By Mohamed Essafi
By Mohamed Essafi
Rabat – Casablanca often does not deliver the uniquely Moroccan cultural experience many visitors expect and does not capitalize on the potential of the cultural industry. The official Moroccan tourism website states: “Casablanca is probably Morocco’s most famous city, only rivaled by Marrakech, but you can put all black and white thoughts of Bogart and Bergman aside; this is a living, breathing city that will draw you to its heart.”
However, those who know Casablanca recognize that this statement is merely typical marketing. The website attempts to attract tourists to Casablanca by marketing it as a thrilling city, setting visitors’ expectations high and leading to inevitable disappointment.
I remember an Australian colleague who came to settle in Casablanca as an English teacher who, like many, was duped by the association between Humphrey Bogart’s magical film depiction and the reality of the city. The colleague mistakenly thought Casablanca would be a unique cultural experience, a mélange of cultures and races and a crossroad for travelers and adventurers. I recall how the colleague, after considerable time in the city, gazed at me and asked in a remorseful manner, “But where is the culture in this city of yours?”
My colleague had attempted to experience the cultural sites available in Casablanca. I had escorted him to the Sidi Abderrahmane shrine on the Ain Diab cornice, and I recall how deeply shocked he had been at the lack of typical touristic assistance at the site. There had been no information offices, site literature, souvenirs, or guides.
I tried to ameliorate my colleague’s disappointment by suggesting a host of key sightseeing spots in Casablanca. I suggested the Hassan II Mosque, the Houbous area, the Casablanca Sacre Coeur Cathedral, the Old City, Mohamed V and United Nations squares, the Judaism Museum, Villa des Arts, L’Atelier 21, and all the recently launched shopping centers. I highlighted the exceptionally rich European architectural heritage of the city, which attracts many foreign tourists and photographers.
‘Cultural Casablanca’ jogged my memory, and I tried to list all the main cultural events of the city, including the Casablanca book fair. I suggested the Casablanca theaters (there are seven in all; Mohamed VI and Mohamed Zafzaf are the most famous) and came to the sad realization that they are active, yet only sporadically. There are outrageous complaints from the theater experts and professionals that the venues, their equipment, and human resources are significantly below quality standards. Although there is currently a project to build a new theater, the needs of the Casablanca population and its visitors far from being met.
The major world cities almost all have a “city guide,” and some of them have a “culture and art guide.” Some of these guides consist of dozens of pages. The value given to the industry in these places demonstrates that culture is not just a luxury, but also a business that creates jobs and generates income for the city and the country. Roughly 4% of total jobs in the city of London are in the cultural sector including employment opportunities in libraries, the arts, live performances, and media, just to name a few. In New York City, citizens treasure the term ‘Creative Industries Employment,’ which accounts for roughly 8% of the total occupations of the city (World Cities Culture Forum, 2016).
Big cities such as London and New York take into account the ‘City Cultural Profile,’ which is a strong indicator of the paramount importance those cities grant to culture as an important luxury and also a source of income.
The gap in cultural infrastructure between Casablanca and cities like New York and London is vast. The latter two cities’ approaches to culture should inspire those who are in charge of reinvigorating culture in Casablanca. Those entrusted with increasing cultural projects in the city must reemphasize the intellectual, political, and economic value of culture in Morocco, especially as it is a country that prides itself on its rich heritage.