With an annual art camp at the North Coast resort of Hacienda and art classes at the Playtime activity centre in Maadi, sassy sisters Shahira and Aya Akel are spreading their love of art to a whole new generation of creative kids. Enigma’s Hassan Hassan gets Artastic…

 

Even the most prestigious Egyptian schools lack a quality art curriculum. Most institutions focus on mathematics and science, the so-called “hard” subjects. However, Shahira and Aya Akel are doing their utmost to convince the educational institution that when it comes to the mind of a child, art is one of the basic food groups. The two sisters created Artastic in response to the essential malnutrition of Egyptian children’s creativity. “The Egyptian education system does not give art enough importance, but parents are beginning to realise the impact it can have on their children’s development,” says Shahira. “Art can really expand children’s horizons and it is amazing to be able to give them a platform to express themselves.”

Five years ago they created a summer course at Hacienda, an upscale North Coast enclave. The classes were an immediate success, combining art education with hands-on crafts. The chance to spend the day on the beach while getting up close and personal with the arts proved to be a hit with both children and parents alike. From a debut class of 30 children, now each summer the gorgeous girls have over 80 children clamouring for some Artastic attention. “Over the past five years, we’ve developed relationships with the kids. And it’s such a satisfying feeling to give them a skill they’ll use for the rest of their life,” says Shahira.

“Through art you can learn a lot of different skills,” says Aya, 27. “We like to get the kids messy and expose them to their culture. Last year we did a project with ollas (the clay water jars used for drinking water).They’re having fun, but at the same time they are doing something constructive. They’re learning about their culture and interacting with different kids.”

The Akel sisters are already well established in their respective careers. Shahira, 29, is an advertising executive at Tarek Nour Communications and Aya is the brains behind Aya Home Textiles; a company that produces high quality textiles for the home. Yet what began as a side hobby is quickly becoming a lucrative art endeavour. The Akels recently decided it was time for their own classroom in Cairo, setting up an Artastic franchise at Playtime, the children’s activity centre in Maadi. “Teaching is in our blood,” says the feisty Shahira. “My mother was a teacher at Chutz (The American School in Alexandria) for 12 years. So we come into this with experience as both teachers and artists.” Although responsible for the syllabus and structure of the Playtime Artastic classes, they’ve installed a full-time teacher to ensure that art becomes a staple of the centre’s curriculum. Thanks to this artistic sister act, the future looks very bright and beautiful for future generations.

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