European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Full moon with Savina Yannatou



On 29th of September there took place a concert with Savina Yannatou. She performed inside the archaeological site. The event coincided with full moon rising up and shining upon an audience which wanted in the end to hear more familiar songs, songs they could sing along. But Savina Yannatou left the stage without any encore for the concert had been already quite long, and besides it was time to leave the stage to the moon.

Coming to Elefsina or Eleusina is a surprise due to the small scale houses close to the archaelogical site and beside it a vast industrial complex which is said to have caused problems of pollution in the past. The marble pieces lying on the ground are said to have suffered the most. After having parked the car and while walking to the entrance to the archaeological site, one surprise after another revealed quite another image had existed in my mind when hearing about Eleusina. Now the city demanded to be perceived as it has been made over time. It started with a tree catching my eye.



While approaching the archaeological site in Eleusina, the landscape nearby revealed another surprise: a clock tower atop a hill.

                 The clock tower



Naturally I started to look for evidence that Eleusina is truly a Candidate City for 2021 when one Greek city shall be again European Capital of Culture, that is after Athens 1985, Thessaloniki 1997 and Patras 2006. In knowing about the mishaps and mistakes made in the past, it is hoped that this time around Greek cities and especially their mayors have learned their lessons well, and artistic-cultural concepts shall not fall victim to power games driven by vanity. 

Spyros Mercouris was the first coordinator of a ECoC when Athens became the first city to hold the title in 1985. Now ninety years of age, he is nevertheless still very active in supporting all Candidate Cities, including Eleusina. He organised the Athens Meeting 2015 to observe the 30 years of existence of this European Project. Interestingly but equally sadly enough, it was the only event to do so. No where else was this observed in Europe nor did the European Commission do something similar as was the case when 25 Years of Success: Presentation of ECOC in Brussels, March 23 - 24, 2010 were observed.

The atmosphere that evening was full of exciting anticipation. Posters like the one below declared a kind of love for the place.



People arriving for the concert had to wait for the gates to open.




Some waited across the street in a lovely cafe with books and dubbed as 'cafe of coincidence' since there you meet people unexpectedly who have come not only from Athens, but as far as away as Frenando Rendon from as far away as Medellin, Columbia and who is the director of Poetry Festival there. 


      Cafe of Coincidence vis a vis the archaelogical site of Eleusina           


For those who wanted just something for their children, closer to the gate at the intersection there were several different kinds of shops or street vendors.


                           Street vendors for the audience in waiting outside the gates





 Volunteers and workers of Eleusina


Eleusina has the support of a volunteer organization consisting of 800 members. Quite a few were present at the concert for the sake of controlling the crowd since the concert does take place inside an archaeological site. All the volunteers moved softly and politely in-between the people. Some had to be calmed down since they did not comprehend why the gate was not opened but one could see at a distance that Savina Yannatou was still making a sound check with her pianist. And the full moon had not come out as of yet. The timing of the two events matched with the relaxed atmosphere outside the gate.




The creation of audiences 

The concert of Savina Yannatou can also be taken as a practical example of how audiences are created. Naturally the turn-out depends on the reputation and name of the artist performing. No doubt, many came because Savina Yannatou is more than just well liked and one of the most prominent singers in Greece.

Audience taking their seat


           Audience settling in and while waiting observe the late arrivals

Entrance was free that evening. That makes already a difference as to who attends, who not. In Greece it is customary to observe the full moon and all archaeological sites are open all night when that happens. The weather is pleasant and the staying outdoors a steady given since around that time it never rains. This consistency in the weather is one of the key strength in Greece. It goes together with a sense of freedom when being out in the public sphere late in the evening and which can easily be stretched throughout the night into the early morning hours.

To relax and to feel free especially during this time of the crisis due to the Greek state having nearly defaulted over it huge deficit and only being bailed out under strict conditions, it means that the weight of these measures can be felt. It weighs down on the shoulders of the ordinary people and most of all it reflects in the faces as all look with great anxiety into an unknown future.




The settling in of the audience once the gate  has opened is an interesting process. Crowd behavour is one thing, how the volunteers playing the role of ushers handle the situation quite another thing. Since many more people came than what seats were available, they were allowed to sit below the stage along those marble steps. Consequently an interesting situation was created insofar as this informal solution brought about an audience looking back at the audience seated on these white plastic chairs.

Bob Palmer has repeatedly stressed that any artistic programme for a European Capital of Culture needs to heed the importance of an audience creation over time. There are so many different tastes and preconception of what is an exceptional performance as it has to entertain in the form of a direct distraction from other thoughts but equally be inspirational and thought provoking. For many curators and directors this is no easy task but for any ECoC an audience has to be as much appreciative as it should be able to sustain the programme being implemented throughout the one decisive year. Some researchers like Charles Johnson of Tourism Studies in New Zealand speaks even about the kind of psyche income a local citizen can obtain, while the new constitution for Ecuador speaks in terms of an overall development plan about valorization and capital accummulation in any local economy. The mayor of Wroclaw would say to this simply it is an art for any city to keep money circulating within its economy as long as possible before departing again. That can be measured in terms of an audience willing to stay not just for the concert but afterwards go to eat in a nearby restaurant and in so doing enter the venues provided to make the experience of the city be as well an experience of what culture and the art can contribute to make Europe a place of social and economic cohesion.



The audience listening under the full moon


The concert of Savina Yannatou


    Savina Yannatou being acompanied on the piano

Savina Yannatou is for this an outstanding example as she is known for her Sepharic songs of those Jews who had to leave Spain and settled in Thessaloniki, or for her continous work with the musical group Prima Vera using traditional and modern instruments. She has also produced a CD of songs existing around the Mediterranean and all relating in their own specific cultural way to the Holy Maria. She collaborted as well with the Touch Stone Group of Poets (the group preceeding the creation of NGO Poiein kai Prattein) and Hatto Fischer when he organised the Fifth Seminar, Cultural Actions for Europe, held in Athens 1994. Savina Yannatou took at that time the recordings of voices of poets when reading their poems and interacted with them with her own voice. This was a search for the human voice said to be hardly heard since we all speak with a masked language or a language masking our real emotions and motives. Of interest was, therefore, that Savina sang that evening an Armenian and a Palestinian song to show what exists as well outside the Greek cultural sphere and its well known repertoire of songs. Often these well known songs stem from famous poets and which composers like Theodorakis have transformed into a song accompanied by a unique music which is not easily to be forgotten. Thus a single voice like Savina Yannatou's can transport the notion of other cultures and like Herodut convey to the Greeks they should not succumb to the assumption of being the only ones unique since endowed with a specific culture stemming from the Ancient Past. For any contemporary artist this is a huge challenge as too often cultural heritage over dominates everything else.



Hatto Fischer








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