Sustainability has always been a big question for independent festivals. The festival I direct, MIRfestival, is an independent festival with a big impact, but it is a small structure. Being independent means that we have always been underfunded, and although we participated in a global economy working with invitations to foreign artists to share their works, this could only happen with meaningful and important for our programing works, after a long procedure of selection that would lead to a very dense program. In our mission statement there has always been a strive for ephemeral cutting edge works especially designed for MIR and its community, as well as the dreaming of a utopian breathing space for the adventurous artistic creation without labels. The city of Athens is the system in which MIR operates, but the world is its natural environment – after all MIR is named after a soviet satellite and the word itself means “the world”. Part of the concept of the festival is the exchange between what is in here and what is out there. A dialogue which acts as a fertilizer for the local community including artists, intellectuals and art lovers, but also people from all types of audiences, as we have been doing much in the public space and in unexpected and unorthodox venues. Inviting artistic projects and supporting local artists to travel abroad was thus not only part of a certain economy, but also an important fertilizer of ideas, because it is not only about “traveling” but also about encounters, exchange, understanding and ultimately creating together.
All limitless and consumerist procedures are of course being questioned now, after the coronavirus crisis. But downsizing and acting in consideration of something we were doing, does not mean we should go to the other end. It means that we have to reflect and discuss with our communities and become more self-conscious about our actions.
During the confinement, many institutions obliged to cancel their festivals found immediately a refuge in making their festivals online. This transition was probably made too immediately, without a deep dialogue with our communities and our artists – which is normal, because our communities are frozen because of the sudden changes. But my personal opinion is that a new, not necessarily virtual form of artistic intervention is yet to be invented in performing arts and this will be the outcome of much work with our artists, much dialogue with our communities and much reflection with our peer community. The most vital question for me is what are the roles we want our festivals to play in the changes of our society. With or without the virus. For me a festival is much more than a place where you see art. It is a cluster, an incubator, an accelerator, a consciousness activator, a political and educational tool, or a tool for political education, a ritual, a celebration, an ensemble of bridges connecting people, concepts and situations. And in their core festivals handle aesthetics, ideas and values.
In the short time of confinement and de-confinement we have seen the image of a world we only knew from dystopic literature, a world we do not know if we want to live in. We have seen people dying alone, while their keens were looking at them from a screen, not being allowed to hold their hand during this passage. We have seen our educational systems trying to persuade little kids that the other kids form a danger, elderly people being scared to hug their grand-children and isolated people getting more and more lonely and gradually losing their appetite for life. We have seen artists revolting against hunger, not being able to create and earn their living, and big institutions taking advantage of artistic production to strengthen their presence in a shifted artistic
landscape. We have seen people watching theatre in badly shot recordings and thinking that this can replace the experience of being in a theatre. We have seen people falling for anything just because they do not stand up for something. And we have seen human life being crushed as if it was worth of nothing. Is this what it is going to be? Is this a world we dreamt of? Is this a world we want to live in? Can we imagine a world without human touch? And if we are to have festivals, what should these festivals stand for?
The tremendous uncertainty of the future only seems to be harming the weaker ones in all senses and first of all in the financial plan. Markets do not seem to fear so much. Which means that once more the globalized economy seems to be able to survive without even caring about our small artistic economy. But people who fall for anything, they fall because the crisis is not financial.
I am not afraid to live in a world without flights, but I am scared of a world without values other than the financial ones. Humanism has been in a vulnerable situation for many years now (this was the theme of MIR 2012 held in the middle of a huge humanitarian and financial crisis in Greece).
I am not afraid to live in a world without globetrotters. But I am scared of a world without hugs and tenderness, of a world without deep and spontaneous encounters in the real space, without deep, life-changing human experiences; without the chemical reactions that enable encounters to give birth to something; without social and political coexistence; a world without all that is inspiring great art. But how long has it been since you experienced a work that you consider great, mind-blowing and life-changing as art? I think an important question is if what we live now has already been there in the society, as part of a value and culture crisis for many years now, but we were afraid to admit it before. And for me this should be the issue, what we want to fight for and not how we are going to fight for it. If we are to maintain our festivals, maybe we should think twice about how we can use them as a vehicle for the changes we want to see in the society. And maybe it is worth standing up for our festivals in their real dimensions.
Performing arts have been interpreted as civilizing rituals initiating people in civil behaviour. Theatre was invented as a school for democratic citizens in Athenian Democracy. Now, more than ever, we need to sustain this aspect of performing arts.