H(E)AVENS – A four-day festival on the role of private foundations in the field of culture ≡ Athens, 7-10 December 2023
In recent years, the increased involvement of private entities with the visual and performing arts sectors as well as with academia has caused a major reconfiguration of the Greek cultural landscape. But what do we refer to when we talk about “private cultural foundations”? What are their common features and what are their organisational, legal or aesthetic differences? How do their cultural activities intersect with interventions in the urban landscape? Is there really a “tax haven” and a network of “off-shore” companies behind every major institution? At which political and economic juncture did these foundations rise to prominence in Greece? What kind of gains do they envision through their funding of challenging and sometimes unprofitable art and research projects? How may one interpret their interest in live and ephemeral art forms, performing and queer arts? What kind of communication strategies do they develop when they appropriate concepts shaped within social struggles?
What are the current pursuits of cultural foundations — the initial philanthropic aims of their founders notwithstanding? None of the answers usually provided to this question — i.e., to replace the state in some of its essential functions; to inaugurate a more efficient relation between the private and the public sector; to demonstrate in practice, in an era of sweeping privatisations, the supremacy of private initiative; to embody a kind of neo-liberalism with a human face — seem to exhaust this complex phenomenon.
Their functioning raises important questions regarding accountability and transparency. The development of vertical relations which are not based on the exercise of rights coming from below but on a practice of favouritism operated from above gives rise to a situation of patronage, ultimately resulting in some artists being consistently favoured and some others being just as consistently excluded from the selection process. Furthermore, as the latter process is led by decision makers only accountable to their employers, the hegemonic position the private cultural foundations have acquired in recent years is very rarely challenged in the public discourse, and usually from individuals outside the artistic community.
Hence the impetus behind this open call: through a hybrid festival held in an informal setting, we would like to bring together people from the fields of art, research, activism, urban planning, architecture and investigative journalism to bridge the gap in public discourse regarding the role of the private cultural foundations acting in Greece and to start developing the critical tools which we are presently lacking in order to address the aforementioned questions.
As Arundhati Roy writes in her essay Capitalism: A Ghost Story: “Perhaps it’s time for us to take back the night.”