Allen Apter considers the Barrer Arts Center in Israel's Ma'alot Tarshicha community to be his "baby." Like any proud parent, Apter and his wife, Helene have been there since the project's birth some 30 years ago, and have supported the center through every stage of its development as the cultural heart of Israel's only Jewish-Arab municipality.
The center was one of the first community institutions to be created after Ma'a lot-Tarshicha was designated a Project Renewal community during the tenure of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The project was a joint effort of the Israeli government and world Jewry to provide social, economic and physical rehabilitation to disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout Israel. Apter was deeply involved in the leadership of the Bux-Mont Jewish community when it adopted Ma'alot-Tarshicha, and has visited there often through the years.
It has given him tremendous satisfaction to see the impact that the center has had on the community, providing creative outlets for its Jewish, Arab and Christian residents to dispel stereotypes, diffuse anger, and explore common hopes and dreams.
Today, approximately 24,000 people call this Western Galilee community home. The population is a mix of old and young, émigrés and sabras. All are served by Barrer Art Center programming. In the 30 years since the center opened its doors, it has grown from a limited operation offering art classes to some 20 to 30 children to a full-spectrum facility that offers classes in many different mediums. It preserves the cultural traditions of the community and the entire Galilee region through exhibitions of photos, paintings, ceramics, sculptures, handicrafts and other art forms, as well as offers sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled individuals, and serves as a resource center for teachers and art educators.
"The center, which was created in cooperation with the Ma'a lot Municipality, the Jewish Agency for Israel, United Jewish Communities and the leaders of Federation's Bux-Mont community, functions as a true community center, serving people of various ages and stages of life," said Apter, adding that "there truly is something for everyone."
More than 2000 visitors come to the center each year to view special shows spotlighting the talents of Israeli artists. These are exhibited in the Allen and Helen Apter Gallery, named in honor of the couple who are at the forefront of the center's $1,000,000 expansion campaign. Allen Apter explains that the center has experienced some "growing pains" due to a surge in the local population.
Like the Apters, the Barrer family has been involved with the center since its inception. Brothers and doctors Mitchell and Steven Barrer both were active in the then Bux-Mont Federation, now a part of the Bux-Mont Kehillah of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Steven Barrer recalls that he served as chairman of Bux-Mont's Abington Doctors Division, while his brother, Mitchell, was Bux-Mont past president. The brothers recruited their father and uncle, Harry and Sid Barrer, who both were active in the Jewish Federation of Reading, Pa., to provide seed money for the center. Naming the facility the Barrer Art Center is a tribute to the family's steadfast support of the project.
Mitchell Barrer remembers when the Project Renewal leadership approached Bux-Mont with a funding proposal for a center, which would provide an after-school art activity for community children. "The center started small, and has grown by leaps and bounds," he said.
The enlargement of the center will provide additional opportunities for artists to showcase and sell their work, and will allow the center to offer additional student workshops and to accommodate large groups of children who participate in educational programming. Plans call for rehabilitating and renovating the existing buildings, and adding a second level to the two existing structures. This addition will provide two apartment studios for visiting artists in residence. During their residencies, the artists will offer classes, seminars and exhibitions of their work to the community. In deference to the escalating acts of violence in the area, expansion plans also call for the construction of two "safe rooms" in the new building, which will allow children and adults to remain on-site in a secure location in case of any kind of attack.
The project has inspired interest in a Bux-Mont Kehillah Mission to Ma'a lot-Tarshicha in October, to be led by Murray Spain and Elliot Fisher.
For more information about the mission or to find out how you can contribute to the art center's expansion campaign, call Carol Weener at 215-832-0521, or e-mail her at: cweener @philafederation.org.