2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Pharos Arts Foundation – do you believe your goals have been achieved?
Any objectives set at a given time are subject to development and transformation. They don’t just involve stiff and rigid ideals to abide by. The majority of Pharos’ short-term goals are certainly achieved, but these have evolved into new objectives, all part of a broader vision.
The Pharos Arts Foundation has become Cyprus’ leading exponent of chamber music and has gained an international reputation for the unwavering quality of its activities. Not only has it organised hundreds of concerts with some of the world’s most renowned soloists and ensembles, but has also established two annual international music festivals – of Chamber Music in 2001 and Contemporary Music in 2009, the first of their kind to be inaugurated in Cyprus and have garnered international acclaim.
The Foundation has also organised concerts abroad in venues such as London’s Wigmore Hall and the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory. And even though music absorbs the greatest part of our creative forces, we are proud of Pharos’ visual arts programme, which has organised over 20 exhibitions by major international artists. In addition, Pharos has published a number of brilliant catalogues and art-books distributed by Cornerhouse, one of the leading art book distributors in Europe. So, facts speak for themselves really.
Notwithstanding all of the above, however, Pharos’ most important activity in my opinion, is its Education Programme, through which over 75.000 students have been benefited at absolutely no cost to them. The programme includes a series of educational concerts, master-classes, workshops, a lectures series as well as a Residency programme.
Not every student is destined or talented enough to be a musician. That’s not our aim. Music significantly increases an individual’s perception and ability in problem prioritisation. It was extremely important in the education curriculum of all great ancient civilisations. Plato actually maintained that music is more important than physics and philosophy because its patterns are the keys to learning. Nowadays, we make so much effort in teaching children how to speak, but what about the great art of listening? This is the most important coordinate of the communication process and is our focus.
Are you satisfied with the progress of Cyprus as far as Arts and Culture are concerned?
I am happy to see more people, especially younger people, showing interest in the arts, in music, in literature, in everything that expands their horizons and strengthens their intellect. This is a great relief, at least. But any progress as with regards to an official cultural strategy is strictly fortuitous. Nobody should be satisfied with idleness.
You recently stated that Cyprus doesn’t have a written, systematic and actionable cultural plan. Can you elaborate?
I didn’t express an opinion, but a fact. Cyprus doesn’t have any serious cultural plan, written or unwritten. You will often hear me talking about the “three” concentric evils of our cultural status quo:
First, there is an absence of vision, which leads to the total lack of long-term policies and concentrated synergies. Then comes the nonexistence of a serious cultural strategy, something which results in the nonappearance of tangible benefits for our society and country.
The chronic invalidism in the country’s cultural agenda is ultimately entrenched because it becomes too complicated and problematic to work around.
Every year, we see countless cultural initiatives making the news. They might all be beneficial in their own wonderful ways, but which of them are pyrotechnics and which of them are longstanding so as to support the evolution of our country? That is why the implementation of a strategy is more imperative than ever.
The lack of financial and cultural planning means that funds are wasted. How do you believe this can be solved?
To begin with, there should be a solid internal synergy between the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Finance and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. They in turn need to closely collaborate with all the major cultural bodies in Cyprus – state and private. It is not really wise, for any state in the world to keep highlighting the importance of the business private sector while ignoring the existence and importance of private cultural and creative industries.
The current scheme is so faulty by nature that it does inevitably shadow any good intentions for meritocratic practices. Annual subsidies are offered only for particular events, maximum of three per cultural body, without really taking into consideration the overall work, background, nature and objectives of said body.
A charitable foundation, for example, has a different perspective and different needs than those of a limited company. All cultural institutions should be part of the cultural agenda and should all be supported, but, we cannot apply the same evaluation methodology for all. Otherwise any seeming benefits are just ephemeral.
Take a look at how many cultural foundations are set up every year, only to disappear a couple of years later. In the meanwhile, all those hundreds of thousands of Euros which were granted to them for their random events are basically thrown into a deep black hole because there wasn’t a coherent course of action. And the rhetorical question remains: How do they think a Foundation like Pharos, which maintains a full annual programme of over 30 events can survive? I cannot help but think, “they don’t expect it to survive and they don’t care”. And it is exactly this attitude we ought to change first.
More countries now invest in creative strategies as they have been proven effective for economic, social and environmental goals – how can Cyprus do this?
Let’s start with the self-evident, “Get the right people in the right chairs”. I am sorry for being so bluntly undiplomatic but it is the truth.
You don’t need a lot of chairs, just the right people in them. Get them in the right positions and you’ll see miracles happen. There are dozens and dozens of such people in the cultural industry in Cyprus, but whom are mostly brushed aside.
Pharos is a living example of what can be done when there is passion, dedication and hard work. Its administrative structure can actually be a model for smaller-scale cultural enterprises. It employs only three people who are wholeheartedly devoted to Pharos and Pharos only. How many people do you think would have been employed if Pharos were a state-run-controlled organisation, and how dilatory the Foundation would have actually been if its artistic matters were subject to shifting opinions, arguments and interests? There should consistency and persistence because in the artistic efforts for they need time to be manifested and yield results.
