Life: Contributions to Support Syrian Cultural Entities

Ettijahat - independent culture launched the exceptional "Life Initiative", as part of its programming for the year 2021, inspired by the organization's upcoming 10 year anniversary. The initiative targets entities and collectives active in the Syrian arts sector, as well as civil and media entities whose work revolves around the arts, which have played a central role in building relationships with art creators and audiences in their respective locations during the last decade.

The selected entities:

Al-Jumhuriya Collective

Al-Jumhuriya Collective is a civil society organization that works at the intersection of knowledge production, media advocacy, and human development. It envisions a future Arab World founded on access to information, rational discussion, and sincere recognition of universal human rights. It strives through a multitude of activities to expand Arab “self-knowledge” and to promote open debate, critical thinking, and progressive values. 

Atlas Publishing House

Atlas is an independent publishing house founded in 1956 by a Palestinian refugee to Damascus, Syria. It was among the first bookstores in Damascus and quickly became an independent publishing house in Syria. Atlas is a family legacy, and it is currently managed by the second generation. Atlas respects supports and defends diversity in the world of publishing, where every genre should have equal opportunities for display and promotion. Atlas is an active member of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers since the year 2009.

Caravanne Culturelle Syrienne

The Syrian Cultural Caravan is a non-profit project that was launched in Paris on July 12, 2014, under the slogan of “Freedom for the Syrian People.” The Caravan toured European cities, bringing together nearly sixty artists, including painters, photographers, musicians, writers, poets, cinematographers, and playwrights. Several events were organised in the cities that the Caravan visited, including art exhibitions, street plays, cinematic performances, musical concerts, poetry readings, seminars, and other cultural events.

During its tour, the Caravan sought to communicate with those who stood in solidarity with it and who welcomed it to their cities, with the aim of building friendships and engaging in fruitful dialogue. This helped in establishing an artistic and cultural movement to introduce and support contemporary Syrian culture and art, as well as in laying the groundwork for cultural exchange with organisations and institutions active in this domain in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

Citizens.Artists Institution

“Citizens. Artists” is an independent, civil, non-profit institution established in 2012 and active in the field of development in general and cultural development more specifically. Its name reflects its aim of seeking to link between art and society. Citizens. Artists also seek to use arts as tools in social development processes and raising awareness at the level of individuals. It also aims to empower children and the youth by giving them a space for free expression and fair opportunities to develop their skills and capacities, by designing and implementing projects that use the tools and mechanisms of interactive theatre. The institution also offers opportunities targeting young artists to implement innovative artistic projects in their fields and make them known on the local and Arab cultural and artistic scenes.

Collective Sandouk Alhakaya

Founded in 2014 in Damascus, Sandouk al-Hakaya is an artist collective focusing on regional traditional and popular art forms, such as folktales and shadow theatre. Its work is centered around the preservation of hand-printing techniques on fabrics in Syria, such as block-stamping (using hand-made designed wooden block stamps), silkscreen, and ceramics. 

While remaining firmly anchored in the present, Sandouk al-Hakaya strives to innovate within the tradition. By bridging the present with the beauty and wisdom of the past, they perpetuate centuries of generational links that have informed our sense of aesthetics and our psyche, and that are receding by the day under the influx of modern means of communication.

Creative Memory Project

The Creative Memory Project documents and archives all forms of free intellectual and artistic expressions of popular culture in times of revolution and war. One of its aims is to enhance the action, impact, role and place of the artistic Syrian resistance in society. The project sees the artist/creator first and foremost as a citizen, resisting through their art and standing by their people’s fight for freedom.

It is a contribution to the writing of our contemporary history, to forming a collective memory, and to building an archive of national intangible heritage.

KOON Theater Group

Koon is an independent theatre group founded in 2002. It brings together artists and experts of different nationalities who reside in Lebanon and work within a dynamic experimental space dedicated to performing arts and designed as a platform to foster communication and creative exchange between artists and audiences. It also strives to develop a theatrical language emanating from its very own experience and to reach a wider audience of aficionados for various forms of art, while encouraging communication between them and different communities. In addition, the group provides the youth and artists with the means to expand their knowledge and experience in order to make artistic and creative practices accessible to a wider audience and reach various social categories.

