Rallying cultural forces to revive downtown Athens

A broad coalition to save the center of Athens is in the pipeline, following a recent cabinet meeting focusing on the city center?s worsening situation. The Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism has taken on a leading role in this program, which is being supervised by Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos.

The cornerstone of the ministry?s action is to rally large and small cultural institutions situated downtown. These are long-established cultural organizations, some of which are based in what could be described as the ?twilight zone,? such as the National Archaeological Museum on Patission, the Epigraphical Museum on Tositsa and the Greek National Theater on Aghiou Constantinou, to name but a few.

The aim is to achieve some kind of co-ordination between such organizations (ranging from the Greek National Opera to the Greek Film Center) so that their scheduled (or even better, unscheduled) events are taken out of their formal setting and into the streets and squares of the downtown area: Think of a small-scale outdoor film festival at Aghios Panteleimonas Square, a soprano giving a recital in Omonia or the Athens State Orchestra?s string quartet taking up position on Dikaiosinis Square, opposite the Rex Theater.

The idea is headed in the right direction, as the prevailing sense is that the closure of hundreds of shops in the downtown area has cast a shroud of desolation that further exacerbates other underlying problems. As a result, in a large part of central Athens regular foot traffic is far outnumbered by people conducting illegal activities.

Some improvement has been seen since the announcement of a government crackdown and an increase in the number of police patrols a few days ago, but there is still a long way to go.

Naturally, until the safety of the public can be ensured, the cultural events being planned will have to wait, especially if they are to take place is some of the more dangerous parts of the city. Nevertheless, the plan is ambitious and hopefully, the return of the general public to these areas will set in motion a positive chain reaction for the city?s revival.

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