Restrooms – even restrooms in art galleries — aren’t ordinarily canvases for artwork. But there’s nothing ordinary about Hamiffal, a funky, avant-garde center for art and culture in Jerusalem.

Here in an abandoned 19th century building, the municipality and a collective of young artists surprise and intrigue visitors in every nook and cranny. Even the toilet stalls, as sculptor Itamar Hammerman showed ISRAEL21c on a recent tour of the repurposed old building.

A bathroom stall at Hamiffal art and culture center, Jerusalem. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

“I think of this whole project as one big sculpture,” says Hammerman, head of fine and plastic arts at Hamiffal (The Factory).

As a work of art created for and by the general public under the guidance of more than 50 artists, Hamiffal is in a constant state of construction.

Visitors can add to Oren Fischer’s graffiti map of the vicinity of Jerusalem surrounding Hamiffal art and culture center. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

The edifice was once a private home and later served as sheltered housing and then as a school. It stood neglected for more than a decade until Eden – The Jerusalem Development Authority invited the local Bayit Reik (Empty House) artists collective to fill it with a conceptual and material infrastructure in early 2016. Bar-Kayma, a Jerusalem organization supporting artistic and cultural projects, contributed funding.

Gateway of Hamiffal art and culture center in Jerusalem. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

 The project morphed into a permanent public space housing a gallery, hands-on workshops, a vegetarian café-bar and a multifunctional presentation venue for theater, dance, concerts, discussions and screenings. The yard surrounding the structure is a natural extension of the project.

Visitors to Hamiffal enjoying the garden. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

“For me, the purpose of Hamiffal is to spread the language of art. This happens in diverse ways,” says Hammerman, who studied fine arts at Bezalel Academy and sculpting at Paul Taylor School and Studio, both in Jerusalem.

A modern sculpture made of cigarette butts by Itamar Hammerman, in his loft at Hamiffal above the tool workshop. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

“You can come here for coffee and a meal and find colored markers on the table and start to draw. Or you might come here to look at art and learn from it. Or you may come for a class or event,” Hammerman explains.

“We also have residency space for more developed artists, open to the public so people can see what they are doing.”

This work on the ceiling of Hamiffal by Jerusalem artist Daniel Paley, entitled “Echo,” is screen-printed on Tyvek sewn together and stretched over laminated wood frames. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

The building is not visible from busy Agron Street, as it’s located in a little lane off Agron behind the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. But tourists from the area’s large cluster of hotels find their way here and mingle with Israelis admiring the creativity. Finding an English-speaker to show you around is never a problem.

A place to lounge and soak up the artistic vibe at Hamiffal. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

 Currently Hamiffal does not sell works but if you see a work (finished or in progress) that catches your fancy, the staff will gladly put you in touch with the artist who created it.

Because the gallery also encourages active creation of art, it includes a workshop filled with tools and a huge homemade worktable.

A worktable made of salvaged wood scraps, at Hamiffal in Jerusalem. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

Materials including salvaged items from tear-downs – such as old window frames — are scattered around the space waiting to find new life in an artwork.

Hamiffal (The Factory) is located at 3 HaMa’aravim Street, Jerusalem. The gallery/workshop space and the café-bar are open Sunday to Thursday, noon to midnight; Friday until 4pm and Saturday from 8pm to midnight.

Hamiffal’s vegetarian café-bar. Photo: courtesy

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