Monday, 21 June 2010

News from the greek crisis

Petros Tatoulis, greek former Vice Minister of Culture, stated on the 9th of May to the newspaper Kathimerini: “The Ministry of Culture needs a hard reset! The timing couldn´t be better. As there is no money, it is a unique opportunity to implement radical reforms. If they don´t happen now, they´ll never happen! And the sector will become extinct."

At this time of crisis, everybody is looking at the Ministry of Culture (more precisely, after the last elections, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) and at the organisms under its tutelage. According to Iota Sykka´s article, it is mainly the orchestras and the museums that will suffer major changes and fusions. Too many orchestras for a country of the size of Greece, some being ghost-orchestras, overlapping responsibilities, the same musicians playing in many of them.
In what concerns museums, the first fusion to be announced is that of the Cinema Museum with the Greek Film Centre in Salonika, Greece´s second largest city. It is almost certain as well the fusion of the Hellenic Culture Organization and the Archaeological Receipts Fund. There has been talk for years about their overlapping competences, nevertheless, the supporters of the party in government continued to be given jobs at the Organization. The income of both is disappointing, their services mediocre or inexistent. The actual Minister of Culture, Pavlos Geroulanos, aims to create a new organism that wil combine "the Hellenic Culture Organization´s orientation for development and the Archaeological Receipts Fund´s commercial profile". There is also the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, that, although it doesn´t present a deficit, the Ministry would like to redefine its profile and is already studying the fusion of its offices abroad with the Tourism offices.
Changes still in the theatre sector. National theatres have already been warned that, should they go above their annual budget, they should be looking for alternative sources of funding (shouldn´t this happen anyway, under any circumstances...?). The future of the Municipal Peripherical Theatres is also under the microscope. This is a network created in the early 80s by the then Minister of Culture Melina Merkouri, aiming at the decentralization and the enrichment of the cultural life of local societies. Thirty years later, the 16 theatres officially present the two productions and one children´s play they are obliged to annually. The rest of the time they function as commercial theatre companies, presenting productions of dubious quality around the country during the summer months. according to an article by journalist Sandra Voulgari (Kathimerini, 23/05/2010), apart from a few exceptions, the majority of the Municipal Peripherical Theatres are decadent. The artistic directors of the most successful theatres defend their continuation, but are asking for reforms. Actor Panos Skouroliakos, artistic director of the theatre of the region of Roumeli, speaks about an excessive number of employees, whose salaries absorb 80% of the annual budget, leaving a mere €60.000 for production. Yiannis Karachissaridis, artistic director of the theatre of the town of Kozani, defends that priority should be placed on productivity, while reducing at the same time state funding by 30%, stimulating true development. Without closing down any of the 16 theatres, he proposes a fusion into 6 anonymous societies. Nobody would get fired, but there would be fewer artistic directors. He also believed that with a €370.000 funding the six anonymous socities would be able to fullfil their missions.
Still in the sector of the performing arts, in an attempt to finish with the payment of subsidies directly by the Minister´s office (a common practice), there was created an Online Register of Cultural Structures. Any structure interested in getting a subsidy may register. All applications will be made available online, together with each subsidised structure´s history and financial situation. Applications will be evaluated by a jury specific for each sector.
In what concerns the owners of art galleries, according to an article by Elias Maglinis (Kathimerini, 02/05/2010), the majority feels there is mainly a psychological effect from the crisis on medium and new buyers. It´s not so much the lack of money, but the uncertainty about the future. Angeliki Antonopoulou, owner of, decided together with her artists to cut proces down by 30%. "We need to adapt", she said. On the other hand, Elisa Grigoraki, owner of Athens Art Gallery, believes that there may be people interested in investing in works of art as a means of protecting their cash. "Even during the german occupation [1941-44] the art market was very active", she says. A more positive note comes from Kalfayan brothers, owners of the homonymous galleries. They consider that the situation is under control. They have new buyers and they´ve been in art fairs in Cologne, Bologna, Dubai, Los Angeles and New York. "It´s a pity there were no more greek galleries present in those fairs. The market in Greece has flourished and they could have made that investment and help themselves (...) This is a great opportunity to promote our artists abroad." In this environment of crisis, Kalfayan brothers are expanding their space in Athens and opening up a new gallery in a peripherical town.
The statements of the President of the Board of Megaron, the Athens concert hall, are less alarmist, more realistic, pragmatic and at the same time show a certain sensitivity: "At a time of economic, social and moral crisis, culture is the antidote", says Ioannis Manos (Kathimerini, 09/05/2010 - read the interview in english here). He believes in institutions that know how to combine the visionary dimension with a correct management, programming with imagination. The Megaron is under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, which funds 38% of its annual budget, registering nevertheless a decrease of 35% in relation to last year. The rest of the money comes from ticket sales, conferences, space hire and sponsorship, which in 2010-2011 will be higher than in the previous period. A proof of the sponsors´s trust in the institution and its perspectives. Even though, before the government´s announcement of austerity measures, the Megaron´s directors had decided a 10% cut in their salaries and the members of Kamerata, the resident orchestra, a 20% cut. Ioannis Manou said that the Megaron will adopt a more aggressive in order to attract conferences and will create a system that will guarantee multi-annual sponshorship.
Going back, to the ex-Vice Minister of Culture Petros Tatoulis´s interview (Kathimerini, 09/05/2010), let´s see his definition of those that should be the main objectives: "First objective: a new organization, open to the society. Second: provide institutioanal tools that will allow for greater flexibility and decentralization. Third: identify alternative sources of funding. Four: establish priorities. Five: select cultural 'steam engines' that will pull the rest."

Obvious things, it seems... But we are talking about years and years of bad management, lack of vision, lack of courage, lack of discipline, a budget and many public orhanisms at the service of the interests of the parties and the needs and demands of their supporters. A vicious circle, which, in fact, the country in general, and culture in particular, might be forced to abandon. Is it going to happen? How is it possible to change the greek mentality, the greek way of being and acting?
A time of crisis, of little money, is, in fact, ideal for 'forcing' reforms and changes. It is an opportunity that Greece, in the middle of all its problems and because of them, should not miss.

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