It’s a fact: Beirut has always been considered the cultural capital of the Arab world. The neighborhoods of Ashrafieh, Gemmayzé, Saifi and even Rmeil reflect a strong artistic and intellectual activity.
If you feel like watching a play (the Monnot Theater of Saint Joseph University, regularly attended by students because of its cutting-edge programming, has an air of Quartier Latin in Paris), having a stroll at Sursock museum, spending two hours in early evening to watch an author film in the Art cinema Metropolis at Sofil center ... all these activities are part of everyday life of Ashrafieh’s citizens.
Associations and cultural centers are competing in terms of initiatives regarding various artistic events. Film festivals are held every the season, attracting with every new edition more and more cinema supporters. Most of these festivals are held at the Metropolis cinema at Sofil center: European Film Festival, Lebanese Film Festival, also International Film Festival in Beirut, which its 2009 edition hosted the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, who came to Lebanon to illustrate his latest movie, Tetro.
Besides these major annual events, newly created festivals are noticeably emerging on a regional level. The festival Beirut Animated has been launched in 2009. Dedicated to animated films, it was the first edition of the unique festival of animation in the Middle East.
The magnificent Villa Audi is also a venue that hosts several events, exhibitions or even book signings.
As for recurring festivals, comes also the Autumn Festival, organized annually by the Sursock Museum, which hosts the largest collection of Lebanese contemporary art.
In general, art exhibitions held throughout the year are numerous to a point that it’s practically difficult to identify them all. Several opening ceremonies are held weekly. Young artist showcasing his works in a cafe within the city, or the launching of a prestigious exhibition in a cultural center: in Ashrafieh everybody’s served.
Mary, a 28 years old French expatriate says, "I am from Paris and when I moved here, my friends told me that I was going to get bored easily, they think that cultural life in Beirut is much less lively than in European capitals. In reality, and relatively speaking, there are so many events here that sometimes I have to make decide which to attend to, it’s impossible to attend all events".
Art in the streets
Here, art is available for everyone, and in cases of local or global events, it sometimes invades the streets.
For example, each year, in Lebanon as everywhere else in the world, music invades public places during the Music Festival on June 21. Streets are overrun by international and local bands, some of them are underground artists others are widely renowned. Churches host classical concerts. Public squares have become lately a rock or oriental music stage. Jazz, blues, pop, fusion: everyone can find his own pleasure, each district conveys its festive and friendly atmosphere.
In August, the Saint Nicolas Stairs in Gemmayzeh hosts its own festival. In the surrounding streets, passersby are invited to wander, to taste Mezze and a variety of refreshing beverages, furthermore to check some paintings displayed on both sides of the stairs. For several days, music and dancing engage the location with harmony and lively lights.
Far away from these festive events, art is lived every single day of the year. At Saifi, known as the "Arts District" you can walk by the sidewalks of the newly renovated streets, where art galleries have decided to settle down. Contemporary paintings, sculptures, woodworking, crafts ... shops and boutiques attract art professionals. Moreover, contemporary sculptures have been installed in various places of this small neighborhood, in a public place or in a yard. This gives it a bourgeois bohemian style.