Al Ma’mal is a non-profit organisation based in a former Tile Factory in New Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, serving its surrounding community, their guests and the city’s visitors through a programme of exhibitions, live music and workshops. Since 1998, Al Ma’mal has been a hub for art, cultural vibrancy and learning while building bridges with the world and honouring Jerusalem's own enduring qualities as a complex, culturally rich, ageless city.
Al Ma'mal history
The Kassissieh Tile Factory, 1900
In 1900, the Kassissieh family established a tile factory in a building inside the Old City of Jerusalem whose origins are unknown, however a photograph by Bonfils dating to 1867 shows the site was already built.
The Kassisieh factory produced the magnificently colored and patterned floor tiles that are known to have decorated Palestinian homes. With over 20 employees, the factory flourished and grew, becoming one of the primary tile factories working in Palestine with their products reaching Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Amman. The family also opened a factory in the Katamon which was forced to close in 1948.
The tile factory was active until the mid-1970’s until the Jerusalem Municipality withdrew licenses from all factories operating inside the Old City.
Since its closure, the tile factory building was neglected for many years, standing in ruins as the structure deteriorated and its walls falling into despair.
Despite this situation, the municipality continued to impose taxes on the building, accumulating until it reached hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Gallery Anadiel, 1992
In the mid-1990’s, a group of artists and activists who were interested on focusing their efforts on Jerusalem gathered to initiate a contemporary art foundation in the city. This initiative would follow in the footsteps of Gallery Anadiel, which was founded in Jerusalem in 1992 and played a key role in networking between contemporary artists in Palestine and worldwide, developing its activities to include community work and art workshops.
Out of principle, the founders determined the foundation would be located in the city of Jerusalem, and specifically inside the Old City. This decision was taken during a period when many Jerusalem institutions were moving their headquarters to Ramallah due to the difficulties people faced in reaching Jerusalem due to restrictions on movement as Israeli roadblocks surrounded the city, this in addition to funding that shifted to the newly established Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah which according to the Oslo Accords was prevented from working in Jerusalem.
The first meetings began at Gallery Anadiel, where amongst the founding members, Issa Jamil Kassissieh proposed renovating the tile factory building and turning it into the headquarters for the foundation. At the time, the building was under the threat of confiscation by the municipality due to the accumulation of debts and the dangerously deteriorating structure. By choosing the tile factory, the foundation would thus be achieving one of its most important objectives, which is having the old city as the headquarters to launch its activities.
Al Ma’mal, 1998
After an initial agreement was reached with the family of Issa Khalil Kassissieh to transform the building into an art and cultural center, the founders agreed to name the organization ‘al-ma’mal’ (meaning ‘factory’ in Arabic), reaffirming the linkage to the building’s history and keeping its memory alive.
The founding members chose the goat as a symbol for the Foundation logo, a native animal that is known for its steadfastness surviving through rough conditions and terrain with limited food and water, an appropriate symbol that reflects the conditions and environment as well as Al Ma’mal’s enduring journey.
For its initial years, the foundation took the basements of El-Yousef family building across the street from the tile factory as its temporary headquarter until the completion of the restoration work, and from there began to organize activities and programs; exhibitions, art and photography workshops and artist residencies.
While the programs and exhibitions continued on a regular basis and developed until this day, the restoration project faced many challenges and obstacles which at times seemed an impossible mission. The obstacles and difficulties the project faced were as numerous as the number of people and institutions who supported it.