Then, let’s examine the models and practices of other countries to see what can be done on a large-scale. Take the example of South Africa which I am sure you are well aware of. In recent years it has methodically invested in culture in order to reinforce its economic growth. Its latest cultural industry mapping study actually revealed that approximately 200,000 new jobs were created, accounting to about 1.5% of the country’s employment and contributing about 3% to its GDP.
It is crucial for authorities to comprehend that the cultural industry is far too important to keep begging for crumbs falling from the government’s table. They must really reconsider the basis on which their cultural schemes and programmes are designed. Culture can be remarkably advantageous in the economic growth and social welfare. It encourages social integration and stability. It can be a game changer. Do invest in it. Invest in cultural tourism. Prioritise, select and be focused. Give incentives to the business world to support the arts for it has to give back to society if it is to survive in the course of time. Capitalise on tomorrow and invest in creative ventures of high artistic merit. Set objectives which correspond to the country’s own needs. All these generalised, EU-induced, so-called ‘objectives’ are good in theory but rarely fruitful in practice.
Music and the arts do not need to be accompanied by superficial terminologies to defend their raison d’être. It is a shame to boycott them by using them dogmatically. Develop long-term alliances with cultural bodies and support their efforts. Each case is different, and it deserves to be approached as such. We should really embrace these principles first.
In times of economic hardship, it’s always the arts and cultural budgets which see the first chop!
It might seem reasonable but it’s not. We cannot sectorise growth and welfare. The approach should be holistic. Culture does not equal entertainment, showbiz and lifestyle and it should never be approached as such, otherwise we are in peril of losing our sense of cultural judgement and identity.
A good cultural environment is not a luxury. It is a human right and perhaps the only answer to extremism, fanaticism, anger and despair. It is the groundwork for tolerance and respect for diversity and it will give back much more in the long run. It can enlighten people and truly help them expand their way of thinking and decision making. Because you know, sciolism, can be very dangerous. It can spread over the deeper strata of our social fabric and twist the integrity and future of humanity. It is therefore the responsibility of the state, any state in the world, to adopt a holistic approach and safeguard what is vital for its culture and society, irrespective of any other agendas.
Too often, we hear that Cyprus is not a country with a classical music tradition – but without a concrete goal, we will never move forward. How can the masses be mobilized and is it important to do so?
I haven’t heard that one in ages to be honest. To my ears it rings more like an excuse to justify our inadequacy. So, these people, and I really hope they are not that many anymore, suggest that only 5-6 European countries should invest in offering their society the inalienable right to classical music? It’s silly… people striving to live in a denationalised continent, yet nationalising music which has always been pan-universal. So silly and myopic.
Pharos is often accused of being elitist – what is your response?
I defy populism, I cannot tolerate villainy and I don’t respond to plain ignorance. But I would kindly ask them to explain what they mean exactly by ‘elitism.’ Because anybody can attend a Pharos concert, tickets are priced between 10 and 15 Euros. If their definition of ‘elitism’ is “a cultural event of high artistic and organisational standards” then Pharos is guilty as charged. In The Shoe Factory, Pharos’ recital venue in Ermou Street, you will encounter people of any age, colour, ethnic, social and academic background interacting with each other on equal levels, simply because they are obliged to forget all their differences and concentrate in what they truly love. Quite frankly, whoever speaks of elitism is surely one who has never attended our concerts and he is either maliciously misinformed or malicious by nature.
Being vocal and upfront about what needs to be changed sometimes provokes reactions, which can be intimidating personally and for the Foundation. Do you worry about being outspoken?
Words can be very cheap when actions are not strong enough to support them. I can’t possibly be offended or intimidated. I shall let the 20-year-old history of the Pharos Arts Foundation, as well as its extraordinary concerts, verify the fact that it has indeed delivered the greatest classical music on the island and I shall use my democratic right to keep making noise about the fact.
Where do you see Pharos in five, ten years?
I hope that it overcomes all obstacles and continues to benefit our society with creative initiatives of the highest quality. Of course, the ultimate ambition of the Foundation, and this has always been the vision of its Founder and President Garo Keheyan, involves the creation of a cultural centre in The Olive Grove, situated on the crossroads between Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca in the wonderful area of the Delikipos forest, which will foster all the arts together.
We are perfectly aligned on this and we are endlessly working towards that direction. We don’t really need another old cinema in the city renovated into a concert hall with terrible acoustics. We don’t need a colossal megaron in the capital which will result in hosting pop bands in order to be sustainable. We need an all-embracing state-of-the-art centre that unifies the arts and respects the natural environment. Because this is what culture is about, it’s not only about ‘events’.
I remember back in 2012, a leading property developer company was planning to create a stone quarry in that area. We had to fight very hard against such a disastrous notion, attending parliament meetings and writing endless letters to the authorities expressing Pharos’ strong opposition. This is an area of incredible beauty and while Pharos envisioned the creation of a world class arts centre there, the pristine forest of Delikipos might have actually been chopped off and destroyed with air and sound pollution. Suffice it to say that no building can be a panacea or substitute the role of a meticulous artistic plan and a qualified human infrastructure.
Pharos has proved that it has both the vision and the know-how to sustain and expand such a venture.
As interviewed by Saskia Constantinou
Pharos Arts Foundation