SOCIETY

Renaissance in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki has always projected the image of being an introverted city. Today, however, talented young people with a passion for breaking new ground are casting the northern port city in a new, brighter light. Three creative teams were credited by the The New York Times earlier this month as being one of the reasons why the prestigious newspaper ranked Thessaloniki among the 41 cities worth visiting in 2011.

The three groups have been active for the past two years and have definitely contributed to broadening the city’s horizons with actions, discussion fora and joint collaborations. They are: Sfina, a volunteer-based group that organizes interventions in the urban landscape; nongovernment organization Dynamo Project Space; and the architecture/design firm 157+173 Designers.

A common theme uniting the three is that they are all making their presence felt in the daily lives of the city’s residents. Sfina, for example,was behind a pillow fight between a group of 20 or more young people in the middle of a street in Kamara, central Thessaloniki. Another time, its members barged onto a bus and got a party started in order to campaign for late-night services on Fridays and Saturdays, while their action to promote a more attractive waterfront on Aristotelous Square meant literally transforming that stretch of road into a beach. Meanwhile, a massive cake-throwing contest was Sfina’s way of telling the city authorities and citizens that Epanomi Beach should be kept clean.

Sfina is all about changing perceptions. Its actions are like a form of group therapy, a great outlet to vent the frustrations that can accumulate in daily urban life, a breath of fresh air.

«When do you ever get a chance to have a pillow fight in the middle of street?» asks filmmaker Marios Spyroglou, the man behind Sfina. The idea for the movement came to him two years ago, at a point in his life when he felt that life in Thessaloniki was becoming too constrictive and he opted to move back to England, where he had studied. He was inspired by an action he heard about that was organized at a Subway station in New York City and so, after moving back to Thessaloniki, invited like-minded friends and acquaintances — people he knew needed an outlet for their artistic impulses — to form Sfina. The group has since grown to 7,683 members in Greece and it is in better shape than ever, preparing a string of fresh initiatives.

Dynamo Project Space was created by a group of six architects, art historians and artists. Established in 2009 in the bohemian Ladadika neighborhood of downtown Thessaloniki, Dynamo provides a platform for young artists to come together with ideas and project proposals, which grow into exhibitions, actions, workshops, lectures and seminars, as well as performances and publications on architecture and design. Even though the group has only been around a short while, it has already shown that it is dynamic and ready to make its mark on life in Thessaloniki.

Its most recent endeavor was a joint collaboration with a similar group in Chicago, which led to an exhibition featuring the work of young artists, while the next project in the pipeline is an exchange network for young artists who want to live and work in a different country for a few months. Dynamo believes that Thessaloniki produces enough artists to have a vibrant cultural scene, but it lacks the infrastructure and culture to hang onto them. The aim of the group, therefore, is to help create fertile conditions that will keep artists in Thessaloniki and also entice artists from other parts of the country and the world to the northern port city.

Over at 157+173 Designers, a group founded in the summer of 2009 by two young artists, it is all about promoting products and objects made of cheap materials. Babis Papanikolaou and Christina Tsiragelou believe that the financial crisis presents an opportunity for people to think and act more creatively. «It’s taken a while for Thessaloniki, but it is getting there,» says Papanikolaou.