In July, the third group of young people in three years from Shatila Camp in Beirut will travel 3,000 miles to North Tyneside. The previous two groups impressed everyone with their theatrical talents – this year it’s the turn of the visual arts.
The twelve youngsters (and four teachers) will live for ten days at the Northumbria Guest House and Language School in Whitley Bay, their main objective being to bring a whole new range of colours to the centre of Whitley Bay.
Working with the Whitley Bay-based street artists Faye Oliver and Anthony Downie, the Palestinians will be decorating the steel shutters of shops in Park View and Whitley Road. Faye and Anthony by that time will already have lived for a spell in early Summer in Shatila Camp, again working with the youngsters, again bringing colour and vibrancy into everyday life – on this occasion by painting the drab grey walls of the camp, a cramped squalid place with more than 17,000 people (mainly but not exclusively Palestinian), living in one square kilometre. The camp has been in existence since 1948.
This is the latest phase of a project which began in 2008, when I lived two months on camp, and wrote the book ‘Camp Shatila’. I was inspired by the words of the late Palestinian writer and academic Edward Said: “not the culture of power, but the power of culture”, so now there have been two theatre productions, a street art project and next year in collaboration with The Sage Gateshead we hope to set up a Shatila Choir to perform both in the UK and Middle East. Long-term we hope to create an actual theatre on the camp. Anyone interested in lending support, call me on 0191 253 1901 or go to our website, www.shatilatheatre.co.uk.
by Peter Mortimer