Bezalel- Emil Salman
Bezalel’s current Mount Scopus location. Photo by Emil Salman
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The prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem will be moving to a new campus in the city's Russian Compound, after agreeing to sell its current home on Mount Scopus to an autism research organization.

The NIS 160 million deal was signed on Tuesday between Bezalel and the International Center for Autism Research and Education (ICARE ). According to the terms of the agreement, which was brokered by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the new Bezalel campus will be built on the grounds of the Russian Compound in the western part of the city.

The project is expected to be completed within four-to-five years, at a cost of NIS 350 million. Bezalel's new campus will include two new buildings for classroom instruction, in addition to the two already existing structures on the compound.

The art school's current base on Mount Scopus was sold to ICARE, an organization that supports leading experts and caretakers in the field of autism research. The group's facility will include an academic center in which children between the ages of 18 months and 21 years will be educated. The center is geared toward aiding those suffering from autism, Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.

While Bezalel's Mount Scopus home encompasses 20,000 square meters, its new home in the Russian Compound will sprawl over 30,000 square meters.

"A very important reason for the move is that the Mount Scopus campus is too small for us, and we do not have the option of tacking additional buildings on to our current grounds," said Bezalel president Professor Arnon Zuckerman. "Within the next seven years, we hope to expand by 2,000 to 3,000 students. Secondly, I believe that an institution dedicated to teaching art and design should be tucked within the urban fabric and connected to both the community and the environment, rather than being situated in an isolated venue on Mount Scopus."

"Another relevant factor involves the relocation of 2,000 Bezalel students to the center of Jerusalem, which will improve the urban fabric of a downtown screaming for new life," Zuckerman said.

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design was established in 1906. Its original campus sat on what is today Shmuel Hanagid Street in the center of Jerusalem. Since then, the school has shifted locations numerous times. In the early 1990s, it moved to its current home on Mount Scopus. Five years ago, a ministerial committee devoted to Jerusalem-related issues approved a resolution that would return Bezalel to the center of the city.

The academy's student body greeted yesterday's announcement with enthusiasm.

"We were sure this move would never happen," said Rona Orovano, the deputy chief of the Bezalel students union. "The time has come for Bezalel to relocate to the center of town, instead of being isolated in an ivory tower. This way we can become leaders of the city in terms of art, and we can combine art with culture. Students can also be more involved in [what's going on in] Jerusalem."