A large part of Lebanon’s allure is its strong cultural commitment to the arts, and in the last decade the art scene in Beirut has exploded, becoming the major hub for emerging artists in the Middle East and attracting an increasing number of foreign investors and buyers and generating more and more interest across Europe and the Gulf.
The country is buzzing with artistic events, from the Beirut Art Fair and Ashkal Alwan’s Home Works (a multidisciplinary cultural forum) to the numerous theater productions and cultural spaces, ingenious architectural designs, such as Bernard Khoury’s BO18, Central, and even new modernist architecture at AUB. There is a thriving underground music scene, as well, with inventive and charismatic young talent emerging constantly, as well as musicians reinventing traditional Arab music.
Hop over to the industrial area around the Beirut River and Karantina and explore the exciting exhibitions and humanities conferences there, hosted in old factories and warehouses such as the Sfeir-Semler gallery on the east side of Beirut, which offers not only superb installations but quite fantastic views of the city, as well. Galleries showcasing artists from across the region abound in Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhayel and make a great point of reference for a walking tour. Be sure to look for works by internationally-acclaimed Lebanese artists such as Akram Zaatari, Mona Hatoum, Ayman Baalbaki, Walid Raad, Marwan Reshmaoui, Ricardo Mbarkho, Omar Onsi and Mohammad Rawas, as well as the wildly popular calligraphic graffiti art of Yazan Halwani.
It’s always worth checking out what Beirut’s terrific theaters have on offer— Al-Madina Theater, Masrah Babel, Masrah Duwar el-Shams (Sunflower Theater), and Theatre Monot are among the most popular houses.
There are also a number of exciting initiatives and platforms such as Askal Alwan and Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), which provides crucial funding for local and regional artists, and the Arab Image Foundation, founded by Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari, dedicated to collecting, and preserving photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora.
Additionally, there is a growing movement of artists and intellectuals committed to preserving many of Beirut’s grand old mansions by converting them into public art and cultural spaces—the Mansion in Gemmayzeh and the Rose House in Al-Manarah are two fine examples. And of course, no inspection of art in Lebanon would be complete without a visit to the Sursock Museum in Achrafieh, which is due to reopen on 1 October 2015, and which houses a delightful permanent collection in one of Beirut’s most opulent mansions.
Several museums outside of Beirut also house an array of history and art. Visit the museum of modern art, MACAM, and see an original Picasso at the Moussa Tiba Museum of Cana. In the summer, you can also enjoy open-air museums in the villages of Rachana and Alley, which exhibit work from artists from Lebanon and all around the world. Also of interest is the extensive Basbous family sculpture garden and exhibition center in Batroun.
No matter what your interest in the arts, Lebanon has an enormous wealth of talent and treasures just waiting for you to discover them.