For the fourth consecutive summer, the Athens Festival will be presenting established as well as pioneering ensembles from the world of theater, dance and music. It is also focusing on giving a platform to young artists in all fields – the event’s poster was designed by two final-year students at the Athens School of Fine Arts, for example. After four years at its helm, the festival’s artistic director, Giorgos Loukos, is now fully aware of the organization’s problems, its highs and lows, and is making some necessary changes as well as trying to reduce costs. At the Benaki Museum’s packed amphitheater last week, Loukos announced the festival’s new data. To begin with, the event’s duration is being reduced by two weeks – the Athens Festival will now run from June 1 to July 15, while the Epidaurus Festival, which kicks off in early July, will run to August 21. Also, in addition to the existing venues, the festival is spreading to three additional stages: the theater at the Foundation of the Hellenic World, the Bios cultural center and the Isadora & Raymond Duncan Dance Research Center in Vyronas. The festival is also adding various Greek composers to the program, since, according to Loukos: «Classical music has no appeal. Nobody goes to listen to major names. Last year’s Ravel tribute sold just 525 tickets.» Therefore, the festival is putting an emphasis on the pairing of poetry and music – a highly popular combination for local audiences – mainly at the Herod Atticus Theater, with a series of evenings dedicated to works by poets Yiannis Ritsos, Odysseas Elytis, Nikos Kavvadias and C.P. Cavafy, among others. Loukos has accumulated a good amount of information regarding the festival’s reception and public: Figures for the last three years point to 750,000 tickets sold (about 250,000 per year), while 50 percent of its audiences is composed of 20- to 30-year-olds, though about 20 percent of those were not aware of the festival’s existence up until a few years ago. When it comes to such a major event, the going gets tough regarding the financial aspects of the operation. In keeping with last year, this year’s Athens Festival budget is set at 8 million euros. Last year’s earnings were 20 million euros (5 million came from the Ministry of Culture, 9 million from the Corfu and Parnitha casinos and 6.5 million from ticket sales). The Ministry of Culture owes the Athens Festival 1.87 million euros for the renovation of the Pireos Street venues, while a brief announcement was made regarding a five-year sponsorship by the National Bank of Greece. Also present at the press conference, Minister of Culture Antonis Samaras saluted the festival’s success and establishment as well as its expansion of scope, venues and audience. Highlights this year include Helen Mirren in a production of Great Britain’s National Theater of Racine’s «Phaedra;» Maestro Daniel Barenboim directing the Filarmonica della Scala and Ethan Hawke starring in a revival of Shakespeare’s «The Winter’s Tale,» directed by Sam Mendes. For more information, visit www.greekfestival.gr.