• Strategic Plan 2018-2020, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah, Palestine where ‘cultural management’ becomes a site of artistic and cultural experimentation.

Yazan Khalili

The Institution as a Cultural Practice: Re-imagining Cultural Practices in Palestine

My PhD project investigates how the financial crisis that followed the Arab Spring and recent changes in the donors’ economy in the Middle East have enabled a reimagining of the structure and role of cultural institutions in Palestine. It focuses on the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre (KSCC), where I have worked as chairperson of the board and later as director between 2015 and 2019. Like other Palestinian institutions, the KSCC was hit hard by the economic developments mentioned above. Despite this, these economic misfortunes triggered a process of internal change that transformed the KSCC into a platform for various kinds of institutional experiments, moving it in the direction of an imaginative institutionalism. Building on recent theories of “crisis” as a productive, transformative moment and a permanent feature of the Palestinian condition, I show how a specific crisis opened a window of opportunity for institutional innovation under the specific conditions of the West Bank during the mid- to late 2010s.

How did the financial crisis enable institutional change? What can we learn from this process? I explore the history of the KSCC, from its establishment in 1996 onwards, in the relation to the broader history of Palestinian cultural institutions. I then analyze how the centre responded to the financial crisis, which erupted in 2015, by embracing it. Indeed, I show how the KSCC engaged culturally, economically, and politically with the crisis, situating this response within the Palestinian cultural and political landscape. The project will also include an analysis of the prehistory of these developments, looking at cultural and political mobilization in the region in the 1970s and ’80s. In so doing, I examine how governance, power structures, economics, and social networks have been and still can be challenged and reimagined.