Feature: Little Paris of Athens Festival offers breath of life to deprived district of Greek capital

by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Oct. 13 — A week-long culture festival hosted across a deprived district of central Athens this October links the Greek capital to Paris and aims to offer a breath of life to residents through art.
Where can one find Paris in Athens? Can art change the world? The first Little Paris of Athens (Petit Paris d’Athenes) Festival running to Oct. 16 in a run-down neighborhood in the heart of the city gives clear answers to both questions.
It highlights the historic cultural ties between the two cities and the bright future art offers amidst harsh times.
Athens’ “Little Paris” is the area which extends from Omonoia square to the Larissis train station and includes streets bearing names of French figures, such as Victor Hugo (named after the French 19th century novelist) or Mezonos (named after the French general who liberated the city of Patras at the same time).
It’s the neighborhood of the National Conservatory, the National Archaeological Museum, theatres and music halls. Several have closed down during the debt crisis of the past three years which has added wounds to a deprived part of the city facing chronic delinquency problems.
The Athens Art Network, a group of artists which about a year ago launched a string of initiatives in order to bring art closer to people and vice versa during these difficult times and offer hope, organized the Little Paris of Athens Festival with the support of the City of Athens.
Composer Marios Strofalis, artistic director of the festival and head of the Athens Art Network, and his associates, aim to alter the area’s image.
On Vathis square and the pedestrian Mezonos street next to it this weekend, street theatre artists, bands, jugglers and mimes spread joy and optimism.
Approximately 400 volunteer artists participate in dozens indoor and outdoor performances across the district during the festival which this year pays a tribute to French author Albert Camus, commemorating the 100- year anniversary of his birth, and focuses on the interaction between Greek and French literature and art, between Athens and Paris.
So, what connects the two European capitals?
“I believe they are both historic cities, cities of culture and light,” Marialena Spinoula, member of the Athens Art Network, told Xinhua on Vathis square, voicing optimism over the outcome of the initiative and over art’s strength to change daily life.
“Yes, it can. When we decide that art is not addressed to the elite, but to all members of society, yes art can direct children who beat each other up at squares to take up painting, to start playing music. This is our aim – to change the negative image, to introduce in particular young people to other forms of expression and attract more people closer to art,” she said.
Face painter Naya Salakantou, who was offering smiles through her art to dozens of children and adults on Mezonos street, is also confident of the significance of the initiative and the result.
“The fundamental thing for me is making people smile,” she told Xinhua.
“I don’t know whether I can change the world. But I know I can spread joy now, today, to children living in this neighborhood. I believe for at least today we changed their day,” she said.[db:内容2]