French-themed festival at Vathis Square aims at cultural revamp

The Athens Art Network believes that the crisis cannot bring down the country’s art scene, as artistic expression is a form of capital that will yield fruit. The group, which a year ago launched a series of initiatives aimed at revamping the Greek capital’s cultural profile, has a new project in the works in a run-down part of the city center.

Petit Paris d’Athenes (Athens’s Little Paris) is a festival centered around Vathis Square and spreading out to Omonia and the Larissis Train Station, a part of the city that, aptly, features several streets named after historical French figures.

The festival will begin on Wednesday, October 9, with an inauguration event at 5 p.m. spearheaded by percussionist Nikos Touliatos. The festival, which is the first of what the group hopes will become a regular event, is dedicated to French Nobel Laureate Albert Camus on the centennial of the writer’s birth. It will include theatrical performances, cabaret and variety shows, concerts, street events, art shows, lectures and public platforms dedicated to Camus, impressionism, and the cultural ties between Athens and Paris.

On the pedestrian strip of Mezonos Street (named after Nicolas Joseph Maison, the French general who liberated the city of Patra in 1828) and around the National Conservatory, mimes, jugglers, acrobats, musicians and street artists will transform the area into a mini-version of the French capital’s Bohemian Montmartre district.

“Once we’re done with Mezonos, it will be a very different street,” Marios Strofalis, one of the founders and coordinator of the Athens Art Network, as well as director of the festival, said at a recent press conference.

Over the course of eight days, until October 16, more than 400 volunteer artists will present shows and events on streets and squares, as well as in theaters, museums, galleries, cafes and other alternative spaces.

Strofalis describes the aim of the festival and the Athens Art Network in general as being about “cultural intervention in capital cities that have been wounded.”

There are several highlights on the event’s program, such as shows at the Alma Theater – a historical space in a neighborhood that was once known for its multitude of theaters – which closed last year.

There will also be shows in the parking lot of the National Conservatory, concerts by the City of Athens musical ensembles at Metaxourgio metro station, as well as film screenings and discussions at the abandoned premises of Finos Films, once Greece’s biggest film production company, which served as a nursery for some of the country’s most popular actors.

“At Aghios Pavlos Square, where kids normally end up beating each other up, we will hold activities and discussions on how inner-city children can channel their energy into different activities, such as becoming musicians or acrobats,” said Strofalis.

The director of the Petit Paris d’Athenes festival also described some of the other projects that the Athens Art Network has in the pipeline. These include “The Gardens of Athens” and “Our Patission Street,” the latter of which is aimed at highlighting the historical significance of the old cinemas on the central Athenian thoroughfare and which will take place in the winter of 2014.

“If you discover the hidden treasures of the city, then you can build something on top of the harsh reality,” Strofalis said.

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