By Bejay Browne
ALTHOUGH the cash-strapped government slashed millions from Paphos’ budget for the cultural capital 2017 title, the project’s recently appointed artistic director is committed to its success.
Paphos born Marios Ioannou Elia was appointed to the daunting position four months ago and since taking office admits he has been disappointed with the lack of forthcoming funds promised by the government.
“By nature, Cypriots are a passionate culture; we do what we believe and we are stubborn, especially in difficult circumstances,” he told the Sunday Mail: “This is one of the advantages I see in the current situation. We must come together.”
In 2013, Paphos won the international competition to become the European Capital of Culture for 2017, a title it will share with Aarhus in Denmark.
Just over a week ago, mayor of Paphos Savvas Vergas, presented a €27m programme to members of parliament outlining various construction and infrastructure projects, which he described as “imperative for Paphos’ future”, as part of the town’s cultural capital 2017 winning bid.
The request seems highly unlikely when last year the funds for the cultural programmes were slashed to five million euros, from the original €15m euro price tag. And even this amount seems in jeopardy.
“The government said they would give us €5m, but even this seems difficult at the moment. We should have been given half a million last year, but unfortunately we were only given 150,000,” Elia said:
The project’s artistic director, who is based at the old district officer’s residence in Paphos, said funds are urgently needed as currently his ‘team’ only consists of him and one other, making it almost impossible to move forward with any real momentum.
“By now, we should have at least five or six people working here and we are only two,” he said.
“I’m not sure if it’s clear to everybody, but the cultural capital title is the most complex and the most prestigious initiative at a European level that is linked with culture. It’s on par with the Olympic Games in sports.”
Although Ioannou Elia is realistic about the uphill struggle he and his future team faces, saying that a phenomenal amount of hard graft and a working budget has to be organised as soon as possible.
“This project is so complex and it has to be done. I risked my career to be here. I’m positive but on the other hand, we have to be realistic about what we can do.”
The artistic director’s experience is extensive, and he admitted that he hadn’t envisioned moving back to his home town, after living abroad for more than 15 years. He did so after responding to a European open call for the position. After a gruelling selection process, he was unanimously chosen by the board of directors
Ioannou Elia’s parents are from Kyrenia and came to Paphos after 1974. He was born in 1978 and educated in Paphos until 1998 when he left to study music and musicology at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and then the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna.
He has also worked as a composer and researcher and written music for concerts and operas and his last project was in Mannheim in Germany and carried a €2.7 million price tag for a one hour production.
Although his current budget may seem like a drop in the ocean, Ioannou Elia says with the help of the entire community, Paphos’ moment to shine in Europe will be a success.
“There are some European capitals that spend €80m, solely for their artistic and cultural activities. To be honest, our budget is not enough, so we are looking for sponsorship and fundraising and we are also searching for possibilities from the European Union and from private sponsors.”
This next step towards securing funds will only be able to get underway when there is more staff on board.
“My vision for Paphos was different before undertaking this position. This is because I’m being more realistic and grounded. I worked in Germany and Austria with large amounts of money and of course things are different there.”
But he is determined to turn any disappointment into motivation.
“I have very good contacts in Europe and I want to try to use that to help Paphos. I love Paphos. This is my city and we want to make this the city where everybody would like to be, not only Pafians.”
The project’s artistic director says a new theatre for Paphos is vital but he believes there is only a slim chance a new building will materialse in time for 2017.
“I have no idea if a new theatre can be possible. In the past, Paphos invested very little money into culture, although it probably has the most culture compared to the size of other cities in Cyprus. Instead we invested into tourism. But now is a chance and we must invest.”
He said that he is refusing to let a limited budget limit his vision. “I want everyone to be in this together and get into the spirit of celebrating Paphos.”
Ioannou Elia is encouraging all sections and age groups of the Paphos public with ideas for events and initiatives to make an appointment to discuss possible collaborations with Pafos 2017.
“When I arrived here, there was a very negative and skeptical attitude. But I feel that this is now in the past, I feel the energy growing, and we must be accessible.”