French Institute takes on a new role

A freshly renovated auditorium officially opened its new doors at the Athens French Institute last night, with a concert by the Baroque Ensemble of Nice. A center for culture and cooperation, said Daniel Haize, the institute’s director at a press conference earlier in the day, referring to one of the establishment’s increasingly important roles. Given that France has a more open cultural policy today, the idea is for the country to seduce first and then work on promoting the language. Novel times demand novel policies and the fact is that French has ceased to be the primary choice in foreign language learning, whether in Greece or abroad. Furthermore, on a local level, competition in the foreign language market is fierce. As a result – and in order to curb financial losses – the French Institute’s Athenian annexes are scheduled to shut down by next year. The end of an era? There are 130 French Institutes operating around the world today, while the Greek establishment is deemed the most important. Officially founded in 1938 – though it had been operating unofficially since 1907 – the French Institute in Athens has been a constant linguistic and cultural player throughout its respected career. There are currently 4,000 pupils taught by nearly 100 professors. (Both figures will be cut next year). In view of its new offensive on the cultural front, however, the institute is operating at full speed. So far this year, the establishment has organized, among other events, two major exhibitions at the Benaki Museum – a collection of historical Sevres china and ceramics, and a series of color photos of Thessaloniki from the Albert-Kahn museum in Boulogne – as well as discussions with personalities such as Jacques Derrida, Pascal Bruckner and Sylviane Agacinsky. Recently, Jorge Semprun was the institute’s guest of honor in Thessaloniki and Athens. At the same time, the institute is preparing for the 2004 Olympics with the introduction of an ambitious new program named Odyssee 2004, which will present various aspects of French culture to the Athenian public. With events scheduled to take place every fall for the next three years, Odyssee 2004 will open with appearances by bands Modjo and Dupain, DJ Ravin and Yann Tiersen (who wrote the music for the French blockbuster Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain) at the end of the month. Zoe Siotropou forges off on her own with a beautiful series of pavement studies, while Pericles Antoniou’s foray into the National Gardens steers clear of the saccharine shots that would have tempted many photographers.

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