Patras on the brink of a new beginning?

All was quiet at the headquarters of Patras – European Capital of Culture 2006 in the renovated Ladopoulos factory complex last weekend, casting the overall impression that the the institution of the cultural capital is flying a little bit further below the radar than one would expect. Neither the entrance to the city nor its main squares provide any hint of what is happening in the Peloponnesian city this year. The president of the executive committee, Christos Roilos, was all smiles just a few hours after a successful recital by opera diva Kiri te Kanawa. He is also pleased to note the small number of staff employed by Patras 2006 (just 25, compared to the 300 employed by Thessaloniki for the same purpose in 1997). But, can Patras really be compared to Thessaloniki in terms of size? «The Greek state knew in 1998 that Patras was going to be European Capital of Culture in 2006, yet the first euro was doled out in 2004. That says it all. But, did Thessaloniki, which had many more funds at its disposal and much more infrastructural development, have a lot more time to prepare?» New role sought Roilos looks on the issue as a bitter draw. «I am not one to lament lost opportunities. Patras is making a start this year. The de-industrialization that has taken place over the past few decades has left deep scars: the prefecture of Achaia has some of the highest unemployment levels in the country. It is therefore extremely important that we find a new role for the city, and fast. Our goal is to make Patras a cultural hub for the entire southeast European region within the next few years,» he says. These aims are certainly ambitious and also echo the intense competition that is developing among other regions around the country and the problem of financial insecurity. «We do not intend to establish another film festival here in Patras. We are trying to break into different ground. We would be happy to leave the city with two or three of the programs that have been organized for the Cultural Capital, such as the ancient drama section, for example. That is the only way we can hope to get anything out of being cultural capital, and the only way to take advantage of the infrastructure that has been created and help boost development. We want to give all the people who pass through Patras on their way to somewhere else a good reason to stay a few days. We don’t want to be the Ancona of Greece,» explains the executive director. There is good news, however, for the people of Patras as far as the events for the cultural capital are concerned. «There is very high public participation at all the events,» boasts Roilos. «Almost 90 percent of all performances are sold out.» On the downside, Roilos sees a few areas that could have been handled more efficiently. «We decided to put together the program of events first and then to approach the sponsors,» he explains. «Unfortunately, we should have done it the other way round. First we should have put together the core of the program and then found the sponsors to add events around it.»