Oriental charm: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts

For 42 years, Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) has played a key role in the cultural and artistic life of Istanbul by presenting a wide range of festivals and events. General manager Görgün Taner writes for IAM about İKSV’s 2015 projects

As one of Turkey’s most established non-profit cultural NGOs, İKSV organises the Istanbul Festivals of Music, Film, Theatre and Jazz, as well as the Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul Design Biennial, the autumn film week Filmekimi, and the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition. We’ve steered festivals in other major European cities since 2004, and presented the Pavilion of Turkey at the Venice Biennale since 2007.

This year, we’ll publish a comprehensive report on arts education as part of a cultural policy study in line with UNESCO’s Road Map for Arts Education, outlining trends and making suggestions to increase participation in cultural and artistic life in Turkey. We aim to broaden and strengthen our youth-targeted projects, having become the institutional supporter of the Music for Peace Foundation in 2013.

Founded in 1973 on the initiative of Dr Nejat F Eczacıbaşı, İKSV’s main goals are to present the finest examples of global culture to Istanbul art lovers; promote Turkey’s cultural diversity to the world; and transform Istanbul into an important centre for international arts and culture. In 2015 we’ll deliver the 34th Istanbul Film Festival (April), the 43rd Istanbul Music Festival (June), the 22nd Istanbul Jazz Festival (July), the 14th Istanbul Biennial (September), and we’ll oversee the return of the Pavilion of Turkey at the 56th international Venice Biennale.

Istanbul Film Festival presents more than 200 films each year, including special screenings, world classics, retrospectives, exhibits and thematic sections, animation, and documentaries. The festival also restores prints of masterworks of Turkish cinema, and includes a number of workshops, master classes, talks and panel discussions.

Its international Golden Tulip Award is given out in memory of the festival’s co-founder and a former İKSV board chairman, the late Şakir Eczacıbaşı. The programme for the 34th Film Festival was announced in March.

Similarly, the Istanbul Music Festival is a prestigious event that has played a central role in the establishment of classical music in Turkey. Acclaimed for its creative programmes and innovative structure, the festival strives to create opportunities for artists to share inspirations and experiences. It has been a member of the European Festivals Association since 1977, having given Lifetime Achievement Awards since 2003 and Honorary Awards from 2006 (the year the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra became the festival’s resident orchestra).

In 2011 it adopted a new format whereby each year’s programme centres on a particular theme, and it now features original commissions by composers from Turkey and abroad to enrich the national and international repertoire. It also organises various pre concert lectures aimed at increasing the public’s appreciation of classical music, allowing them to hear the ideas and opinions of performing soloists and experts. The programme for the 43rd Music Festival is now online.

The youngest of İKSV’s big projects is the Jazz Festival, which has been held every year since 1994 and features classical, modern Latin and Nordic jazz, as well as works incorporating electronic music across a range of other categories like rock, pop, reggae, funk and world music. It’s a diverse event, with a daring approach to venue selection, going beyond traditional concert halls to historical sites, streets and avenues, and even to trams and ferries.

As well as reaching a wide audience, one of the primary goals of the Jazz Festival has been to encourage the production of jazz music in Turkey – special series like the European Jazz Club and Encounters with Masters bring together well-known players from Turkey and around the world, while the Young Jazz concert series, launched in 2003, gives amateur musicians a prominent new platform. Each year,the festival attracts around 50,000 people to witness more than 30 concerts. It’s one of the first members of the International Jazz Festivals Organisations (IJFO), and is now considered a leading jazz festival in Europe.

Moving away from music, the Istanbul Biennial has been taken under the organisational wing of İKSV since 1987, and aims to create a meeting point in Istanbul for visual artists and audiences from diverse backgrounds and cultures. It’s the most comprehensive international art exhibition in Turkey and its wider region, and today it plays an important role in opening up exciting new forums for contemporary art debate.

Istanbul Biennial’s exhibition format is based on themes rather than on national representation, which really facilitates a dialogue between the artists and audiences. A curator is appointed by an international advisory board to develop a conceptual framework, according to which a variety of artists and projects are invited to exhibit.

The 14th edition of Istanbul Biennial will run in a variety of venues from 5 September to 1 November, drafted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and a number of curatorial collaborators.

İKSV has also been commissioning and organising the Pavilion of Turkey at the Venice Biennale since 2007, and we’ll be presenting a new installation by the influential artist Sarkis for the upcoming 56th edition in 2015, running from 9 May to 22 November. Curated by Defne Ayas, the exhibition will be held in its own dedicated new location at the Arsenale, which we recently managed to secure for a 20-year period from 2014 to 2034.

More generally, on top of furthering Istanbul’s growing role on the international stage, İKSV works to create continuous interaction between national, universal, traditional and contemporary values, and to contribute actively to the development of cultural policies. In addition to organising these festivals, biennials and events in Turkey and abroad, we’re closely involved in the conservation of traditional arts and cultural heritage, and strive to facilitate continued artistic production across a range of diverse disciplines.