RestART Beirut is more than a fundraising organisation

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

RestART Beirut's initiator and co-founder, Marie Eve Didier looks back on the beginnings of RestART, explains why it is crucial to have ambitious goals, and confides that the whole project around RestART Beirut is much more than philanthropy for the benefit of Lebanon's cultural heritage.

Marie Eve, RestART Beirut, will celebrate its first anniversary in early December. How would you summarise this first year of RestART?

It has been a year of learning. Launching such an organisation is not easy, especially in this challenging general context. I'm not just talking about the exceptional situation in Lebanon, but also about the particular sanitary and economic context in which we have evolved in Europe. We must not forget that we started with a blank sheet of paper, with all the advantages and disadvantages that this can have. The first few months were mainly spent contacting potential partners, explaining what we wanted to do with RestART Beirut, building relationships of trust, showing that we are a young organisation, but above all, highly motivated by the desire to help this magnificent country that is Lebanon.

A fund under the aegis of the King Baudouin Foundation and placed under the high patronage of Europa Nostra

Can you explain in a few words what RestART Beirut is?

RestART Beirut is a fund under the aegis of the King Baudouin Foundation. Our mission is to protect Beirut's cultural heritage in a sustainable way, use it as a socio-economic vector for the country, and stimulate Beirut's artistic future through bilateral cultural exchanges and education in the field of cultural heritage conservation. Being under the umbrella of the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF) is very important, as it means that all financial flows to RestART Beirut are controlled and audited by KBF. This is an essential element for our donors and potential patrons. We are also the first organisation active in cultural heritage that has obtained the high patronage of Europa Nostra, with its activities outside Europe. These two elements demonstrate the seriousness of RestART Beirut, and I am delighted that in less than 12 months, we have managed to get this support.

You mentioned the mission of RestART Beirut. It sounds very ambitious?

Yes, but the situation and the challenges require ambitious goals. And despite the ambition, I believe that the path we are taking is totally realistic and pragmatic. Our pilot project around the Sursock Palace is a long-term project. Two approaches could be taken. One is to plan everything and to plan the whole restoration and transformation upstream, and to make sure to find all the funds before launching the first actions. Or, as we do, adopt a policy of small steps, which nevertheless allows us to continuously move forward. We work in small missions, identify the needs and the partners to carry out these missions, and then seek to find the funds, either by appealing for donations or setting up collaborations. The recent mission with Swiss experts from SUPSI (the Swiss University of Applied Sciences and Arts) is the best example. We first focused on the decorative surfaces, identified the experts and then contacted the Swiss embassy in Lebanon, and finally carried out the project together. This is a first step that will closely involve experts, artisans and students in Lebanon to carry out the whole restoration of these decorative surfaces. During the week that the Swiss experts were in Beirut, we introduced them to many people so that they could get to know the Lebanese ecosystem to build academic exchanges together to perpetuate this knowledge exchange.

...we want to play a key role in building long-term collaborations, to be a discussion and reflection partner...

Does this mean that RestART Beirut will follow this model in other areas of restoration?

This model, in its first application, has proven to be effective and relevant. So it seems logical to pursue it. However, it should also perhaps be clarified that our actions all follow at least one of the following three axes:

  • supporting education with international and local academic exchanges in the field of conservation, art and cultural heritage

  • creating and supporting restoration workshops

  • creating a long-term socio-economic impact.

To take the example of the first Swiss mission, two of the three points mentioned above will be covered in the midterm. The socio-economic impact is harder to predict, but it can be assumed that if we manage to complete the transformation of the Palace into a museum open to the public, this point will also have been covered.

So RestART Beirut is more than a fundraising organisation?

Of course, fundraising is an essential element. But we also want to play a key role in building long-term collaborations, to be a discussion and reflection partner. One example of this is the support we have given to the owners of the Sursock Palace to create their own foundation to carry out the project of transforming the Sursock Palace into a cultural centre, including a private museum open to the public. And we will also assist in the implementation of the museum strategy. Our role, therefore, goes beyond simple fundraising without spreading ourselves too thin. Beyond these aspects, our initiative is also an incredibly enriching one for us. We have so much to learn from the cultural richness and history of Lebanon, its people, and all the actors who fight for their beautiful country on a daily basis. This is a great motivation for us to carry out our task, and very clearly, it is much more than a fundraising activity; it is a project that is very close to our hearts.


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