Leish Troupe

Leish Troupe is an independent Physical Theatre company founded in Damascus in 1999. Leish seeks to shake fixed concepts by establishing a society that is more aware of the body and of its emotional abilities, and that is more resilient mentally. Leish produces active theatrical performances on stages and in alternative spaces, with the aim of developing the expressive language of the motion performance in all its components, as well as building a relationship with the audience. The troupe also organizes training programmes and workshops to develop the skills of contemporary performance artists to express themselves in their own special language and to improve their teamwork skills. It also conducts theoretical and practical research on the body in the form of long-term projects with local, regional, and international artistic and cultural institutions.

Nawras Organization

Nawras is a Syrian non-profit organization founded in Berlin in 2017. It seeks to ensure the continuity and evolution of immigrant art and culture. Nawras supports immigrant artists in Germany by creating opportunities and facilitating partnerships between them in an open, fair and welcoming environment that helps artists to pursue their artistic work both independently and in collaboration with others.

(Rê) Cultural Platform

(Rê) is a cultural platform active in northern and eastern Syria. The Platform seeks to raise awareness on the importance of culture and its pivotal role in rebuilding what the brutal years of the Syrian war have destroyed.

The Platform is an attempt to revive daily journaling, disseminate it among all members of society, and mobilize the social elite to assume a humanitarian role through daily writings on the pandemic or by sharing enriching experiences in this regard.

The Platform perceives culture as a mixture of global cultures, irrespective of people’s backgrounds and aspirations. When combined, different cultures paint a true image of the world we live in.

School of Dramatic Arts

The "School of Dramatic Arts" is a community art gathering founded in Damascus in 2009 by a number of Syrian thespians, to create a new theatrical space that is open to various experiences, and a laboratory for self-development and theatrical productions for adults and children.

The school moved from one location to another and suspended its work for two years due to the war. It eventually established a permanent headquarters in Jaramana, near Damascus. During its short history, the school was able to welcome and teach six batches of actors. Four months ago, the fifth batch graduated after presenting a socio-political play entitled “Disintegration.” The School also presented several professional theatrical performances on its own stage and elsewhere. Since 2016, the School has also opened a special class under the title of "Talents" to teach performing arts to children and young adults.


Tanjaret Daghet is an independent Syrian band that was founded in Damascus in 2008 and moved to Beirut in 2011. The band believes in the importance of expressing human existence and human situations and the surrounding external pressures through music, and harnessing musical instruments to produce works of art. The band’s future aspirations stem from the knowledge, developments, and experiences of each of its members individually or as a musical group. These experiences have highlighted the importance of teamwork and awakened the sense of participation through support and the exchange of experiences with independent artists residing inside or outside the Arab world. The entity's goal is to develop art at all levels and promote civilized cultural exchange, far from commercial artistic productions.

Women for Common Spaces Initiative

WFCS is a non-profit initiative that aims to build a network of confident, well-informed, skilled, and knowledgeable Arabic-speaking women in exile, who are committed to women's solidarity. The initiative works on two levels: 1) Female Voices in Exile: a series of workshops in which women participate, exchange ideas on issues related to exile, and write texts to express themselves and their ideas and demands, creating an individual memory about asylum. The texts are translated into German and published in print and online versions in Arabic and German. 2) Young Female Refugee Leadership Program, which provides high-quality training on leading social and political change through civil society and cultural work in exile.

An additional beneficiary has preferred to maintain anonymity in taking part in the Life Initiative to ensure continuity.


Jury committee

Fadya Salfiti: Director of Culture and Development from Palestine;

Hiba El-Hajj Felder: Cultural Director from Lebanon;

Joude Gorani: Cinematographer from Syria;

Raed Asfour: Theatre Director from Jordan;

Ranya Assassa: Administration and Development Expert from Syria.


Life Jury Statement

“The Life Initiative is an exceptional funding scheme intended as a means to support the core functioning of Syrian cultural entities and initiatives. After hours of discussion, the jury had the hard task of choosing only 14 of 27 eligible applications. Of those, 10 will receive the full grant and 4 will receive the grant jointly. Given the diversity of the applicants – registered and non-registered entities and collectives, some firmly established, some family-run, and some individual – it was challenging for the jury to make comparative evaluations and final decisions. The jury was particularly supportive of initiatives that were willing and able to stay in Syria to nurture and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of theatre practitioners, filmmakers, dancers, and writers. It was deeply impressive to see the creative ways in which cultural practitioners deal with the various obstacles they face and remain resilient, despite the impact of the pandemic and other challenges in Syria and the region. In particular, the jury admired those who manage to collaborate and invite peers to support them online from neighboring countries.

