Betting on Culture, Gambling on Art

Mifal Hapayis’ Culture Days offers cultural activites around the country at very low admission prices; Dolin Melnick, head of the lottery commission’s cultural division, explains.

The national lottery commission, Mifal Hapayis, launched a series of cultural events on Wednesday under the name Culture Days. Over the next three days, 400 different events will be held, at a price of no more than 20 shekels ($5.70) per ticket.

The head of the lottery commission’s cultural and art department, Dolin Melnick, sounds excited when she describes the 10 million shekel ($2.9 million) project, which was initially conceived two years ago and is being offered in cooperation with the Culture and Sports Ministry and a forum representing the country’s cultural organizations. The lottery commission provided 8.5 million shekels in funding, with the balance coming from the culture ministry.

“Our vision is that the event be held annually at a specific time of the year,” Melnick said. “This year is a kind of pilot program, but I expect it’s a project that will be in demand and be successful. The idea is to open every cultural institution at every location at a price that is attractive to everyone. We are seeing a wild response, and our goal is to sell 100,000 tickets to the events.”

Melnick was appointed to her position in 2010. Before that, she was the spokesperson for the lottery. Now she manages a huge grant budget that is distributed through the lottery commission’s Sapir and Landau funds and the lottery’s council for culture and art, which provides support to artists, writers and various other projects.

“Our council for culture and art has become a central player in the field of culture by virtue both of this budget and the subjects that it deals with,” Melnick said, noting that the council’s budget has grown from 15 million shekels in 2010 to 52 million this year. The council, Melnick said, hopes to deal with cultural areas that are not adequately supported by commercial interests and where there are no additional other sources of funding. As examples. she mentions the circus or for the publication of graphic novels, “fields that are developed overseas but not at all in Israel.” This segment of the publishing sector is now getting support, she said, “and of course, we will [also] support catalogues, artists’ books, periodicals and books of poetry.”

Melnick also talks about the council’s goal of involving new audiences from socioeconomic groups that are not regularly exposed to arts and culture. She also notes the goal of supporting independent artists who don’t have other sources of support. The council, she said, is the “central address” for such artists. There is also a fund for struggling artists who receive funding on a confidential basis. Her staff, she notes, meets throughout the year with people in the arts community to assess needs that can be addressed in the following year’s business plan. “Despite the growth in the budget, we are still only capable of responding positively to about 30 percent of the requests that we get,” she acknowledges.

A question of taste

In February, the lottery will awared its annual Sapir literary prize. Those in the running for the honor are Ora Ahimeir, Noa Yadlin, Dror Mishani, Yehudit Katzir and Yishai Sarid. Complaints have been raised about the composition of the prize jury but, for her part, Melnick says that care was given to assembling a varied panel of judges that also included representation from academia and consumers of literature who are not professionals from the literary field themselves. “There is always representation of the media, journalists and critics,” she noted. “This year there are two people on the committee from the media field, one from the field of film, television and theater, two from academia and one from the field of writing.”

“Mifal Hapayis and the council for culture have been promoting poetry for more than a decade,” Melnick says in response. “If you look at the poetry books that are published today, I think I can say with near certainty that 80 percent of them are released with the support of Mifal Hapayis. Had Mifal Hapayis not provided support and not enabled the publishers to publish books, poetry books would not appear in print."

Gali Eitan