Paphos won the title of European Culture Capital 2017 late last year with plans to steam ahead with the project in 2013. The title, which is being shared with Aarhus in Denmark, was officially announced in Brussels this May.
However, the financial crisis has meant that the committee has needed to rethink its funding and execution strategy in order to meet the demands of the hefty project. While the year started with some uncertainty, it has needed on a high note with the appointment of Paphos-born Marios Ioannou Elia.
The Cyprus Weekly met recently-appointed artistic director for the project, Ioannou Elia to find out about how he plans to make a success of the prestigious title.
Cyprus Weekly: Tell us about your background in the arts or arts administration.
Marios Ioannou Elia: I have studied music and musicology at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. My work, both as a composer and researcher, especially concerns the aspects of polymediality and polyaesthetics. I have written music for concert and opera halls and created cultural events for urban spaces like city squares and gardens, at an airport or automobile factory. Regarding my experience in arts management, I have directed several large-scale and immensely complex productions, such as the "autosymphonic" in Mannheim with over 400 participants and a total cost of €2.7 million.
CW: How did you get involved in Paphos 2017?
MIE: There was an open call for the artistic director's position at a European level. The interest was high and the competition tough. After three intensive personal interviews with several committees, the Board of Directors unanimously selected me.
I have been living abroad for the last 15 years and it was the perfect reason to return back in Paphos where I was born. Working in Europe together with high-profile specialists and experts in the cultural arena, I wanted to offer the knowledge and experience I had gained to the people of Paphos and, together with them, create a successful, contemporary and unique European Capital of Culture whose echo will be able to last beyond 2017.
CW: The project is facing tough times because of the economy. How will you and your team deal with this to ensure the delivery of the best project possible?
MIE: When money goes down, creativity goes up. We have to remain visionary and at the same time grounded. At this point I have to underline that Paphos 2017 is rather a national issue and not just a local one. Certainly, the economic crisis is affecting our planning to a great degree. However, the cost or size of a work does not presuppose its quality. In addition to receiving an imaginative idea, its implementation should be initiated in the same imaginative wavelength. Therefore, we have to be inventive and ambitious in the creative part and realistic at the production field.
CW: What kind of help do you need from the public for 2017?
MIE: The immediate and active participation of citizens is the key to success. This is one of the main goals of the European Capital of Culture initiative. Engage yourself, be a volunteer and part of an active and vivid community that creates and takes part in activities and actions.
It is not only that we have to present a theatre play at a Paphian village or a concert at a cultural heritage site in Kato Paphos, but also to plan and create green areas, protect our natural environment and ecology, promote public health and social inclusion and establish cultural initiatives for the youth.
CW: Can you give us a project example where the engagement of the citizens is asked?
MIE: From the beginning, I had the idea of initiating the "Box of Memory" - something that is related to the somewhat older generations. This aims to be a long-lasting project that will firstly take place at the old, abandoned Othello cinema in central Paphos.
The goal is to collect memories around the old buildings, spaces and settings by the people themselves who have lived with these memories through time. The memories, experiences and recollections will be collected through writing, video and photography, thus creating a mosaic of living witnesses, a living library. The revival in this way of the buildings and spaces will serve as a reference to the youth of today and the future generations, bridging the past and the future with our forgotten and misplaced present.
CW: How will you involve the foreign communities? This is important for Paphos 2017.
MIE: I want to say the following loudly and clearly: Expats, immigrants, all ethnic minorities and communities as well as Turkish-Cypriots associated with Paphos play an important role in the programme I am planning. I would also like to emphasise the strong European dimension which must identify our projects and activities. Besides, it is my intention to expand the European dimension to Middle East and North Africa, something that, as far as I know, has happened for the first time at a European Capital of Culture.
CW: I am sure you have some good news about 2017 in spite of the difficulties it is facing. Can you tell us what it is?
MIE: Despite the big economic difficulties which we face at this stage, I believe in the dynamism and abilities of the people of Paphos and Cyprus. This is regardless of ethnical or religious background and incl udes the Cypriot diaspora. The 'bet' is at a European level. With hard work, we will be able to succeed. The benefits are many - in urban, environmental, social and individual level - and we have a one and only opportunity. We are obliged to succeed.