193m - Of all the important cultural institutions in our country, the National...
Beirut's Veteran Art Space
The stately French Mandate period building on Spears is a hub for cultural activities as well as base to a few key NGOs. Zico aka Moustapha Yammout was the first to set up an independent, civil, cultural centre after the war in 1995. “It’s been our family house since 1927 and I grew up here.”
Various rooms on the ground floor are used for a language school, NGOs or meeting spaces, the salon, which also has a bar space has witnessed many debates, performances of all kinds, fashion shows, screenings and parties over the years.
“An art space is not a rigid program,” Zico underlines. “It is a space that always has room, that can receive projects, new projects, contemporary works, has all the equipment to allow for that. It operates on a small scale, there are always gaps, so that it can pull together an exhibition in one month. It caters for foreign artists who want to meet local artists, it can for jam sessions, or host musicians who want to perform or Lebanese from outside who want to come here, working with a local group – all of that an art space should be able to arrange and we can arrange that."
"Zico House also helps other festivals by providing equipment. We have worked with other festivals, managed other festivals, collaborated with the Danish and Swiss Embassy, did an array of projects, served as a once-off production house for a web series, location for films, etc”.
Initially, Zico didn’t have big projects in mind but merely wanted to open his house to allow artists to rehearse or use it for projects. However, four years down the line, Zico House was working like an institution. “We started with a programming, which was a bit more formal but still had an open doors approach. We were experimenting, cultural management wasn’t something anybody knew much about, being a curator, we were not sure about what it entailed… We had links with others undertaking similar efforts, in the region, and within Lebanon. We were one team, and then it spread out like rhizomes. Lamia Joreige, Ashkal Alwan through Christine Thomé, Ghassan Masri – all were part of that initial drive,” Zico points out.
For two decades, Zico House has been an incubator for ideas and activism, bringing civil, cultural, environmental, human rights, leftist organisations. Zico readily admits that once they started experimenting, some ideas and projects were met with success, some flopped. Among the success were street festivals, and many projects that later morphed into reputed entities.
As one of the first residency spaces for artists in Beirut, Zico is a true pioneer. Now that there are many centres, Zico House gave a good example of how to manage culture. “We’re not the only ones any more, some are more professional but I am proud of the house that has been able to adapt to all the events and parties we’ve had here…”
Zico House has four rooms that are rented out. They are mostly taken up by (foreign) artists staying in Beirut, wanting to immerse themselves in the local art scene.