Creative Change

Art is a tool to convey messages, create an impact and spread awareness,” said May Shehab ’98, director of Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Culture Center in Old Cairo. “It is one of the main vehicles of expression in Egypt after the revolution.”
Shehab has served as director of the center since 2012, where she has worked to build a solid organizational foundation from which the center could effect positive change in the community and in the larger landscape of post- revolutionary Egypt. “There is so much that can be done through Darb 1718, and we are growing very fast. I am certain that, soon, the center will have an immense positive impact on Egypt’s cultural scene,” she affirmed.

Shehab returned to her native Egypt in 2011 after spending five years in South Africa, completing a PhD at Wits University and working on tourism-led development. “I was doing community development in South Africa, and I thought: ‘I should be helping in Egypt right now,’” she said. “I came back to do something useful and make a difference.”

At AUC, Shehab double majored in sociology and English and comparative literature, with minors in philosophy and American studies. Following her graduation, she began working in tourism development in the western and eastern deserts of Egypt, as well as producing documentary films with Geo Productions on pastoral nomadic communities in the desert on the border with Sudan. In 2005, she obtained a master’s degree in human geography from King’s College, University of London.

“Human geography taught me a lot about people and how they relate to the environments in which they live,” she explained. “We meet people from different backgrounds at Darb 1718 all the time, mainly artists, musicians and filmmakers from different parts of the world, but also visitors to the center from all age groups and people coming with different interests in mind. Because of my background, I am able to understand cultural
differences and interact well with diverse groups of people.”

Darb 1718 showcases art exhibitions, hosts concerts and festivals, and organizes workshops, open mic nights, film screenings and lectures. “Darb 1718 is a springboard for emerging artists, guiding and connecting them to artistic institutions and international organizations,” Shehab said.

As the director of Darb 1718, Shehab is still focused on community development. This season, the cultural center is organizing its activities around the theme of environmental awareness and recycling through art.

“Darb is not located in an artsy area; it’s in the middle of a slum,” said Shehab. “Right now, it is an oasis in the middle of this area, but we must have an impact on surrounding places. Art and education are tools for development.”

This story was published in AUCToday Spring 2013. To read the full issue,click here.