Back on the beginnings of RestART Beirut, Marie Eve Didier explains why it is crucial to have ambitious goals, and confides that the whole project around RestART Beirut is much more than philanthropy for the benefit of Lebanese cultural heritage.
REVIEW OF THE FIRST YEAR
It was a year rich in lessons, because launching such an organisation is not easy, especially in this difficult general context. I am not only talking about the exceptional situation in Lebanon. But also about the particular health and economic context in which we evolved in Europe.
It is important to remember that we started with a blank sheet of paper, with all the advantages and disadvantages that this can have. The first few months were mainly spent contacting potential partners and explaining what we wanted to do with RestART Beirut. Building a relationship of trust was paramount. We are a young organisation, but above all we are highly motivated by the desire to help this beautiful country of Lebanon.
RestART Beirut is a fund under the aegis of the King Baudouin Foundation. Our mission is to protect Beirut’s cultural heritage in the long term. Ultimately, it will be used as a socio-economic vector for the country. Our role is also to stimulate the artistic future of Beirut through cultural exchange and education in the field of cultural heritage conservation. Being under the umbrella of the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF) is very important, as it means that all financial flows to RestART Beirut are controlled and audited by the KBF. This is an essential element for our donors and potential patrons.
We are also the first organisation active in the field of cultural heritage that has obtained the high patronage of Europa Nostra, with its activities outside Europe. These two elements demonstrate the seriousness of RestART Beirut. And I am delighted that in less than 12 months we have managed to get these endorsements.
AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT ?
But the situation and the challenges require ambitious goals. And despite the ambition, I believe that the path we are taking is totally realistic and pragmatic. Our pilot project around the Sursock Palace is a long-term project. Two approaches could be taken:
- Wanting to anticipate everything and plan the whole restoration and transformation upstream and making sure to find all the funds before even starting the first actions.
- Adopting a policy of small steps that allows us to move forward continuously.
It is this second approach that we have chosen.
We work in small missions, identify the needs and the partners to carry out these missions and then seek to find the funds, either by appealing for donations or by setting up collaborations. The recent mission with Swiss experts from SUPSI (the Swiss University of Applied Sciences and Arts) is the best example. We first focused on the decorative surfaces, identified the experts and then contacted the Swiss embassy in Lebanon, and finally jointly completed the project.
This is a first step that will closely involve experts, craftsmen and students in Lebanon to carry out the whole restoration of these decorative surfaces. During the week that the Swiss experts were in Beirut, we introduced them to a large number of people. They got to know the Lebanese ecosystem with the aim of building together academic exchanges to allow the perpetuation of this knowledge exchange.
AN EFFECTIVE APPROACH ?
This model, in its first application, has proved to be effective and relevant. It therefore seems logical to continue along this path. However, we need to clarify our actions : They all follow at least one of the following three axes :
- Support education with international and local academic exchanges in the field of conservation, art and cultural heritage
- Create and support workshops for the restoration and conservation of cultural heritage
- Create a long-term socio-economic impact.
To take the example of the first Swiss mission, in the medium term, two of the three points mentioned above will be covered. The socio-economic impact is harder to predict, but it can be assumed that if we manage to complete the transformation of the Palace into a museum accessible to the public, this point will also have been covered.
MORE THAN JUST FUNDRAISING?
It is clear that fundraising is an important element. We want to play a key role in the development of long-term collaborations. We want to be a discussion and reflection partner. And we wanted to provide support to the owners of the Sursock Palace, to create their own foundation. This foundation should be the bearer of the project of its restoration and its transformation into a cultural centre. The latter will include a private museum open to the public. RestART Beirut will accompany the start of the cultural centre, helping in particular with the implementation of the museum strategy.
Our role therefore goes beyond simple fundraising without spreading ourselves too thin.
Beyond these aspects, our initiative is also incredibly enriching for us. Indeed, we have so much to learn from the cultural richness and history of Lebanon, its people, and all the actors who fight for their beautiful country on a daily basis. It motivates us to carry out our task, and clearly, it is much more than a fundraising activity. It is a project that is very close to our hearts.