Beyoğlu Culture Road Festival to enliven Istanbul’s arts scene

Istanbul’s lively Beyoğlu district, long the center of the city’s bustling arts scene, is getting ready to host the “Beyoğlu Culture Road Festival,” set to be Turkey’s biggest cultural event in terms of participants.

The two-week festival, which will launch with the opening ceremony of the newly constructed Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) on Republic Day on Oct. 29, will last until Nov. 14. The large-scale event will be held across various venues, including Galataport – a large-scale urban redevelopment project in the historic passenger wharfs of Karaköy quarter – the historic Tophane-i Amire building, the Galata Tower, various cultural centers, museums and the AKM on a nearly 3.5-kilometer (2-mile) route.

The recently inaugurated waterfront area of the Galataport passenger port project is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 22, 2021. (AA Photo)

More than 1,000 artists, 64 venues, 40 exhibitions and special projects, 75 concerts, 45 workshops and 25 artistic and literary talks will take place within the scope of the festival. A special mobile application was developed for the festival, on which users can receive information on upcoming events, find the ones closest to them, get information on the venues, directions, the latest news on the festival and social media updates.

During a publicity event on Friday, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy stated that they aim to turn the festival, which is planned to be held twice a year in the fall and spring, into an international brand for Istanbul and Turkey. The primary aim is to double the number of venues, artists and events for the festival next spring, Ersoy said.

The minister also expressed his hope that the festival will serve as an important milestone in the return to normalcy in culture and arts events in the post-pandemic era.

Ersoy said that the festival route includes various projects undertaken by the ministry, municipalities and private actors. The ministry alone invested over TL 2.5 billion ($260 million) in five projects along the route, Ersoy said.

Following the restoration of Galata Tower, the 14th-century iconic building which now serves as a museum, the number of visitors quadrupled, matching the number that visit Topkapı Palace grounds, the minister noted.

The Tarık Zafer Tunaya Cultural Center, located near the Tünel Square on the southern end of the Istiklal Street, is another stop on the festival. The building, a former municipal facility that was allocated for cultural events in the early 1990s and assigned by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) to the ministry for restoration in 2017, was opened for use in June 2020.

Istanbul Cinema Museum, which opened its doors earlier in February at the former Atlas Cinema and Passage building on Istiklal Street, is among the festival venues. Stating that the restoration project helped preserve an important architectural landmark, Ersoy urged visitors to explore the entire building in addition to attending the movie galas, festival screenings and exhibitions.

Another stop on the festival route is the Mehmet Akif Ersoy Memorial House, which was opened in March to honor the author of the Turkish national anthem that marks its 100th anniversary this year. The memorial house, where Ersoy spent his final days, is located inside the 111-year-old Mısır (Egypt) Apartment, one of the most grandiose buildings on Istiklal Street.

Whereas the AKM, the former hub of Istanbul’s performing arts scene, will finally open its doors to visitors on Oct. 29 after a 13-year hiatus for its restoration, demolition and reconstruction. Ersoy said that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan requested a special composition be put together to mark the opening, and the Sinan opera, based on the life of the 16th-century architecture genius, will be performed for the audience for the first time. “Composed by our esteemed professor Hasan Uçarsu, the libretto of this special opera belongs to Mr. Bertan Rona. It will be performed under the watch of renowned Italian director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini,” the minister remarked.

Ersoy stated that London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) will take the stage at the AKM two days later on Oct. 31 and will perform “Haydar Haydar” as their first piece from a Turkish composer in their repertoire. The LPO, regarded as one of the best in the world, will also perform at the Presidential Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Concert Hall in the capital Ankara the day prior.

“Of course, there is more on this route. Paket Postanesi (former post office building reconstructed as part of Galataport project), Tomtom Street, Beyoğlu Municipality Istiklal Art Gallery, (Casa) Garibaldi Stage, Odakule Passage, Emek and Alkazar movie theaters, Refia Övüç Institute for Girls, Maksim (former renowned entertainment venue now reconstructed as a hotel), Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Painting and Sculpture Museum, SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation (IKSV), Pera Museum, Arter (Koç Museum) and Gezi Park are some other valued venues that are on the Beyoğlu Culture Road,” Ersoy said, underlining that all the public and private investments are important indicators of the importance, depth and value of the project.

The Korkut Ata Turkic World Film Festival will also be held as part of the culture road festival, and 13 countries and autonomous republics spanning from Kazakhstan to Sakha (Yakutia) will take part in the event. The five-day event beginning on Nov. 8 will gather 100 actors, directors, ministers, bureaucrats and other officials from participating countries at screenings in the Atlas and Emek theaters and Tarık Zafer Tunaya Cultural Center.

Artist Refik Anadol’s digital exhibition on architecture and new media arts at Alkazar, “Monet&Friends” digital show at Galataport, the “Fantaisie Végétale” exhibition at the French Cultural Center, “Mirasın Izinde” exhibition including calligraphy, tiles, water marbling and miniature works inspired by Seljuks at Taksim Mosque, the installation by French artist Bernard Pras made up of waste materials reinterpreting renowned painter Pierre-Auguste Renior’s “La Grenouillère” at Maksim are some of the other events Ersoy drew attention to.

The minister noted that three separate events will feature select works from young artists and students at fine arts high schools and faculties as part of the festival.

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