Merce Cunningham, Event, 2010. Performance view, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, June 10, 2011. Merce Cunningham Dance Company. (Photo: Barak Aharon.)


The inaugural Jerusalem Season of Culture, a multidisciplinary cultural celebration that began in May with a philosophy festival and will feature performances by Steve Reich and Renée Fleming in addition to several other events, runs through the end of July. Here, Itay Mautner, the artistic director, and Naomi Bloch Fortis, codirector, discuss the scope of the project.

JERUSALEM IS an exceedingly distinct city, given its complexity and everyday reality. When we decided to create this season three years ago, we wanted to highlight the very vibrant and dynamic cultural scene that enlivens this place, since you cannot find anything like it anywhere else in the world. Of course, when you think of the word Jerusalem, two things come to mind first: religion and conflict. Culture might seem irrelevant. And yet art, dance, film, and theater are important here. Our aim is to show art made in Jerusalem and Israel alongside art by international artists who are now coming to look at this beautiful place and translating it into their work.

In early June we had the “Under the Mountain” section, a festival dedicated to the alternative scene in Jerusalem. Even though it’s the capital, this has never been a mainstream place, and some of the most radical art has emerged from this city; it’s been an active playground for experimental thinking. A local collective has curated a show in the Natural History Museum where many artists have responded to the land and are also performing in a very transdisciplinary way. These are the alternative stakeholders in Jerusalem, who would work without the season’s initiative, as they’ve done for years before. At the same time, we have the Merce Cunningham Dance Company here performing their “events” in the galleries of the Israel Museum, which is the last time they will ever perform in a museum. There’s also the Merce Campus, a series of talks with the dancers and their crew, at the local nonprofit gallery space Yaffo 23.

On July 14, we will have “Contact Point” at the museum, which aims to help visitors reimagine what a visit to a museum can be, as well as the role of the institution. Usually you go to a museum, you walk quietly, and you stand in front of an object . . . and that’s it. You have feelings, and then you keep on going. This part of the season will serve as a natural extension of some of the ideas percolating during “Under the Mountain”––in essence, that art isn’t a dead object: It’s still living.

Eight months ago, we invited artists from various different artistic fields––including dancers, actors, musicians, and poets––to pick their favorite object in the museum and to try to find a contact point between them and the object. The resultant work will be shown live for only one special night when the museum is open until 2 AM. Visitors will walk around and view the Israel Museum in a totally different way. They will see a new work that has been produced from the combination from an object and an artist, who might be singing or dancing or reading aloud.

We hope that visitors to the season’s events will come away with the knowledge that Jerusalem is not a small city that needs to be revitalized by culture. As the locals already know, it’s a big place and culture already exists here. The only problem is the way it was known until now. It was a bit hidden, and most people were not familiar with it. But we don’t need to invent; we just need to reinforce what’s already going on. What is important now is brushing off some of the dust that hides the beautiful cultural scene that’s already here––and thriving.

— As told to Arthur Ou