Bat Yam is only a 20-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv when traffic is light, but when it comes to arts and culture the sleepy seaside burg doesn’t generally hold a candle to its sophisticated next-door neighbor.
Enter Fest’Factory, a local arts complex hosted in an abandoned Bat Yam set of studios in the Bat Yam neighborhood of Nitzana, which this week celebrated Art for Change in the Community.
Fest’Factory was founded by theater artist Amitay Yaish Benousilio, who was initially offered the abandoned art studios by the Bat Yam municipality to work on a separate Bat Yam festival. It became its own entity of art studios used for residencies and this week’s collaborative event.
From the outlying sidewalks to the internal courtyards, performance artists staged themselves throughout the area, including a group of four dancers moving to the recorded voice of a Russian immigrant recalling her first years in Israel, and a young woman telling stories around a campfire.
There was a forested corner that housed a small circus of fortunetellers, and Bat Yam, or daughter of the sea, the seaside city’s very own mermaid dressed in turquoise, mingled with the crowds of locals and visitors.
This is the fourth year of Fest’Factory, and this year, organizers collaborated with Tel Aviv University’s track for community theater and activism in order to deepen the connection to various populations in Bat Yam, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
The entrepreneur behind the Fest’Factory arts complex, Benousilio, said the agenda at the complex is always to connect the artist to the community.
“Art had separated itself from the community and we want to recreate that connection,” said Benousilio.
Fest’Factory’s Art for Change in the Community event included a conference earlier in the afternoon, discussing what is needed in order to connect art to the community, what kinds of issues and topics to consider, and how to subsidize events.
“Activist art allows us to change a seemingly impossible goal to one that’s possible,” said Dr. Chen Alon, who heads the community theater track at Tel Aviv University’s Theater Arts department. “Our obligations in Fest’Factory are to engagement and social sensitivity, placing us outside the academic ivory tower to the communities themselves. Only there can you see and learn how to use creativity, with completely nonthreatening tools, of art and theater.”
One of the central events of the evening was a portion of play performed by Zolat, a 13-year-old group of local Bat Yam residents with physical disabilities that worked with Tel Aviv University students this year, including their new director, Oranit Keshet, one of the Theater Arts masters students.
Using their wheelchairs, walkers and crutches as props, the play drew on the inexplicable, bureaucratic experiences of people with physical disabilities. The storyline poked fun at common reactions and assumptions regarding disabilities, and cleverly twisted words, songs and costumes to the benefit of the physically disabled, drawing laughs and chuckles from the audience.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” said one of the audience members.
That’s the idea.