Psyrri, hyped as an arts center, is losing its creative tenants

It’s dusk in Koumoundourou Square on a Saturday evening. Just a few people are left in Telis’s steakhouse Ta Brizolakia, a far cry from the crowds of art lovers that frequented the galleries before having a bite to eat at Telis’s a few years ago. There is nothing to evoke the optimism of the 1990s. Psyrri has not become the Soho of Athens but home to a monoculture of bars and tavernas. Street sellers have taken over every available space and what is left of the contemporary art scene is trapped between cheap clothes and ouzo joints. Since 1994, when Rebecca Kamhi first opened an art gallery on the fifth floor of an old hotel on Sophocleous Street, the area has changed enormously; only the dirty narrow sidewalks and the abandoned buildings are the same. The old artisans who used to craft anything from horse saddles to screws gave the place authenticity. Cheap rents drew many artists who set up their studios in the area. The art galleries then followed in an attempt to create an alternative center to the pricey Kolonaki district. Then the first tavernas sprouted and in the early afternoon hours on the weekend the place would come to life with light Greek popular music. Today the art galleries are leaving. The first to close was Artio, followed by Unlimited, Els Hanappe and Rebecca Kamhi. The Artower experiment in Armodiou Street has failed and many other galleries such as the Breeder want to leave. What is left is A.D,, Vatayianni, Qbox, E31 and Hippas. But there is much less activity than usual at this time of year. An exception is Kriezotou Street, which houses the Thanassis Fryssiras gallery, a new stylish branch to the Zoumboulaki gallery and the Ghikas Museum due to open this year. The Kalfagian brothers are also preparing a new gallery in Haritos Street. The former tenants of Psyrri are now eyeing the Gazi and Metaxourgiou districts where Gazon Rouge has become a trendsetter after moving from Kolokotroni Street.

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