CULTURE

Culture as an antidote to the economic crisis

Yiannis Manos, head of the board of directors at the Megaro Mousikis (Athens Concert Hall), refers more than once in his interview with Kathimerini to culture as an «antidote to economic, social and moral crisis.» For the past few months, he has taken over the post of the late Christos Lambrakis. «Nobody can take his place. Christos Lambrakis was a unique personality. The Athens Concert Hall, which he created and where he worked with such passion until the end, was ‘the’ project that made a definitive contribution to our cultural development.» There is a formality to Manos’s speech and comportment. He chooses his words carefully, prefers not to talk about himself, turns attention instead to the Megaro and to his colleagues. He praised the general manager and executives for taking a voluntarily pay cut of 10 percent, as did the members of the Camerata orchestra (20 percent), before the government announced its austerity measures. He is modest about an honor conferred on him recently by the French government and is equally reticent when asked about his own career. He studied political science and economics in Greece, Paris, Brussels and Geneva, and lived in France at a time of great change – «after the war in Algeria and decolonization, traumatized French youths, the transition from the Fourth to the Fifth French Republic, St-Germain-des-Pres, jazz and Juliette Greco.» The minute the subject slips into personal territory, he backs off. He briefly mentions difficulties and imprisonment during the junta in Greece (he was president of the EFEE student union in the mid-1960s) but does not wish to expand on it. He lived abroad for a year: «My experience of French education gave me something I always try to follow: Cartesian logic,» he says. From 1974 to 1994 he was an adviser to the governor of the Bank of Greece. Seeking new audiences and sources of revenue How is the Athens Concert Hall dealing with the current economic crisis? What effects might the crisis have? The Athens Concert Hall operates under the aegis of the Culture Ministry in a creative collaboration. It is a legal entity governed by private law, with state funding covering around 38 percent of this year’s budget. The remaining 68 percent comes from ticket sales, conferences and donations. Though the Megaro is not dependent on the state, state funding – which was reduced by 35 percent this year due to the current situation – does play a decisive part. Our present circumstances have forced us to seek our own sources of revenue, to be aggressive about attracting conferences. Has the crisis affected donations? Does the reliance on sponsors also affect programming and the choice of events to some extent? I can tell you that donations in 2010-11 will exceed those of the previous year. This shows the ongoing trust of sponsors in the Megaro and its prospects. At the same time, we are looking into setting up a donation system that will maintain the level of donations. As for interference from sponsors, the Megaro will continue to be responsible for its programs. When that has been finalized, then the sponsors are approached. Their standing and social prestige are in tune with the quality of our artistic program. Do you think the Megaro’s educational programs are adequate? Do you intend to continue them? Education has been a prime concern of the Athens Concert hall since its inception. The Music Library contains 96,000 titles and its catalog is accessible online. It houses the archive of Greek music and designs research programs for the study of Greek musical culture. The Megaro is gratified by its programs for children – the full auditoriums on Sunday mornings, the Camerata’s concerts at schools that have been attended by 29,000 pupils from primary and secondary schools. They fulfill the Megaro’s social and educational mission. Also, as part of the Megaron Plus series, in the past five years we have organized five educational exhibitions attended by 36,521 students. That activity will continue. Has the Megaro created an audience, and if so, has it enhanced, renewed and developed it? The Megaro addresses society without exception, and its audience is renewed naturally. That is apparent from the thousands of young people who come to the Megaron Plus events, created by Christos Lambrakis, and to open events, such as «Evening in Havana,» when more than 5,000 young people came to the concert hall, as well as the young audiences at the baroque music concert and Handel’s «Theodora.» Some of our respected friends may object to that overture but every innovation provokes reactions, and it’s encouraging to see young people sitting cross-legged at those events. The Megaro doesn’t screen its audiences. It was and is open to everyone; indeed, since it was founded, it has never attempted to be a site for formal social meetings. Do you plan to revise your price structure and, if so, how? It’s a great pity that it’s not more widely known that young people can see shows at the Megaro very cheaply, from 5-9 euros. In the past two years, ticket prices have fallen, and that’s the way we’ll go in the future. We will also announce our new ticket policy, where we are considering offering discounts for certain groups, including seniors and those who are registered as unemployed. What do you mean by «the Megaro in the city»? Does the concert hall have a special relationship with the city? The Megaron Plus series has opened the Athens Concert Hall’s doors even wider. Now it’s time to open up our garden to the city. We’re certain that when a place respects the public, the public respects and protects it, so people will love and respect the garden. It will be open and we’ll run musical events and educational programs there that connect the environment with music. On June 22, the Vienna Philharmonic’s concert directed by Riccardo Muti will be shown on a giant screen set up in the garden. We invite everyone to join us there. In brief, what is your vision? The Megaro has a mission to keep the Greek public abreast of what is happening on the international musical and intellectual scene, to support and develop education about those who create music and to be close to the city and its inhabitants. I repeat, in a time of economic, social and moral crisis, culture is the antidote. It must be a reference point in shaping our education and culture, a cultural rallying point.