Egypt's Long & Rich Histories

Jul 06, 2017

Egypt's Long & Rich Histories

Deborah Sommers

Executive Director of the Modlin Center for the Arts, University of Richmond

As part of its mission, the Modlin Center for the Arts, University of Richmond, presents international arts programs, supports artists, and fosters cultural exchange between artists and the community.

Similar to the mission of the Modlin Center, the Center Stage program is an important cultural exchange with the goal of arranging for artists and people from other cultures and countries to meet and exchange ideas and customs. It fosters citizen-to-citizen diplomacy when artists come to the United States to perform and meet with people in various communities.

It is not easy to describe my Center Stage program trip to Egypt. I worked with knowledgeable colleagues, met interesting and talented artists, and experienced the work of devoted U.S. State Department employees who crafted an in-depth cultural itinerary, all while being in one of the most prolific cultural and historical areas of the world. I also saw first-hand the importance of the work performed by State Department cultural attaché employees across the world.

Although during our trip to Egypt we concentrated on meeting with finalists for the Center Stage program, all the artists we met were talented, interesting, and would easily foster strong relationships in various communities. 

Some of the highlights for me were learning about the arts industry in Egypt. Finding spaces and venues was not an easy task for artists. I discovered that it takes very devoted and entrepreneurial people so arts business and activities function. We met folks who have been building studios for artists to create work, working in beautiful venues (inside and outside) such as the Cairo Opera House, small acoustic rooms such as Room or the Cairo Jazz Club, small venues in the old American University Cairo, and also the incredible work through Aztec park where there are outdoor venues with restored historical artifacts on the grounds. What struck me most is that the folks working to support artists, artistic projects, and businesses, also think about supporting and building on the needs for their local communities. I understood how arts are the creative base for rebuilding after the recent political transition in Egypt and how important the encouragement and support for arts and creative opportunities were for the country. I also gained from my own in-depth experiences sharing art with other people in these venues.

In taking some tours around the Cairo region, we saw the Coptic Cairo area and Islamic Cairo. The history was ageless, and the historic architecture both in the churches and the mosques were stunning. One could see where the cultural history was based. Seeing these historical areas, including pyramids and the Sphinx, one realizes how long and rich our history as humans are, and it is a standing reminder that human art and creations are the best aspects of our shared humanity.

It was truly an honor to be asked to go to Egypt for Center Stage. I was privileged to witness artists create and perform work, and see how integral the arts are in every culture and for our humanity.

Photos courtesy of Adrienne Petrillo