Located in the often culturally neglected El-Mokattam neighbourhood of Cairo lies Shababeek, a four-storey arts and culture centre serving its local community first and also all Egyptians. Shababeek Culture Centre opened on 21 January 2012 and since has become an important icon in Cairo's cultural scene.
"It has always been a dream of mine to found a culture centre full of activities and artistic events and that only serves its community," Doha Assy, Shababeek owner and founder, tells Ahram Online.
Shababeek is not Assy's first cultural centre. Some time ago, together with partners, Assy founded a small library named Abgadeya in downtown Cairo.
Although Abgadeya remains active today, "It does not quite fulfill my dream," Assy admits. "Downtown is full of cultural and arts centres and Abgadeya is one among many. Shababeek stands out as the only cultural centre here, catering for the El-Mokattam neighbourhood," Assy explains.
Assy lives in El-Mokattam and understands the needs of the neighborhood.
"Locals had to go to the sporting club or have private gatherings if interested in any cultural events, so it was here that I thought would be the best location to serve the community while achieving my goal," Assy proudly states.
Serving its neighbourhood, Shababeek, since its first month, managed to attract patrons inside and outside El-Mokattam with its dynamic weekly programmes.
Instead of planning a monthly schedule of events, Shababeek management, supervised by Assy, stays in close contact with the centre's regulars, listening to their ideas and suggestions.
"In its first week, Shababeek was welcomed by the locals of El-Mokattam. Young mothers came in with a lot of art activity ideas for their children and of course we adopted them," Assy tells Ahram Online.
"We normally invite the children of El-Mokattam in on weekends for art and music activities," she says. "But, of course, Shababeek is open to everyone, not only children of El-Mokattam," she giggles.
Shababeek sets regular once or twice a month public meetings and seminars with political and public figures of Egypt today to help educate and engage the masses on Egypt's current situation. "We have regular discussions with authors like Alaa El Aswany and Belal Fadl, for example," Assy confirms.
Determined to serve the community, Shababeek started an initiative entitled Man We Lematha (Who and Why). With this initiative Assy asks the people about their preferred presidential candidates. "We invite in presidential candidates for them to communicate with the public; not to guide them on who to vote for but to help them become more politically aware," Assy explains.
Shababeek's guest speakers in April in serving this initiative will include presidential candidate Bothayna Kamel and public figure Omar Mosalamany.
"Our events range from political to social gatherings," she comments.
Shababeek's regular events include short films and documentary screenings, in addition to a number of art exhibitions and weekly activities for the children of the neighbourhood.
Reaching out to everyone, Assy is determined to include all interests. For instance, this young culture centre has become a platform for book clubs and book signings. "Just last month, we organised a book signing event and discussion for prominent author Mahmoud El-Barghouty, to name a few," Assy states.
At its four-storey premises, Shababeek has space for everything. "We have an entire floor for art galleries," Assy says. Among its featured exhibitions, Shababeek hosted a 15-day art exhibition for Egyptian artist Mohamed Helmy. "We invited Helmy's family to represent a collection of his work," Assy tells Ahram Online.
Furthermore, Shababeek's art gallery will host the opening of the second annual Arab Artists Meeting directed by artist Waheed El-Belkassi, aiming at increasing communication among Arab artists. At this year's meeting, a number of collective artworks will be exhibited from participants from over 17 Arab countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Sudan and the Gulf region.
Some 252 artists represent different generations, including Abdel Razik El-Reyani from Libya, Sarah Bin Issa from Tunisia, Saeed Haggi from Morocco, and Salah Gheith from Palestine.
The Arab Artists Meeting will then tour Cairo for a week until the end of March, exhibiting at other cultural venues including El-Sawy Culturewheel, the Yemeni Cultural Centre, and the Cairo Opera House.
"As of 31 March, we will feature a performing arts carnival at Shababeek following the Artists Meeting opening," Assy announces.
Besides performing arts and visual arts, Shababeek also features regular music concerts by young Egyptian music groups and poetry recitals, including poet Foad Haggag. A Mother's Day concert was held yesterday, Wednesday 21 March.
Young but powerful, Shababeek has managed to make its build a local community. However, according to Assy, "Shababeek's popularity is not restricted to El-Mokattam. The centre has reached out to a larger audience from the rest of the metropolis."