Within the second phase of European Cultural Foundation‘s and MitOst e.V.‘s Tandem Cultural Capitals cross-border collaboration programme, Claudia Woolgar (Brave New World Producties / Leeuwarden, the Netherlands) visited Yannis Pappas (Chorus) in Eleusis, Greece, in order to get to know the city and its people, become directly involved with Yannis’ daily work environment, and develop the idea of their collaborative project. In the following story, which was first published on the official website of the Tandem cultural collaboration programme, Claudia shares her insights from her journey.
I’ve never been good at telling men I like them. So it was the Tandem that almost never happened. Perhaps, considering the occasionally heavy burden of social awareness, it would have been easier if we had not met. But that is cowardly. And we are not cowards, Yannis and I. When Yannis spoke of environmental problems in Eleusis, I had absolutely no idea of the magnitude of the problem.
My trip to Eleusis could not have been better organised. Yannis had contacted the people I had asked him to contact. Meetings had been set up. In that fluid, not very precise Greek way of having appointments. I loved it. I would not have had it any other way. With a bicycle at my disposal, Yannis as my guide and colleague, blue skies, a future ECoC city before me, an idea already in bud, all felt good.
The people we met were an impressive list of the Eleusinian cultural, political and activist scene:
• Kalliopi Papangeli, head of the archaeological site of the Eleusinian Mysteries, entrance to Hades and temple to the goddess Demeter;
• Kelly Diapouli, Artistic Director of Eleusis 2021 and Angeliki Lampiri, Director of Cultural Strategy (responsible for Tandem) in the old railway station, HQ of the artistic team of Eleusis 2021;
• Maria Philippi, former CEO of Eleusis 2021. In a different building in town;
• newly appointed Deputy Mayor Dimitris Liaskos, responsible for Eleusis 2021 ECoC. Municipal to municipal environmental dialogue welcomed;
• newly appointed Mayor Argiris Economou. We had been promised 5 minutes and got over 30. A lobbying conversation. For our city2city knowledge exchange idea. And for the newly elected council’s belief in the gift of the ECoC title for a city;
• Christos Christakis, Founder of ecoeleusis.org, maths teacher, environmental activist and guide to Hades;
• Anastasia Tsopelaki, Member of Chorus (also, currently responsible for Creative Industries of Eleusis 2021).
We had a guided tour around Demeter’s site, and I gazed out from the Museum over a cement factory, with an oil refinery in the no-way-far-enough-away distance. I could not believe this polluting industrial zone was literally next to and within the city.
I wanted to visit some of the industrial heritage of Eleusis. This meant chaining our bikes by the coastal road (from where you can barely see the sea), waiting until there were no cars driving by, and clambering quickly over a wall, illegally breaking into the site of Kronos. It is stunning. Crumbling majestic buildings stood before me. I was speechless. And it is being allowed to crumble away. It is the jewel in the crown of Eleusis’ industrial past and needs to be saved. A new life breathed into it. A new purpose and hope for the future that combines the financial realities of the owners, the architectural importance of the main building, and the needs of the city to reclaim its seafront and take pride in its past by finding a creative economically viable future for the site.
Can the city’s European Capital of Culture status in 2021 impress urgency on the relevant stakeholders? Or is it too late?
We visited other sites, and I remained baffled by the failure on the part of the city – and the ECoC – to use the sites in a constructive way. They have almost no cultural buildings to speak of in Eleusis. No theatre. Only a small archaeological museum. No concert hall. No gallery. And yet the city has industrial buildings crying out for a new purpose…
And then Christos took us to hell. The oil refinery by the city. Industrial waste. Empty factories. Oil seeping from dumped ships. Rubbish. Thick crude oil oozing into the bay. Rusting boats polluting the sea. The stench.
I was shocked. How had this been allowed to happen?
I was more than ever convinced that the idea Yannis and I had dreamt up in Rijeka was right. And absolutely, completely and irrefutably had to be implemented. Irrespective of the nay-sayers. The too afraid.
We brainstormed. Wrote out various potential plans. Pros & cons. Success factors. Risk analysis. Our vulnerability through stakeholder dependency. Dreams and reality intertwined.
You learn so much more if you go somewhere, of course. Greece is complex. We all know that. We have a long road to go. Next step Yannis in Leeuwarden. But the linking of these two cities is so unlikely that it has to happen. Creative thinking is required. Practical knowledge exchange. Political commitment. Law enforcement.
Two artistic projects which mirror, enrich and contrast. Which separately and together add to the discussion, the urgency, the better future our planet needs. And culture can be the impetus to achieving this. Of that, there is no doubt.