Cultural Olympiad countdown

The remaining Cultural Olympiad activity preceding the 2004 Athens Olympics, whose agenda was announced last week by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and the program’s head director, Evgenios Yiannakopoulos, will be far more frugal and radically different to what had initially been projected. The Cultural Olympiad budget, covering the entire four-year series of events, has been restricted to just over 100 million euros ($102.6 million) from amounts of roughly between 120 to 150 million euros touted by Venizelos last year. This figure, however, includes promotional costs, both in Greece and abroad, which are estimated at 18.5 million euros, as well as the humanitarian aid entailed in the program, such as vaccines for children in developing countries, a program announced just months ago. Its cost has been estimated at 14.7 million euros. Other costs include assembling an international panel of judges for Cultural Olympiad awards. This initiative alone is expected to cost some 4.4 million euros, which leaves a net amount of 65 million euros for the production costs of the series. Of this, 22.9 million was spent in 2001 and 2002, leaving a further 41.9 million for the final two years. Ambitious plans, such as performances by internationally renowned artists Nana Mouskouri, opera singer Agnes Baltsa, and Maria Farandouri on all five continents have vanished. Other noticeable absences include projects by Mikis Theodorakis, such as four operas by the composer, an extensive tour of the USA, Europe and Asia of his worldwide hit «Zorba,» and a presentation of «Canto General» in Athens. Also missing are Mozart and Strauss operas intended for Naxos and Crete. The Theodorakis projects were withdrawn after the composer recently banned use of his works for the series, and the Athens 2004 Olympics. The reasons remain unclear. It is not known whether the factors were financial or not, and, if so, which side made the break. Despite an onslaught of questions, Venizelos side-stepped the issue. «We respect his decision of not wanting to present any more works as part of the Cultural Olympiad,» Venizelos insisted, while emphasizing the State’s respect and his personal admiration for Theodorakis who «represents Greek civilization’s collective memory,» Venizelos denied that Theodorakis had distanced himself after refusing to accept a reduced fee for his Cultural Olympiad contribution. «No, we would have found a solution if that were the case,» he said. All in all, 16 of 30 events originally scheduled for this year have been dropped. For 2004, 13 of 24 planned productions will be abandoned. Venizelos contended that several of the canceled project plans were deemed inexpedient in terms of cost, communication potential and cultural content. The news conference grew tense when renowned director Michalis Cacoyiannis – the first of three Cultural Olympiad directors so far and in attendance – pointed out that commissioned and existing productions should be categorized separately to assist financial transparency. «I don’t understand your question,» a fuming Venizelos repeated several times before adding: «We accept your production, we pay for it, and you offer criticism?» Responding to a related question by a journalist who asked for specific numbers regarding commissioned and ready-to-go productions which simply need to be financed, Venizelos said the matter was irrelevant. Venizelos said the long-term objective was to institutionalize the Cultural Olympiad as a permanent four-year cultural series following the Athens 2004 Olympics. Yiannakopoulos, the Cultural Olympiad’s director, presented an incomplete rundown of the remaining agenda’s content. He also offered a figurative summary for the first two years. A total of 48 events, which cost 22.9 million euros to produce, attracted a total audience of some 600,000, he said. Information regarding many imminent productions remained vague in the press kits distributed, with mere titles of shows provided. For example, the repertoire of a planned tribute to the late composer Manos Hadjidakis has yet to be clarified. Also undisclosed, or possibly still unknown, is the line-up of 10 novelists who will pen a collective novel.