Sidon festivals: By Sidonians, for Sidonians
An increase in the tourism rate, improved economic status, promotion of the city’s identity and local pride are some of the main payoffs a festival can generate for its hosting city.
Lebanon has seen a growing number of festivals in its cities in recent years. Festivals have turned out to be one of the key players in making a city special in the eyes of others. Cities in Lebanon started implementing festivals to market their cities nationally and internationally.
One of the new key players in on the festival circuit is Sidon, the third-largest city in Lebanon and the gate to the south of the country. Last week, the city celebrated three days of festivals for the second year. Sidon, which held a festival as far back as 1960, decided last year to revive its festival history by relaunching its festivals committee and putting itself on the Lebanese festival map again.
But do festivals affect the local community? Do they make an impact on the social and cultural levels? And do they contribute to creating social cohesion?
Alongside all the usual positive impacts that festivals have on cities – e.g. economic – some cities also experience an impact of a different kind, such as a social impact. This impact usually occurs when the festival is prepared by and for its hosting community.
Consequently, Sidon proved throughout the years the uniqueness of its community in all the events that take place in the city and this fact was reinforced during the city’s festivals this year and the one before.
Sidon International Festivals’ Committee, which was revived last year, is formed of twelve young Sidonian women who joined efforts despite their differences. Those women not only put aside reasons that may separate them, but also put the development of the city, its social cohesion and the increase of its social capital as clear targets that should be reached.
One of the main things the committee considered was the success of the city and not only of the festivals. This goal was achieved in how they organized the festivals. For instance, the committee insisted that the city’s residents should not only be present as attendees at concerts. They called for youth volunteers from Sidon, which helped in creating a volunteering social network and thus built relationships among youth. Moreover, the festivals’ organizing company is located in Sidon and managed by Sidonians. The food court that was built for the concerts hosted restaurants from the city. These restaurants stood side by side for three consecutive nights.
According to Robert Putnam, a social capital therapist, “culture events can bring together diverse social groups.” As such, Sidon proved that it just needs the appropriate medium to overcome barriers among its residents and thus fight social exclusion, and hence prove that several socio-economic challenges can be overcome not only by mainstream public policy mechanisms but also by social capital enrichment through cultural activism.
Nahla El-Zibawi is project coordinator of the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at email@example.com.