Is Psyrri driving away the arts?

Hings are not looking too bright, at least for the art world, in the downtown area of Psyrri these days. Two galleries have already moved. Another two are seriously considering relocating. Things were different a few years ago. In the late 1990s, the old Athenian neighborhood was like a promised land for up-and-coming gallery owners: low rents, empty lofts and easy access to public transport at a time when Kolonaki seemed to be fading in popularity. It began when Rebecca Kamhi decided to house her gallery on Sophocleous Street, just a breath away from the multicultural Varvakeios market. The domino effect soon took over. The Varvakeios area witnessed the arrival of Art Tower on Armodiou Street, followed by the conquest of Psyrri. Soon, any press release announcing the arrival of a new gallery was sure to have a Psyrri address. But the party didn’t last long. Until the summer of 2004, nine galleries operated in the area. This fall, only seven will be open for business – the Artio gallery on Pallados and the Unlimited on Kriezi have closed their doors. The crisis that drove galleries away from the Kolonaki area 10 years ago is now knocking on Psyrri’s door. And this is just the beginning: Another two forward-looking venues – Els Hanappe Underground and The Breeder – are looking for new homes. «Yes, I might be moving in winter,» said Els Hanappe. When the gallery owner first moved to Psyrri five years ago things were very different. «There was a kind of hope for something better – including the expectation of the Olympics,» she said. While Hanappe confirms reports of very high rents in the vicinity, she doesn’t believe poor finances are what’s driving galleries away. «Athenians don’t visit the area on a regular basis in the daytime. It’s for people who go out at night – not exactly the galleries’ public; this kind of audience is primarily interested in how they will spend their evening,» said Hanappe, echoing the words of Stathis Panagoulis, co-owner of The Breeder Projects. Panagoulis told Kathimerini a few months ago: «The center of Psyrri attracts those who enjoy Oriental-style dancing from morning to night. If we could, we would be out of here right now.» Pola Kapola of Nissos Art confirms the trend. «Last winter we didn’t host a single exhibition, reducing our activities to those in the publishing sector,» she said. So what kind of gallery future lies ahead? Hanappe believes it could be in Kerameikos and all along Pireos Street. «There is a different kind of symbolism there, while the arrival of the new Benaki Museum wing is also an asset,» Hanappe said.