Staff resumed work at downtown Cairo’s Townhouse on Tuesday for the first time since the authorities shut it down in December. The pioneering nonprofit contemporary art space has re-opened for two weeks in order to settle new permits and procedures requested by the municipality, but is not yet resuming public programming.
“From our closure until last week we approached several entities, including the municipality, who did not give us solid answers about the closure and the necessary procedures to re-open,” Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach manager, told Mada on Tuesday. “Last week some people at the municipality started cooperating with us, and we requested a month to re-open and start the process of acquiring the necessary permits and various procedures requested.”
Until these issues are settled, public programming will not resume at either Townhouse’s downtown gallery spaces or its adjoining Rawabet performance art space. A civil protection committee from the municipality will visit the space during this time to give specific pointers on what needs to be done, Gerab said.
“We respect the law,” Gerab said. “We are not against any of these entities. All we ask is for clarity on the procedures we need to do and to be treated with respect as a cultural institution.”
Artist and assistant residency coordinator Ayman Ramadan had informed Mada late Monday night that staff would resume work in the Townhouse offices and the library would be open to the public as of Tuesday. Townhouse co-director William Wells had told Mada that the spaces would not yet open for programming, but Rawabet would reopen after its emergency exits were brought up to code.
Townhouse and Rawabet were shut down on December 29 by several state entities including the Interior Ministry’s Office of Artistic Products Police Department, the Tax Authority and the local office of the Ministry of Manpower. Initially, Mada Masr was informed that the raid included members of the National Security Agency, but a statement posted on Townhouse’s official Facebook page after the raid stated otherwise.
The art space has remained closed since then with little news emerging on the status of the case, aside from a statement published on social media on January 20. Gerab told Mada Masr at the time that the shutdown was due to administrative failures by the state bodies, not political motives.
Townhouse was shuttered at a time of several raids on cultural spaces and private apartment raids in the lead-up to the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution. Townhouse’s newer branch in the upper-class suburb of Sheikh Zayed, Townhouse West, has been operating as usual.
Townhouse is one of the oldest non-profit contemporary art galleries in Cairo, and it has been operating since 1998. It acted as a catalyst to the art scene and participated in setting up some of the biggest art shows and festivals in Cairo, such as Nitaq (2000-2001) and Photo Cairo which saw five editions since 2002 and was the starting point to a collective of artists later starting the Contemporary Image Collective – also a downtown art space.
Rawabet was established in 2006, and unlike Townhouse’s gallery spaces it is largely uncurated, but open to performances, talks, lectures and workshops to book at low cost. The theater has been a go-to venue for Cairo’s alternative music and independent theater scene for the past decade.