By Constantine E. Passaris*
Since time immemorial, Greece has supported and promoted the arts and culture. Indeed, Greece has created a significant foot print and an inspiring legacy in the arts and culture.
Hardly a day goes by when we do not recognize the foundational endowments to the modern arts and culture by ancient Greece. Renowned Greek philosophers, architects, sculptors, poets and playwrights have left their mark for future generations.
Familiar names such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylus, Phedion and many, many more. All of them have made remarkable contributions over the centuries to the arts and culture and have left an indelible imprint through the ages.
As a Visiting Professor at the International Writers and Translators Centre of Rhodes in the summer of 2018, I had a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the Greek passion for incubating, nurturing and promoting arts and culture.
The International Writers and Translators Centre is under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Rhodes and is administered by a handful of dedicated professionals. These outstanding women and men are driven by a passion for nurturing and promoting the arts and culture in Rhodes.
A short list of their annual cultural and artistic events includes the writers’ workshops for new authors and poets, music recitals, school outreach programs, book launches, translation workshops, screening award winning movies and photographic exhibitions. In my opinion, the International Writers and Translators Centre of Rhodes has done a commendable job, even during the challenging period of the recent Greek economic crisis, to ensure that the arts and culture not only survive but thrive and flourish in Rhodes.
The island of Rhodes is one of the larger Greek islands nestled in the Aegean Sea. The capital city also called Rhodes, is home to the UNESCO world heritage site of the medieval city which is the only European medieval city in continuous habitation.
Rhodes is a city where natural beauty, a rich history, a vibrant society and a flourishing cultural scene merge to create a powerful synergy of cultural and artistic expression. Indeed, Rhodes has become a role model when it comes to promoting a visionary cultural policy and supporting a vibrant arts and culture scene.
Rhodes served as an inspirational panorama for acclaimed authors Lawrence Durrell and Gustave Flaubert. Winston Churchill the wartime British Prime Minister visited Rhodes on several occasions accompanied by Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and spent many hours painting the island’s amazing landscape.
At the International Writers and Translators Centre, I interacted on a daily basis with a talented and creative group of individuals who are shaping the modern face of arts and culture. This group included a Greek saxophonist from Athens who performs, composes and is the founder of the UN Jazz Democracy initiative. The group also included a movie scriptwriter from St. Petersburg, Russia whose film received the 2017 Un Certain Regard special prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. As well as a British translator of the works of Plato who is a descendant of renowned philhellene Lord Byron.
The group also consisted of a Canadian economics professor who invented the new concept of internetization. A young author from Romania who was awarded the 2015 prize for the best new young author. A New Zealand animated film maker who received the prize for best animation at the International Festival in Rome. A Greek primary school teacher from Thessaloniki who has written seven novels and has been awarded the Hellenic Author Society Prize for 2015 and the Demertzi Prize IBBY International. It was evident that the International Writers and Translators Centre is serving as an incubator for the next wave of significant contributions to the arts and culture worldwide.
At the core of the Greek approach to culture is the word philoxenia. A Greek word that has its roots in ancient Greek phraseology. It is also a word that does not have an equivalent in any western language.
The literal translation of the word philoxenia is welcoming of foreigners. But it has a deeper and broader cultural connotation. It embraces an ethos, a concept and a mindset. It denotes a global outreach, a comfort level with diversity and a cultural ethos of embracing universality.
Philoxenia projects a comfort level with engaging the rest of the world. Seeking a global context instead of limiting society to its local environment. A goodwill towards an international cultural outreach and an incubator for a diversity of perspectives and ideas. To my way of thinking philoxenia is at the heart of the unique Greek approach to protect and promote arts and culture.
Since the advent of the Golden Age in Greek antiquity, Greece has made significant contributions to arts and culture. What is remarkable in this journey is that despite wars, natural disasters and economic crises, Greece has never faltered in its mission to support, nurture and promote arts and culture.
Indeed, Greece has been resolute in achieving its ambitious cultural policy. In fact, during the heights of the recent economic crisis, Greece was bankrolling the cost of instructors to teach Modern Greek Studies at several Canadian universities including my own the University of New Brunswick.
All of this is founded in a foundational and unwavering cultural ethos. It is based on a principle that supporting the arts and culture is not a luxury but an investment in human progress. It is the necessary scaffolding for building and maintaining civil society. It is the cornerstone for human progress and development.
Since the glory days of ancient Greece, rulers have embraced culture as an important component of their mandate to govern and in the process have endowed humanity with great works of art, literature and culture.
Inherent in this governance model is the recognition that supporting and funding arts and culture is not an expense but an investment in the aesthetic development and the progress of civilization and humanity.
* Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick (Canada) and an Onassis Foundation Fellow (Greece) He was a Visiting Professor at the International Writers Centre of Rhodes during the summer of 2018.