Lyne Sneige is the director of the Arts & Culture Program at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington, D.C. and the former Deputy Director Lebanon and Regional Projects Manager for Arts and Culture for the Middle East at the British Council operating out of Beirut. Before participating in a panel asking “Does Art Really Make Us Better Citizens?” at a Zócalo/Irvine Foundation conference in downtown Los Angeles entitled “What Can the World Teach California About Arts Engagement?” she spoke in the green room about Beirut, good books, and the fear of uncertainty.
What do you like most about Beirut [where you lived before moving to Washington D.C. in 2011]?
Beirut is an intense city that grows on you. You end up falling in love with it. What I love about it are its people. Because the people actually make a city when they believe in it. And there is an incredible vibrant arts scene in Beirut that is very outward looking, that is exceptional, grounded in what the city and what the country is but also so outward looking. Very cutting-edge, very experimental, very interesting.
How do the arts help with believing in the city?
The arts forge your citizenship. You cannot be a full citizen if you are not recognized. And what the arts are about is this very personal, deeply rooted thing, who you are, where you come from, what is your heritage, how you are perceived, your representation. So when this is not provided to you in a respectful and dignified way, how are you going to feel part of this bigger picture? How can you become a citizen and love your city?
People see themselves in the arts.
Yes, yes, yes.
Coffee, tea, or neither?
Coffee. I’m very picky with my coffee. We are a coffee culture.
Should I even ask you about coffee in Washington, D.C.?
Peet’s Coffee is good.
What do you do to relax?
I drink coffee! I love going to the beach. I love just sitting and listening to good music.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like music that is a bit jazzy but not just the traditional jazz. I like classical music. Sometimes I just like hip hop music. It’s a mix. I am not into things like meditation. It’s not my way to relax.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Going on a world tour.
What’s your top destination in the world right now?
I’d love to go to Japan. I’d love to go to India. I’d love to go to the Seychelles. And I’d love to go to Barcelona.
What keeps you up at night?
The uncertainty of life. Bringing up two boys in a more polarized world. And sometimes violence and inhumanity.
What good books have you read recently?
I am reading at the moment a book by Hisham Matar, who is a Libyan artist. He is the Pulitzer Prize winner this year and his book is called The Return. It’s the first book I’ve read of this writer and it is just amazing—the imagery in this book, the sensitivity. I encourage everyone to read this book. It is the story of him losing his father to the Libyan brutal regime of Gaddafi; it is a story of love and loss between father and son. It just transcends all of what I’ve read, in terms of beauty, at the moment.
What superpower would you most like to have?
To be in two places at the same time.