Nassir and Adi Bezalel

Rula is a communications and cinema teacher and the moderator of dialog groups. She has a BA in communications and a teaching certificate, and a Masters in negotiations and decision making. She helps students producing documentary films, instructs and moderates dialog groups on different platforms. Adi is a photographer and painter. She has shown in many exhibitions (including Beit Haomanim in Jerusalem, Alfred Gallery, Beit Haomanim in Tel Aviv, Haifa Museum, etc. as well as in group exhibits and festivals). She won the artist-teacher prize, had a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris through the Ministry of Culture in 2017 and is a firm believer in coexistence and photography as a universal language. The instructors say that leading this program fills them with energy. “Instead of talking about it, we’re doing it…”.

Former participants talk about the program, for example Nazia said “I’ve never been in a Jewish home; the first time was scary. I meet Jews at the doctor’s office and the supermarket, but we never speak together.” And Naomi said, “maybe you’re not like this, but for me Arabs meant attacks and war.” They met through this program and found out that they had a lot in common. Over time, the intercultural meeting causes people to open up through the creative process. The participants show pictures that sometimes show or represent intimate moments, like a family dilemma, heart-to-hearth talks. Nazia added, “one of the teachers took a picture of her bed and brought up an interesting subject for discussion. Everything happens here, she shared with the group. If you look at Arab, Haredi, traditional women they dress in a very closed manner, everything is closed tightly, but I’ve learned that they’re actually very open. Even though we live close by physically, we are strangers.”

Rula and Adi have said that this special program is a process that at its end is supposed to provide teachers with photography tools as well as an experience that may later influence their interactions with their students and fellow teachers, their families and their surroundings as a whole. This can also reinforce them in the new way that they’ve chosen, of shared living, and may also provide them with a potential network for joint doing. And by the way, there were a few last vacancies for the program that began on February 21st, 2021 see details here.