From nighttime walks around the city to workshops on art conservation, Beirut’s grandiose Sursock Museum reopens this week as Lebanon’s first interactive museum of contemporary art.

Closed for eight years for major renovation work, the impressive mansion-turned-museum is to open to the public from Thursday, free of charge, with exhibits honouring the history of art in Beirut. The walls have been adorned with photographs from Lebanese collector Fouad Debbas and vibrant, geometric paintings from the country’s “golden era” in the 1960s.

Outside, two grand white staircases curve upwards in an arch above the entrance, overlooking a spacious mezzanine to be used for a host of activities. “For a lot of people, a museum is a place to visit and to look. We hope that this museum will be more than this — that it’ll be a place for interaction,” said Tarek Mitri, who chairs the museum’s committee. Among the plans are nighttime walks throughout Beirut hosted by local artists and photography classes for teenagers. The projects are a welcome innovation for Beirut residents, whose city has few museums of any kind and little public space. “Although we are a museum, we should be seen as a space for exchange, for encounter,” said museum director Zeina Arida. “We lack public spaces, spaces where we can quarrel, get along, where we can express without getting into conflict,” Arida told AFP.