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The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Greek Heritage: A View from the Private Cultural Sector
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Howery’s article offers a very clear and informative picture of the effects of the economic crisis on the public archaeological and cultural sector in Greece. The public cultural sector, however, is not the only victim of this crisis; Greece’s private cultural sector has also suffered a great deal. As the latter is absent from Howery’s paper, this short response seeks to remedy this by shedding some light on the effects of the economic crisis on the country’s private cultural sector.

Although the Greek private cultural sector is quite large and diverse, including several museums, learned societies, and non-profit cultural foundations, focus will be given on two of the most important and publicly recognized cultural institutions: the Benaki Museum and the Foundation of the Hellenic World. Both have suffered greatly, if not the most, during these long four years of austerity and recession.

The Benaki Museum is the oldest and biggest private museum in Greece, spread over eight different buildings (Fig. 1). The museum’s permanent collection includes a great range of artifacts that trace the development of Hellenic civilization from prehistory to the formation of the modern Greek state. Moreover, the museum owns a collection of traditional Greek costumes, an antique toy collection, a branch devoted to Islamic art, a state-of-the art conservation laboratory, and a building for temporary exhibitions and cultural events. For the last 40 years, the museum has been under the direction of Professor Angelos Delivorrias, an archaeologist and art historian, and it was under his directorship that the museum expanded to its current size and acquired its diverse character.

Although the Benaki Museum is run by a board of trustees and operates under private law, its main source of funding is the Greek state, which has the a legal obligation to cover the museum’s payroll as well as its operational costs. This has ultimately proved to be the museum’s biggest weakness. Back in the “good old days,” the state gave over €2 million per year to the museum. Since the crisis hit the country, the amount of money has dropped significantly, falling to €842,000 last year (Rigopoulos 2013). This massive drop in state funding has had a very negative impact on the museum and its activities. As Professor Delivorrias has openly admitted on more than one occasion, the museum has had to lay off several members of its staff in order to cope. In 2010 there were 267 people working there, while today there are only 191. Even those who are still employed have had their salaries cut between 20 and 40 percent and also had their hours reduced by 20 percent (Rigopoulos 2013; Daley 2013). As a result, the museum cannot afford to stay open on a daily basis and some of its branches are open to the public only four days per week. The implications of this state of affairs are many: first, a number of researchers and support staff are now jobless, adding to the staggering 27 percent unemployment level in Greece. Secondly, the Benaki Museum is in danger of becoming unable to perform some of its basic functions. According to Delivorrias, the Department of Conservation faces the greatest threat (Daley 2013). Although the Benaki Museum has introduced several schemes in order to attract funds and continues offering a wide range of cultural activities for its visitors, it is clear that without adequate state funding the museum cannot function properly.


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Fig. 1. 

A view of the main building of the Benaki Musem. (Photo by I. Georganas.)

The second case study is the Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW; Fig. 2). The FHW is in many ways unique, as it is the only cultural organization in Greece which makes extensive use of cutting-edge technologies in the field of humanities. It was founded in 1994 by Lazaros and Ourania Efraimoglou, an affluent Greek family with origins in Asia Minor. The foundation’s mission, as stated on their website, is “the preservation and dissemination of Hellenic history and tradition, the creation of an awareness of the universal dimension of Hellenism and the promotion of its contribution to cultural evolution” (http://fhw...



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