There are so many public spaces and landmarks that city dwellers tend to rush past every day, either due to the fact that they're not quite sure how to enter them or because they don't have time to dawdle, but that could soon be a thing of the past. The global trend today is for citizens to do new things in their cities, making use of what's available, and without the overly ambitious expectations that tend to arise from glorification of the distant past.
The Thessaloniki Picnic Urban Festival, initiated by Greek firm Parenthesis, is a local expression of this trend and, for the fifth year in a row, will be taking over the city's Roman Agora until Monday, September 4.
“What worried us from the start was the staging of the event and how we'd convince the authorities to allow us to use this space. Thankfully, they loved the idea,” says architect Athina Rizopoulou from Parenthesis, speaking on the phone from the northern port city. “We were also concerned about how the public would react, and it's impressive that the people respected the Roman Agora from the very start. There have been some objections about us using the space, but these usually disappear once the person expressing them joins the big urban picnic experience.”
According to the architect, the aim of the project is to “contribute to a new narrative about the city by opening spaces to the public and bringing them to life.”
“Every year we ask ourselves how much bigger the festival could be,” says Rizopoulou.
This year, the festival will be a day longer than on previous occasions, and over these four days, the Roman Agora will be transformed into a contemporary version of what it originally was – a gathering place – with live music and film screenings.
Residents and visitors to Thessaloniki are invited to pack hampers with goodies, grab a blanket, and head to the Agora to spend a few afternoon or evening hours soaking up the fun, celebratory atmosphere. It's a great event, where little kids get to run around freely, teens mingle and make new friends and older picnickers get to sit back and watch as the city and its residents and visitors interact.
“Every age group enjoys it for a different reason,” says Rizopoulou.
On the first day of the event, Thursday, the public will be treated to a concert by the Symphony Orchestra of the Municipality of Thessaloniki performing instrumental versions of pop and rock hits, as well as music from film – all with a twist. That will be followed by local music act Super Stereo, and then a short film screened in cooperation with the Naoussa International Film Festival, while the evening will close with the Coen Brothers' black comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
The other three days will follow the same reasoning. On day two, Friday, the music will be provided by Penguins From Far West, followed by the Rundays, more shorts, and a screening of Wolfgang Becker's 2003 German tragicomedy “Good Bye Lenin!”
On Saturday, Inner Sail will set things off, giving way to BrightSide, a series of shorts and then the Argentinean film “Medianeras,” directed by Gustavo Taretto.
Sunday, the final day of the festival, will feature bands Elevation Trio and Balloon Over Glasgow, while the main screening will be Israeli drama “The Lemon Tree” (2008), directed by Eran Riklis.
“What we want to achieve is to change people's perception of history and also to challenge the negative climate of today. After all, this is what we have been given and it is with this that we should go forward,” says Rizopoulou. “We are also planning to ‘export’ the festival to other parts of Greece and are making progress in this direction already.”
Picnic Urban Festival, Roman Agora, Thessaloniki, September 1-4. Doors open daily at 6.30 p.m. and admission costs 3 euros.