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From Rags to Riches - Upcycled Public Art Comes Downtown

2 September, 2016
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Downtown Cairo presents an enormous contrast: a beautiful part of the city centre with its glorious architecture, a place where people can hang out, do business or just have a nice walk; but it's also a crowded, polluted old space with deteriorating buildings. But in 2008 local company Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment decided to build its core business around the development, renovations, and beautification of downtown Cairo not just physically but also socially. Apart from renovating the old buildings they also want to improve the social life of Downtown, and make it a destination for everyone. This month, they have collaborated with upcycling social enterprise Up-Fuse and Roh El Shabab NGO to transform a passageway Downtown in time for Eid. The project comes under the banner of Al Ismaelia's initiative #DowntownGoesGreen.

The Kodak passageway, located as a path between Adly Street and Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street, was a completely neglected space between two classic Khedival buildings. In recent years, Al Ismaelia have collaborated with urban research organization CLUSTER to renovate it in an inclusive manner, adding plants and seating to change it to an area where people can sit, chat, and enjoy their time.

Hanging over the Kodak Passageway currently is the fruits of their efforts: row upon row of coloured plastic bunting. All the danglers are made out of up-cycled plastic bags that were manually cut and executed by nine students from Manshiet Naser, selected by Roh El Shabab. As a reward for their work, the students' education fees are being paid.

This simple project up-cycled 3,240 plastic bags - the number of bags that one person uses in two years.

"We are concerned with the renovation in downtown Cairo, creating new spaces and attracting positive and bright people to downtown, so this is just part of the development that we are concerned with," says Moshira Adel, Marketing manager at Al Ismaelia. "We don't just renovate the buildings, we want to engage people and provide a completely new social experience in Downtown."

The collaboration started when "we found a common ground. Up-Fuse needed the financial support and we wanted to attract them and their projects to the area and we wanted to decorate the passageway for the Eid ... It was just an idea to give back to the community," says Adel. Al Ismaelia provided the financing and created the idea with Up-Fuse, and they and Roh El Shabab took care of the execution.

This is just the beginning for #DowntownGoesGreen. Recently Al Ismaelia just launched a new initiative titled "From Rags to Riches," aiming to create up-cycled pubic art in spaces provided by the real estate company. Initiated by Baad El Bahr for Cultural Development (BEBA) and curated by Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art, it's an exhibition of artworks made from recycled materials also in the Kodak Passage. "Different artists, designers, architects and students are doing the installations and afterwards all the pieces will be placed in public areas, so it's also a way to promote public art and make everyone enjoy it," Adel says.

This project aims to make contemporary art accessible to all people and part of the citizens' daily experiences, not just a luxury for the lucky few. Not only does the public see the finished pieces, but the exhibition makes the studio spaces open, allowing people to visit the artists while they develop their installations and pieces in progress. The project is co-sponsored by Al-Ismaelia along with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the Spanish Embassy. There's also support from Italian Cultural Institute, Medrar TV, the French Cultural Institute, the Yunus Cultural Institute, the Balassi Hungarian Cultural Office, the Japan Foundation and Ital-Class.

"We are planning to keep adding different initiatives in collaboration with different entities that are interested to help the environment and the area under the same campaign, so that we can change Downtown socially bit by bit, through creating engaging experiences, creating a peaceful, artistic, beautiful and happy space were people can enjoy everything at, just like the old times," Adel says.

The exhibition is open until 9th of September.


Image courtesy of Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment.

Tags MENA Because CSR NGO social enterprise volunteering up-fuse Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment Recycling plastic bags art open studio From Rags To Riches #DowntownGoesGreen