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Le Méridien Heliopolis | The Townhouse Gallery

The Townhouse Gallery was established in 1998 as the first independent art space in Egypt with a remit to make contemporary arts accessible to all. The urgent need for such an organisation has been seen in the rapid expansion of both exhibition and outreach programs. Today the gallery curates a minimum of 20 exhibitions and hosts at least 10 artist residencies annually. In addition, 10 workshop programs are ongoing, reaching approximately 800 individuals each year, a large proportion from marginalized  groups.

Townhouse bases its program on the needs of the many communities it serves with stated aims of developing and improving the knowledge, appreciation and practice of contemporary arts in Egypt, and supporting the growth of an independent arts community. A workshop program is a crucial element of activities. The gallery is situated in the heart of Downtown Cairo in the mechanics district and in close proximity to a large community of refugees. An inclusive approach is employed to the area and over the years strong networks of trust and communication have been built up – local workers and neighbors
frequently take part in workshops and regularly visit exhibitions. A
wide range of workshops are run for refugees, working children, street children, young Muslim girls and aspiring artists, photographers, curators, actors, directors, film-makers and set designers.

Townhouse has crucially acted as an incubator and consultant to a number of art organizations that are now part of a thriving independent arts scene. With most government-backed, cultural activity subject to creative and political restrictions, such a scene, that Townhouse is at the forefront of, is essential to the wellbeing of the arts in Egypt.

The gallery identifies and supports artists who have previously had little opportunity to exhibit their work due to its scale - currently a large factory space is leased, a space that’s unique in Cairo - or
the content and subject matter that may be politically sensitive.
Talent is nurtured and mentored and once artists are regionally established, their work and interests are promoted abroad. Townhouse can in confidence claim responsibility for having initiated contacts between young artists here and curators of major galleries and international biennales and fairs in Africa, Europe, Asia and Middle East. The gallery likewise draws visits from renowned international curators including Marilu Knode, Holly Block, Catherine David, Norman Rosenthal and Okwui; the gallery was used in a case study for cultural development by the American Cultural Anthropologist, Jessica Winegar who stayed at the gallery for over a year.

The mobility of artists and art work at an international level has been encouraged by invitations extended to gallery director William Wells who has spoken and exhibited artists’ work at major art fairs
including Basel, Frieze and the Gulf Art Fair in Dubai. There is
also extensive collaboration with renowned museums and galleries on long-term initiatives including the New Museum in New York, SITE Santa Fe Biennale, Serpentine Gallery in London and House of World Culture in Berlin. As a consultant Townhouse Directors have offered their expertise and advise to the Fulbright Scholarship, Triangle Trust, The Free Dimensional Network, The Santral Project (Istanbul) and American Centre Foundation.

The gallery has worked in collaboration and been supported by a large number of foundations and cultural bodies, aside from the Ford Foundation. These include DCCD, CIDA, Goethe Institut, SIDA, British Council, Pro Helvetzia, Anna Lindh Foundation, French Cultural Centre, US Cultural Affairs Department, Flora Foundation, Mel Wolf Foundation, the European Cultural Fund, Mondrian Foundation, Prince Claus Foundation, Young Arab Theatre Fund and the European Union.

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