The jury faced the same limitations that accompany any evaluation process. Some applications received strong assessment appraisals but were subsequently relegated upon further discussion, and vice versa. With such a diverse mixture of applicant types, ranging from individually-run initiatives to those of well-established institutions, the jury posed numerous additional evaluative questions: what constitutes a cultural entity? And what sort of standards should a beneficiary uphold, with full respect to the limitations they might face in different national contexts?

There was a lot of discussion about what to prioritise: some initiatives use their cultural, socio-political, and developmental profiles to open up public spaces and reach wider audiences, while others lean towards artistic, critical, and aesthetic excellence, pushing boundaries in various artistic disciplines without necessarily enjoying substantial reach. Despite varying stances among the jury, there was consensus that both are needed and that knowledge-building and the development of artistic disciplines within the region are as important as their reach; not all cultural work justifies its importance through popularity, and popular work is not necessarily impactful or critical. Although the jury did not instate a quota system, it prioritised initiatives within Syria, then in the challenging contexts of Lebanon and Turkey, and finally initiatives in diaspora, considering the extent to which they contribute to Syrian arts and culture. In many cases, the jury felt there was a disconnect between what was happening in the diaspora and the potential for its impact or transmission inside Syria. In some cases, the jury felt the initiatives sought to gratify European audiences at the expense of being more self-critical, developing their work in line with evolving global discourse, questioning realities, or cooperating with others. Attention was given more to diasporic initiatives that supported other artists around them but also those within Syria. Some excellent applications which merited funding were declined on the basis that they existed in environments that were much more conducive to finding other sources of funding. This was a particularly bitter decision, but one that the jury had to make in instances when the same budget could sustain an entire team working against the odds to defy the ongoing suppression of free expression in Syria.

The jury focused not only on the entities themselves but also on their surroundings and how they add value. The jury was sensitive to the non-conventional setups adopted by some applicants and the flexibility required for many cultural entities to survive and be effective. Risk-taking and diversity were essential criteria, and those initiatives which used various models to confront their challenging contexts were admired for their insistence and perseverance and deemed worthy of support. Although the jurors were lenient towards entities that did not necessarily comply with conventional governance structures and operating standards by virtue of their restrictive contexts, the jury felt that future applicants should remain open to more typical approaches, especially regarding leadership changes, open membership, and official registration and documentation (where feasible and available). Although some projects could plausibly apply to other artistic grants, the jury nominated to award funding to those whose existence as an entity relied on their artistic production; in these cases, the grant constituted a lifeline to the beneficiaries. The jury appreciated those applicants who stated their other sources of funding and previous grants clearly. The jury also favored proposals that harbored some substantial vision or scope for continuation, those with links within a wider movement or sphere, and those which could demonstrate how previous support had contributed to institutional capacity building. Those who examined their subject matters in-depth and explained their interactions with surrounding communities were stronger than those who sought to cast a wide net. Similarly, applicants with realistic plans and well-justified administrative budgets were more successful than those who overstated or overestimated their plans and intentions for long-term sustainability.

The jury was encouraged by initiatives that sought to build on prior experience and collect feedback from audiences. Although the jury worked to read the nuances within the applications, stronger applications tended to be well-written and provide substantive supporting documents or audiovisual resources which could communicate their visions, ideas and achievements. However, given the diversity of the jury and their wide collective network, there was always someone who knew of the candidate and their work and who could vouch for the importance and qualities of their output, knowledge, and networks, even when this was not evident in the application.

Finally, the jury would like to express its deep appreciation for having had the honour of learning about the outstanding levels of dedication, commitment, and creativity demonstrated by all the applicants. Our heartiest wishes go to all the organisations, along with our admiration for their continuous growth and perseverance in these challenging times”.


The Life Initiative was launched with the support of the Ford Foundation, DOEN Stichting, and Mimeta.

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