Zico House was started in 1994, few years after the end of the civil war, as a multi-use venue by Moustapha Yammout (aka Zico), a lover of arts and culture, in his charming traditional family home (traditional Beiruti building dating to 1935) in order to give artists and performers a space to create and express themselves. As a platform for emerging artists, it defends experimental and avant-garde works and contributes to the development of art in Lebanon.
Since 1999, hundred activities have taken place, including exhibitions, debates, video shows, and workshops,. The goals of Zico House are to not only provide a space for cultural experiences and alternative art, but to encourage civil associations to use the arts as a tool in their work to create an environment for exchange, dialogue, communication and peacebuilding. With friends, Zico established an independent production firm entitled "Beirut Media Production".
Many organizations started to operate in the house before setting their own venues. And the house is always open to whoever working in public service with little resources to afford a permanent location. Zico House welcomed organizations that many chose to fight such as HELEM (The Arabic acronym of "Lebanese Protections for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders") working to end discrimination and stigma.
The cafeteria is an area for debates, exchanges and dialogue among social activists and associations. Three rooms on the second floor are dedicated to house foreign artists. Residents have been from Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Holland, Italy and several Arab countries.
Zico house inspired many others. Several historic mensions were being transformed to cultural spaces and art centers in Beirut, a city where most of old houses are demolished for the sake of building of skycrappers. In fact, it always hosts exhibitions aiming to preserve Beirut's cultural heritage and social fabric, as well as lectures and debates about social justice and economic rights.
But the house was not always about art only. During the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, it was transformed into an aid center for the internally displaced and housed many of them.
Zico House is convinced that arts and culture are a powerful medium to encourage peace. The aim of Mawsam (seasons in Arabic), an activitry that started in 2008 and what followed was to uncover and highlight talents of young people in the villages of Lebanon, and broaden their horizons by helping them express themselves through theatre, and recently playback theatre. Four experienced theatre directors spent a month in four different villages of varied backgrounds and religions to help groups of young people develop, manage and perform a play. Through preparing and performing a theatre piece, the young people involved were able to showcase their talents and learn tolerance.
This project started on 13 April 2009 (the anniversary of the beginning of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War) and ran for one month. A bus that was similar to the one that was shot at in 1975, which sparked violent clashes and eventually led to civil war, toured the Lebanese territories - 34 villages and cities of varying ethnic backgrounds - promoting peace, dialogue and mutual understanding.
An Arabic language school is there, a theatre group might rehearse in some of the rooms and the main hall hosts regular tango and Arabic Tarab nights. More artists are staying in the house working on paintings inspired by their vision of daily life in Beirut, and then displaying their work in the venue. And many concerts are organized to promote the work of artists from different countries. Music and films are also a tool at Zico house to promote women empowerment.
29 years from its launch, Zico says he has achieved his initial aims for his family house. Now, as the city’s cultural scene rapidly expands, a new type of initiative is needed, mainly to support conceptual and contemporary art as a tool for peacebuilding and social cohesion. He still believes art and civil society are so similar and go together, thus it is open for emerging organizations to meet, work and plan there. And the house will always be a supporting venue for the right causes, for instance it hosts fundraising events benefiting programs in Shatila and other Palestinian camps in Beirut, and many other activities to help Syrian and Palestinian refugees, empower them through art therapy, playback theatre and adopt young Syrian artists, as well as providing financial support for refugees by cooking and selling food.