Culture Ministry Cuts Support for Fringe Theater Groups in Israel

Ministry it will not give planned 250,000 shekels to the Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts, which provided funds to independent groups.

A performance by the Be’er Sheva Fringe Theater
Itzik Faltiel

The Culture and Sports Ministry has cut its theater funding for a foundation that specializes in backing fringe and independent works, leaving the body wondering why it wasn’t notified of the move in advance.

The ministry recently informed the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts that it would not be awarding it a previously budgeted 250,000 shekels ($64,200) for experimental theater, for this year and next.

Giora Einy, the foundation’s director, said the ministry gave no reason for the cuts. “If we had known this in the middle of last year, we could have prepared for this,” Einy said.

“I can’t be a philanthropist and provide money we don’t have,” Einy added, but vowed that his organization will provide the missing funds in 2017: “The foundation will not give up this project, because it is almost the only source of aid today for fringe and independent artists,” he said.

The ministry added that it will continue to support the foundation’s projects in cinema and dance.

The ministry had launched the experimental Matan program a decade ago, providing 250,000 shekels annually that the foundation matched by means of its own capital.

In all, the project had received between 5,000 to 30,000 shekels for each successful applicant. These theater groups and artists seemingly no longer meet the ministry’s criteria for state funding.

Artists applying for the aid have been told that Culture Minister Miri Regev “has taken the theater budgets.”

The cuts deal a serious blow to independent theater producers, who in recent months have been engaged in a battle to restore public funding through their union.

The Justice Ministry ordered the Culture Ministry not to support the union of 30 independent artists, claiming that it’s a “funnel association,” and that to provide it with money would be against the law.

The Culture Ministry didn’t say why the cuts have been made. “The ministry will continue to support independent theatrical artists,” it told Haaretz in a statement. “The support will be given through a wider and enlarged foundation being established for the benefit of independent artists from various walks of culture, including theater.”

One of the artists affected is Ornat Lempert, from Mitzpeh Harashim in the Galilee. Along with her partner Yonatan Solaj, she operates the Lady Theater Travelling Circus for children, and has taken to the Headstart crowdfunding website to look for funds to keep the troupe operational. Lempert also sought help from the state lottery’s budget.

“We face great difficulties, but this won’t shut us down,” she pledged.