Olympic cultural programmes

We are particularly impressed with the cultural preparations. Since the first day we wandered around Athens, 4th of August, the final touches to an extensive public art programme and the amount of information about other initiatives throughout the city have developed at an amazing speed. ‘Catch the light’ is a visual arts programme consisting of images of Greek (or Athenian) people in medium size boards hanging from the gates of the National Gardens, plus enormous billboards showing stills of sports and creative views on Greek culture and related endeavours that cover full buildings at different points of the city. It is an effective programme that achieves a difficult balance between being creative and attractive and blending with the environment. It is a far cry from the ‘in your face’ flashy sporty images, heavy on official logos and sponsor recognition that were common in Sydney and Salt Lake.

Information also abounds on the ‘other’, additional cultural events, that range from ‘happenings’ (or impromptu performances) in Olympic venues and surroundings to concerts in public squares, national parades, free theatre and other arts related shows organised by the Municipality of Athens and ATHOC. There are many other, paying events, organised as part of the Cultural OIympiad and the Hellenic Festival. In fact, it is confusing to realise who is in charge of what, and this, at times, jeopardises the value of ‘cultural guides’ that may include certain but not all activities taking place.

ATHOC’s programme is the most clearly dedicated to highlight the Olympic experience. It takes place in and around selected Olympic venues, in the Olympic Village, and as end of the day celebration to the torch relay in every night-stop of the tour around Greece. The programme also includes an interesting visual arts programme, with the beacon exhibit ‘Monument to Now’, a daring proposal of contemporary art organised in collaboration with the DESTE foundation. Interestingly, ATHOC has also coordinated a ‘gallery walk’ that takes you through the little street of Athens, from Psyrris, Plaka and Monastiraki to Kolonaki and as far as Kifisia.

The Municipality of Athens has launched its ‘A Celebration all over the City’ programme, which is all free and, as in the case of ATHOC, focuses on the period of Olympic sport competition. The programme is heavily focused on entertainment but has a greater level of cultural endeavour and is more unique to Athens than the ‘LiveSites!’ in Sydney. The Cultural Olympiad has stopped its performance programme during the Games, only leaving a collection of interesting exhibition at prestigious venues and a reduced number of free events that are often ‘by invitation only’ in rare venues. Special performances and events will continue in September, once the Games are over.

The Hellenic Festival is also in full swing, with top cultural events taking place almost daily at the beautiful Odeon of Herod Atticus, the most spectacular theatre in Athens. The events are often pricy, but welcomed by visitors interested in the arts and aware of this prestigious festival. A further myriad of activities are taking place under the wings of several foundations, cultural centres etc. There is not clear coordination of all of this wealth of cultural offerings, but it is obvious that Athens exudes it and this makes the experience of walking around the city particularly provocative, enticing and memorable.