Athens Burns Bright: Cultural Industry Tour Set For 2019

US arts producers can now rediscover Greece -- post-crisis, and very much on the rise.

Cowds are returning to Athens as arts and culture drives the fiscal recovery. Photos: Fotis Kapetopoulos.

Arts producers: check your passports, make sure they’re valid. You’re invited to participate in a major tour of the cultural industry of Athens, Greece during February of 2019, as the economic recovery in that nation picks up steam.

It wasn’t long ago that the beautiful nation on the Mediterranean dominated international headlines, all brought about by a catastrophic fiscal collapse that started in 2007. Beset by public debt totaling more than 100% of GDP, Greece’s economic woes were exacerbated by punishing reforms imposed by the European Union that sent unemployment skyrocketing, citizens protesting in the streets, and tourists fleeing. The situation seemed intractable until the economy finally stabilized in 2014. By the end of 2017, some 30 million tourists visited Greece, including five million tourists to Athens alone — and the numbers are pointing to a repeat performance in 2018. What’s driving the resurgence? Arts and culture.

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So dramatic has been the rebirth of Athens that in late 2017, Vallejo Gantner, the former director of PS 122, one of NYC’s leading contemporary performance institutions, partnered with Australia-based arts manager Fotis Kapetopoulos on a weeklong exploration of the city. Leveraging both their ancestral and professional ties to Athens arts and culture, they convened dialogues with artists, producers and most of the city’s great cultural institutions, discovering innumerable “green shoots” along the way. They discovered emerging arts collectives and alternative music venues; they found buildings abandoned at the height of “The Crisis” now transformed into artist spaces and office floors for lean startups. Spending their days relentlessly on foot within one of Europe’s most walkable cities, Gantner and Kapetopoulos spent their nights popping into new bars and sampling a growing list of farm-to-table restaurants. They later chronicled their adventure in an article called “Is Athens the New Berlin?” Then they answered their own question:

“No, it is Athens. But, something is happening.”

Kapetopoulos told the CFR that Athens is “hip” right now not because of gentrification but because of what he calls “regeneration” — followed by sustainability for artists, especially at a time when real estate is unusually affordable, especially as compared to the rest of the EU. This is why artists “are streaming out of places like Brussels and France, and finding new opportunities in Athens to do their work.” Post-crisis Athens, he added, can be put into five words: “creative, exhilarating, intense, political and hedonistic.” And that is why now is the right time for American arts producers to rediscover Athens and to investigate cultural exchanges with their stateside institutions.

Athens Burns Bright is the name of the tour. It will take place Feb. 10-14, 2019, and will be open to a dozen creative producers, artists, thinkers, writers and cultural innovators from the US. The group will learn about events like the Mind the Fact Festival; revel in music venues like Cantina Social; explore Psyri, formerly a downtrodden inner-city neighborhood that is now a hipster hub; and enjoy Embros, an abandoned warehouse now filled with theater and art, music and dance.

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Fotis Kapetopoulos and Vallejo Gantner with Kit, the car from the 1980s TV show Night Rider, at the launch of a science fiction exhibition at the Onassis Center in Athens.

And that’s just for starters. The group will make curated, behind-the-scenes visits to the remarkable new Acropolis Museum and to the ancient but active Odeon of Herodes Atticus, one of the finest open-air theaters in the world. There will also be meetings with important officials from the National Theatre of Greece and the Benaki Museum. A pair of influential cultural organizations — the Onassis Cultural Centre and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre — are among the major change-makers right now in Athens, and the group will meet key leaders from bot. There will be some of the city’s remarkable and increasingly renowned street art, guided tours of the city’s Ancient and Byzantine sections, and enough food, bars and music to show you just how brightly Athens burns.

Kapetopolous said that Gantner’s interest stems from his deeply held interest in cutting-edge performance from around the globe. “Vallejo is like a weather gauge of what’s going to happen in performance and performance art,” he said. “He knows all the foundations in Athens beginning to support the new work, and he’s discovered some extraordinary stuff. I find institutional stuff; Vallejo finds the artists — they’re the gardeners of the arts ecology. I look at how the infrastructure works, within the private market and in the public arena.”

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Kapetopoulos also makes the point that like many other cities that have undergone major economic traumas and then begun to bounce back — think NYC in the 1970s, Berlin in the 1990s — there’s a post-crisis energy that lends itself to the most exciting kinds of art. “It’s that new thing of being resilient, of trying something new,” he says. “Except in Athens it’s even more so because it’s about being global. You’re talking Russians and Germans; you’re talking Israelis; you’re talking Balinese street artists — all living in Athens. It’s not some Anglo-American-organized city-state. It’s still the Mediterranean. It’s still an hour from Tel Aviv, an hour from Beirut. Athens is getting its energy from everywhere.”

He concluded, “If a great theater producer of a traditional institution in the US went to the National Theatre of Greece, they’ll find something in common. If you’re like Vallejo, looking for something innovative, revolutionary, offbeat, they’ll find it. If someone curatorial from the Met Museum in New York would visit a museum in Athens, they will see something to curate. In Athens, let me tell you what they’ll see — they’ll see the world of Greece.”

This post is sponsored by Kape Communications Pty Ltd. For more information on Athens Burns Bright and for details on cost (approximately US $1,270), contact Kape Communications Pty Ltd, email or call +61 3 9486 2770.