Greek culture in a state of hibernation

State museums will not be operating on double shifts this Easter weekend. The weather might be improving, yet the hibernation period of these institutions is far from over. A number of establishments will be operating with temporary closed halls — this has been the case at the National Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum for a while now — while museums and archaeological sites outside the Greek capital will again suffer the most. Two exceptions are the Acropolis in Athens and the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki.

A number of museum shops are closed due to staff shortages, which means losses in revenues. Meanwhile, a competition organized by the Archaeological Fund for the hiring of 93 seasonal employees is expected to begin at the end of April. Prior to this, 141 positions for seasonal and paid-by-the-hour employees with be filled at eight ephorates. At the same time, 450 employees were recently transferred from the Hellenic Railways Organzation (OSE) to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This means that train drivers and other specialized workers are now employed to guard archaeological site and carry out other menial chores. Another 400 employees are expected to be transferred to the ministry from Olympic Air.

So just about anyone is being used to cover the gaps created in the last few months, which include major shortages at museums and ancient monuments, while the ministry appears unable to take care of past business. This includes the National Center of Theater and Dance, which, though dissolved, is still costing the ministry money. The same is true of the costly Organization for the Promotion of Greek Culture (OPEP), which has also ceased to operate.

All of this is quite revealing about how the state and the government are dealing with culture. Though the country?s overall image is reflected through its museums, the policy of ?patching things up? has never really been abandoned. The ?no money? attitude leads to essentially untrained guards who come from other special areas.

At the same time, it appears that there is funding for other kinds of activities. While there is not enough to cover the maintainance of archaeological sites, the survival of the ministry?s Archaeological Department or the promotion of contemporary artistic creation, the government displayed great facility when it came to the rescue of the Athens Concert Hall with a sum of 95 million euros. Though the money did not come from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, it would save this particular ministry?s credibility if the Ministry of Finance was as generous with it as it was with the Athens Concert Hall.

At the same time, the Ministry of Culture is using its own hands to suffocate its Archaeological Department, scorning staff when it comes to approving expenses for journeys around the country — the majority of sites that staff members have to account for are situated outside of Athens. Meanwhile, less money is expected to come from the National Strategic Reference Framework, given that there are no funds to cover local participation.

Meanwhile, generous state betting agency OPAP has given the green light to provide funding of 3.6 million euros for a large-scale exhibition on Byzantium which will take place in the United States. It would be a great initiative if the country were not on the brink of disaster. At a time which doesn?t even allow for the decent operation of local museums, there is no room for this kind of outward-looking international diplomacy — especially if you consider that in the last few years a number of exhibitions on Byzantium have already taken place abroad. As for this year, Greece is boasting the organization of two international exhibitions on the ancient Greek world. The first show, at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, was recently inaugurated to great acclaim, while plans are being finalized for an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris.

OPAP?s 3.6 million euros is a provocation. This is because we could be healing the wounds of local museums, or even organizing a large-scale exhibition at home, something that would boost our sinking morale. Memories of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum are still fresh. These are the kind of events that the country needs the most.

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