Culture splurge leaves a bitter aftertaste

The final cost of the «Cultural Olympiad,» held in Greece between 2001 and 2004, eventually reached nearly 150 million euros, according to a three-volume «Financial Report on the 2001-2004 Cultural Olympiad» drawn up by the Organization for the Promotion of Greek Culture (OPEP) that was in charge of the entire concept. According to the report, all the events organized by OPEP cost a total of 82.5 million euros, but to this must be added another 2.86 million for events funded directly by the Culture Ministry itself in 2001, the first year of the Cultural Olympiad (CO) when procedures were still not finalized, another 13 million euros for «additional expenditure on promoting and advertising the CO,» 48 million for OPEP’s operating costs (wages, rents, equipment and other costs) from when it was set up and covering the four years when it was staffed with dozens of people solely concerned with the CO. This brings the total to over 146 million euros, or 142 million if one subtracts the minimal revenue from tickets and program sales, which came to just over 4.2 million euros. The report, drafted under the supervision of the CO’s Managing Director Georgia Iliopoulou, was completed nearly two months ago but has not been released, although it has been sent to the Culture Ministry leadership and all the organization’s board members and executives. It describes the finances of each event and reveals a number of cases of wasted public money, not only in the funding of outrageously expensive productions but in subsidizing events that were inappropriate for inclusion (funds even went to the Acropolis Rally motorcar event). There is also evidence of an impressive generosity, with the millions spread out over a wide area; for example, a «scientific adviser» was paid 33,000 euros, press conferences in the Culture Ministry’s own amphitheater cost up to 700 euros (for two or three plates of sandwiches and 10 bottles of soft drink), a meal for a theater company after a performance at Epidaurus or the Vrachon Theater at Vyronas cost between 1,660 and 2,000 euros, and a reception after the Gavras-Dalaras performance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera rang up another 84,318 euros. Reactions The publication in Kathimerini of the financial report (on November 14) prompted a number of reactions. The figures were not only a reminder that the events held under the Cultural Olympiad’s aegis were what Professor Sotiris Sorogas of the National Technical University’s School of Architecture described as «superficial, ostentatious and more typical of Hollywood.» The lists of expenditure on each event showed that the financial management was characterized by an unprecedentedly lavish open-handedness that can best be termed ostentatious waste. The cost of each event swelled to such an extent as to wring wry smiles from those familiar with the true costs of performances. Strangely enough, the general figures on the Cultural Olympiad have been accepted by the Deputy Culture Ministry Petrols Tatoulis, since he referred to them as «confirming his views on state-subsidized culture.» But he does not consider them «final,» even though the events concluded three months ago. His views obviously reflect the disagreement within OPEP, between its president, Stamatis Mavros, who has the support of Tatoulis, and Managing Director Georgia Iliopoulou, who was in charge of drafting the final report. On the other hand, former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who was in charge of the original concept and therefore responsible for the CO, appears to expect something different from the report «when it is officially released.» Venizelos tried to sugar the pill by comparing the CO with the total cost of the Olympic Games or even with its opening ceremony. The figures, based on the financial data of OPEP’s own services (which Tatoulis and Mavros are still considering how to present) speak for themselves. Superficial and slapdash They reveal what has long been clear: the superficial and slapdash way in which the previous Culture Ministry leadership approached the whole concept, chose the events and managed the finances for the CO. The figures in the financial report do not include precise details of events or participants, nor the names of the recipients of particular amounts. However, it is self-evident that the reference «Mythodia» by Vangelis Papathanassiou, 3.52 million euros» in the report does not by any means indicate that the entire sum went into Papathanassiou’s pocket. As for the performance of «Medea,» directed by Michael Cacoyiannis and starring Spain’s Nuria Espert, the ELBA production company said in a letter that the cost was 347,168 euros, a sum which covered the cast’s wages, transport and hotel costs. Cacoyiannis also received no fee for the performance at the Herod Atticus Theater. He only received a «symbolic» amount of 11,600 euros for the Thessaloniki performance, a sum which he made available for the show’s lighting in Athens. However, the CO paid out almost as much again (281,098 euros) for sets, theater rental, subtitling and advertising. The Athens Concert Hall said in a letter that Theodorakis’s production of «Lysistrata» did not cost 3.22 million euros, as stated in the report, but 2.73 million – although they concede that the latter figure does not include the 18 percent VAT charges.