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New bill setting up a state center for theater and dance raises questions December 16, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera, Greece News, Stage & Theater.

While central planning useful, Culture Ministry initiative poses risks that need to be addressed if changes do not end up being for the worse

Theater and dance have never been high on the Culture Ministry’s list of priorities. In everything from state theaters and drama schools to funding regional theater companies and Greek performances abroad, there has been no national policy nor any continuity, even within the same government administration. A new draft bill from the Culture Ministry providing for a National Theater and Dance Center is an attempt to redress this issue, but has raised several issues, among them the question as to whether such an institution need exist.

The purpose of the center, according to the bill, is to draft national policy on theater and dance and support the Culture Ministry with its planning. It also aims to promote research and training, as well as coordinate all activities nationwide and promote them abroad. With regard to funding, the bill transfers authority to the center from ministry committees that decide on subsidies to theaters and dance companies.

The center will be governed by a nine-member board and its director is to be appointed for five years. For the latter post, the name of critic and writer Heracles Logothetis has been touted as the most likely candidate, he is already an adviser to Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. The center would be staffed by 24 people and funded by the state budget and European Union subsidies, international organizations as well as revenues from private and state events, publications and productions.

This is the first attempt to provide a framework for state productions of theater and dance in Greece, but one criticism of this idea is that what is missing is a national policy, and not yet another state center.

According to the draft law, the ministry leadership is not relinquishing its authority to set policy; the center is to “implement national policy” as well as “support the minister in determining and planning it.” That could just as well be achieved by a committee of notables. However, the way things are done at the moment, it is one thing to have a committee’s opinion, even the most reputable one, which the next incoming minister is likely to ignore, and another to have an established body for carrying out policy. It seems more likely that long-term policy can be implemented and goals achieved by an organization, rather than being left to the patriotic sentiments of the incumbent minister.

Although gathering together under one roof activities that are now dealt with in piecemeal fashion could be a step in the right direction, there is still the risk that a new institution could become yet another convenient arena for nepotism or cliques, already rampant in the sector.

For such a center to be useful, there are three sine qua non preconditions, capable, sincere people at its head, a complement of full staff and sufficient funding. Funds should be a specific part of the state budget so the center’s fate does not become subject to the whims of the incumbent minister. That would probably require an annual amount of at least euro 10 million.

There are other questions raised by the draft law. For example, it does not specify the powers of the organization which is supposed to be defining and implementing national policy in training and education, such as at drama schools. Clearly, this was avoided because of the inevitable necessity of involving the Education Ministry, which would have delayed the tabling of the bill.

Nor does the bill give the center powers over the state theaters, National, Northern Greece, Opera. Then there is the question of authority for subsidies. Interested parties will not submit requests to the center, whose committees will be judging them, but to the Culture Ministry, as happens today.

While the idea of such a center is an admirable attempt to put order to the country’s cultural activities, it has to be thought out carefully, otherwise it could prove pointless, if not downright harmful.

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