Contemplating Greece’s ‘Crisis Culture’

Like many countries, Greece has been turbulently tossed around in the hands of different power structures, resulting in a continuous change of its cultural identity over the years. From the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire, to its consequential British influence, to an eager attempt at adapting Western ideals by switching to the Euro ― its cultural, political, and economic situations have changed as frequently as Zeus’ interests in immortal beauties.

Today Greece is at a chokehold yet again. This time, it is (unintentionally) at their own hands as their financial debts are unpayable, and unemployment and poverty is at an all time high. Its economy for the past six years has been as easy as reassembling its ancient ruins, a seemingly never-ending task attracting more and more ethical and societal concerns by the minute.

A saga worthy of Homer’s wordsmithing, this crisis is dividing a nation, compromising the livelihood of its people including working artists and craftsmen who rely on either government funded programming or their patrons. But with money barely accessible at this point, the consumption of art is not a primary concern, posing a major threat to the cultural sector of Greece. What is Greece’s ethos and pathos in terms of their cultural development, and what is in store for its protagonists?

The Greek Depression: A Brief Summary of the Modern Greek Economic Crisis

Not long after its entry into the Eurozone in the year 2000, Greece feared that its debts could not be repaid, after billions had been owed. With a rescue package amounting to over €110 billion, Greece adopted severe savings measures to secure this transaction. It was realized in 2011 that another €130 billion would be necessary and the EU issued a 53% reduction of the debt owed by Greece.

Through a special plan in which even more intense austerity measures were carried out, Greece saw economic growth, becoming one of Europe’s fastest growing markets by 2014. This has not helped Greece in its debts though, as recently Greece has been identified as having the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the Eurozone as of the first quarter of 2015. On June 30th of this year, Greece could not pay a deadline payment of €1.3 billion, a day after banks were nationally closed for fear of a desperate overcrowding by its customers who would attempt to withdraw everything they had.

Now, votes are being cast deciding whether or not Greeks want so accept a financial debt referendum, which means if the collective vote is “oxi” (no), the country will have to renegotiate a financial plan and might have to introduce a new currency and government.

Speculating The Future in the Greek Cultural Paradigm

Greece ― the birthplace of democracy, theater, literature, and the foundation of artistic beauty ― represents the pinnacle of intellectual achievement. These days it is putting aside these finer things in life in order to focus on economic survival, in turn posing a threat to the development and well-being of their cultural sector. As a result of the economic crisis since 2009, funding and support for cultural programs in Greece have been harshly severed by their ministry of culture. While this kind of support is not the utmost priority during an economic crisis, where does this leave people whose careers are in the arts?

It should be noted that Greece did not receive cultural support until the mid 1990s. With a conservative background, the Greek state funded contemporary art cautiously, and most contemporary art forms depended on private entities. With the influence of international markets and its Western neighbors, Greece’s development in the contemporary art scene has been nourished by these entities.

Judging by the amount of art fairs and contemporary art galleries opening and existing in Greece, it is clear that the artistic spirit is undying. Even smaller non-profit organizations dependent on their community have been being established over the years, albeit rather modestly. The BBC published an article in 2012 concerning how the bailout had resulted in the development of a flourishing art scene, a crisis culture, of which art is born out of the national economic deprivation. Graffiti artists, for example, have transformed the walls and streets of Athens to practice contemporary artistic discourse, and to generate a dialogue about their changing society.

Despite this, the burden of the economic crisis today is posing a real threat to the working artists, whose livelihoods are compromised. What will the future comprise of at this point? What will become of those attached to the non-profit sector of art? WIll there be a mass artist emigration out of Greece? Will art only exist for the happy few? Out of crisis comes inspiration by the determined. We can speculate that considering the perseverance of artists who are responding to this economic turmoil, there is great potential for an influential artistic movement.

Some efforts have already been made. As already mentioned, street art has flourished amongst the economic chaos. The Greek ‘Arte Povera’ artist Jannis Kounellis has been headlining at major international institutions with exhibitions responding to the country’s financial woes since 2010. Cultural programs such as the Greek Festival are still running, despite budget cuts. Rethink Athens, an environmentally conscious group dedicated to generating new ideas for creating greener and more efficient modes of transportation and pedestrian walkways is a current development as well. With programs such as these, together with artists and a motivated audience, Greece can continue to maintain its cultural integrity in this time between a rock and a hard place.

Predicting the cultural climate of Greece is a task for the oracles. Yet, with the evidence of a young artistic boom which grew in spite of the crisis, there is no doubt that more and more Greek artists will be recognized on an international level. What will be interesting to see in the coming years, no matter Greece’s economic fate, is how intellectual and cultural discourse will change over time.

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