A Unique Breeding Ground for Artists in Jaffa

Yafo Creative is conceived as a place for creative artists to meet, support one another and form profound and intimate creative relationships.

Ross Belfer

The Israeli band the Angels filled the Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina about two weeks ago and was highly praised by both audience and critics. It also fills large halls when it travels among festivals in Europe.

But those in the know, as well as a few lucky people, had the privilege of seeing a particularly intimate performance by members of the band at the Jaffa salon called Yafo Creative a few weeks ago. That performance, which soloist Rotem Bar Or described as “nice, strange and one-off,” was one of a series of artistic encounters in the lovely and well-lit guesthouse that has hosted over 1,000 artists from Israel and abroad since its founding by Amnon Ron about a year ago.

On returning to Israel after studying film in London, Ron had the opportunity to make use of a family asset on Shivtei Yisrael Street in Jaffa. He decided to establish a unique home for Israeli and foreign artists.

Within a few weeks of its establishment, Yafo Creative already had a core group of artists who came to the salon every week for a Friday night meal that turned into a creative jam session. Among the regular guests are Bar On, the Angels’ soloist, Tzlil Danin, a singer herself who runs the place together with Ron, singer Mika Sade, sculptor Noa Heyne, folk singer Maya Johanna, singer Sean Taylor, director and animator Yonatan Vardi and many others.

Jerron Paxton. Photo by Gil Shani

And so, on a sunny Shabbat two weeks ago, about 50 artists gathered in the house in order to watch a multidisciplinary, developing and spontaneous artistic performance. After most of the bottles of wine, beer and arak had been drunk, the visitors gathered in the center of the living room, where the performance began.

Yael Birnbaum opened the evening with a Spoken Word piece backed up by a beat box. Afterwards, came a solo dance by Yaacov Pilzer of the Batsheva Ensemble, who was able to exploit the limited space, moving from the four walls of the house to the light-filled balcony to the strains of Hasidic trance music.

Pilzer was followed by Erez Sivan, who amazed the audience with the impressive vocal abilities of his blues singing. Armed with a guitar, Daniel Sapir nonchalantly and with a clear voice sang “Efsharut Shel Yofi,” one of the songs on his forthcoming debut album. The artistic session ended with dancer Reut Shaibe, who created a performance work to the strains of “My Body is a Cage” by the band Arcade Fire.

“Nowadays, when the issue of culture is in the headlines so often, there isn’t a lot of discussion of culture itself and its significance,” says Ron. “I think that culture is created out of a discourse between people. And it makes no difference which people. When I talk to someone and there’s agreement between us, then there’s culture between us.”

Amnon Ron. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

When Danin is asked what characterizes the place, she replies that “when I began to produce the Creative meals, I understood the tremendous need for a physical community and how much we all longed for these encounters.” The encounters led to interesting collaborations. For example, the Angels met Anna Dubinsky, the house art curator, and she designed the album cover for them and did the lighting for their performance tour. Later cellist Maya Belzitsman and Matan Efrat asked to collaborate with Dubinsky.

Hanoch Piven, the interdisciplinary artist who wanders between Yafo and Europe, came several time to Yafo Creative sessions and was captivated. “I found out about Yafo Creative through a mutual friend, a new immigrant, who told me about their Friday nights. The immediate feeling was that I had come to a place that was entirely different from everything I was used to in the area. There’s a community of young artists there, open to the world, optimistic, nave in the positive sense of the world. They’re accepting of one another, they inspire one another, and that’s exactly the kind of community that I’d like to be part of in some way or other.”

Heyne, one of the Yafo Creative house artists whose sculptures decorate the living room, is also a partner to the communal experience that characterizes the place. “Shortly after the place opened, we exhibited my works there and sold several pieces. The place functioned as my gallery, except that they shared the profits with me in the fairest possible way. If in other galleries they take 50 percent of the profit, here they decided to take only 20 percent, which is more or less only to cover expenses. In honor of the exhibition they also produced a film that promoted it, and I didn’t pay a shekel for all that.”

“You can quantify the profit that this place creates for you in financial terms, but that’s not the point,” continues Heyne. ‘In the end, what’s important is the encounters created there that wouldn’t take place anywhere else. For example, by chance I met a photographer who later photographed all my works, and that was a great help to me. I’m a member of the Hanina Gallery, which is a cooperative gallery, so that in a sense I’m familiar with dialogue among artists. But the fact that here it’s not only the plastic arts is what creates the really special interest.”

Yafo Creative. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Maya Johanna, who is now working on her debut album, says that “a community has been formed here that provides a solution for many artists who are usually very isolated from one another. There’s hidden competition somewhere beneath the surface. But in effect we all long to be part of a larger and more inclusive circle, so that this place came just in time.”

As opposed to the moldy rehearsal rooms typical of the artistic community in Tel Aviv, the Yafo Creative salon is a very pleasant and aesthetic work space. The light that enters from outside is diffused among the rooms and the high ceilings. The open kitchen and the large dining room table in the middle create a homey atmosphere that is retained in the open events as well. Even the benches create a comfortable feeling for the audience. This design concept is meant to create an alternative for the artistic community, or as Danin puts it “the desire to build a palace for artists.”

“There’s money in the art world, but usually it’s very hard to get to it and we want to be a kind of platform to help people reach these place more easily,” says Danin. “A community of artists is often likely to be seen as a group of potheads sitting with a guitar and playing “Hallelujah,” but our place broadcasts prosperity and we’re trying to create a different experience for anyone who wants to create his art through us and with us.”

Amnon Ron reinforces her words and adds that “the prestigious image of the place enables a sense of prosperity. I think that when artists come here they feel that just because it’s so different from the squats where they’re used to meeting there’s a lot of space for playing around and experimenting. This is a platform with a lot of respect, but a lot of intimacy.”

To what extent did you want to create a bohemian place, in the style of the literary salons of Berlin and Paris?

Ron: “I think it’s very important that there be a place for the community to meet, that is open for discourse. That’s been lost for secular people who have stopped attending synagogue, or has become archaic in institutions that preserve the encounter and the ceremony, but not the community. The idea here is to create a place that you can come to for experimenting and mistakes. To support one another, to form profound and intimate creative relationships, not based only on business interests.”

How do you manage to maneuver between the salon being an intimate place and the desire to reach the general public?

Ron: “We want the productions and the works of the artistic community to reach as many eyes and ears as possible. At the same time, it’s also important to maintain the intimate fabric of a community. The home is private, not a public place – with all the advantages and disadvantages. That means that anyone who comes here has to be invited. In future, we’ll begin to conduct workshops and maybe in the end we’ll also start a place that will be open to the general public.”