Ministry of Culture Curtails Performing Arts

By Ali Abdulameer for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The activities that have begun to move forward in the Iraqi cultural scene continue to be afflicted by the woes inherent in a complete reliance on the government, as was the case under the former regime. There is a dependence on the institutions of the central and local (provincial) governments, where leaders, party officials and influential forces are begged for support.

Part of the legacy of Iraqi culture at present involves “praising the authorities.” A significant number of those who used to praise the dictator (former President Saddam Hussein) are now praising his opponents who rule today. Iraq’s official cultural institutions are plagued by those who give unwarranted praise to influential forces and agencies, thereby replicating the same problem they suffered under the former regime.

Iraqi cultural circles had expected that Baghdad being selected as the Arab Capital of Culture 2013 would help Iraq regain some of the material support for culture, enabling the country to resume the “illuminating” role that it has long been associated with. This would be achieved through a positive change in the seemingly most pressing cause, namely the establishment of real infrastructure, based on the state of art theaters, cinemas and fine arts venues.

Yet, they were disappointed. In an article for Al-Hayat, Hashem Shafiq, an Iraqi poet and writer, said that “a budget of more than $500 million was allocated for Baghdad, the Arab Capital of Culture.” What happened to this huge sum? Where was it spent, by whom and on what? In short, Shafiq writes that less than $5 million was spent on activities, seminars and invitations in the framework of Baghdad’s selection as the Arab Capital of Culture. Of this amount, $3 million was spent on renting a Turkish tent for the opening ceremony, at a rate of $1 million per day.

While the Rasheed Theater remains in ruins, given that it was deliberately burned shortly following the end of the war in 2003, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture is still unable to reconstruct the afflicted theater. This is despite its many pledges to complete its reconstruction. At the same time, the traditional People’s Hall in Baghdad is still closed, although it has the potential to be used as a venue for many artistic, musical, theatrical and cinematic performances.

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