Athens, Cradle of Civilization, is World Book Capital 2018
UNESCO’s nomination is yet another distinction for the City of Athens! After the cohosting documenta14, and recognition as an emerging cultural destination, in 2017 Athens is once again acknowledged as a city break destination in 2018 with the World Book Capital designation.
Athens has been named World Book Capital for 2018 by UNESCO. This concept and annual event was launched in 2001, and its successful outcome led UNESCO’s General Conference to designate World Book Capital an annual event, inviting the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the International Booksellers Federation to participate in the nomination process. A different city bears the title each year.
This celebration of books, culture and creativity begun on the 23rd of April 2018 and will last for a whole year, until the 22nd of April 2019.
As the Mayor of Athens, Mr. Georgios Kaminis stated, “This international distinction by UNESCO is one more great chance for the cultural development of the city after the cohosting of Documenta14 and its’ international awardings. Athens is a European vivid, safe and friendly city, worth living in and experienced! A city with a record of 5 million visitors last year, also because of synergies such as the Athens Tourism Partnership (City of Athens, Aegean Airlines and Athens International Airport). The cooperation between public and private sector, startups, civil society platforms, major cultural institutions and municipal organisations and programmes prove that synergies are a principle for the municipality and its’ driving force. Dialogue and the exchange of ideas and good practices are of great value for the citizens as well as the visitors. That is one of the reasons why a significant part of the programme is dedicated to authors and book industry experts invited from abroad, as well as round tables and discussions of international context with the cooperation and support of embassies and institutions from all over the world. In parallel we aim to bring the book and the pleasure of reading closer to people who have less access. If we manage to motivate people proving that book can be pleasure, can be fun, can be a journey and an open window to the world, I think it will already be a great achievement”.
Tell us a little bit about what it means for Athens to be able to host this fantastic UNESCO event.
Athens is an open, tolerant, safe and friendly city, that has proved resilient through a multilevel crisis and is combining in the best possible way tradition and modern culture.
These characteristics have been an added value to the selection of Athens proposal on behalf of UNESCO, among many others. The City of Athens has cooperated with many institutions, organizations, networks in order to launch a program that involves and addresses to everyone. So, this nomination means a lot to the self-esteem of the citizens, the artists, the people from the book industry.
Furthermore, it is another opportunity to learn to work together. Building networks, cooperating with so many different organizations is our way – I think it’s the only way – to move forward. Not to forget that Athens had a record of over 5 million visitors last year and is most probably exceeding that record in 2018, also thanks to synergies such as the Athens Tourism Partnership (City of Athens, Aegean Airlines and Athens International Airport).
What types of events are planned for this year? Are there events for both children and adults?
There is a multidisciplinary program, free for everybody, that we aim to be of interest to as many people as possible, regardless age, cultural background, social status or nationality. The program consists of many pillars, such as the Books & the Arts, where book, reading and texts are combined with art. Celebrating Reading or Discovering Reading Treasures where book is present in many events, festivals etc in the city. Open Collections & Archives, where over 30 of the most important museums, archives, libraries, institutes in Athens, open their doors to the public and show their hidden treasures, often for the first time, combined with events, workshops or guided tours.
Round tables and foreign writers are a major part of the program, with distinguished writers, such as the Nobelist Herta Mueller, Booker prize awarded Ian McEwan and George Saunders, Hanya Yanagihara or John Connolly already present in the first months of this annual celebration.
Events and mixed with science, science fiction, narration, educational and other workshops, role games, city explorations for children. Greek writers are honored with various events, open dialogues, discussions, workshops. For example, in the “Literary relay race” (taking place in the City Hall and open for everyone), each writer picks up and presents their successor from various kinds of texts. In the “Athens literary walks”, the public, guided by the authors, gets to know secret stories of Athens based on or inspired by books.
There are also many events for different populations living in the city, such as immigrants and refugees of any age, persons with disabilities, elderly people. Especially regarding refugees, the programs are not designed for them, but mainly from them and they are involving them in every step of their implementation.
A mobile library is traveling in various areas of Athens. Books on wheels are enriching the Athens municipal kindergartens. Another ‘traveling library’ is working on the rights of the child.
Greece is considered the “cradle of western civilization” – and so many of today’s writers have been influenced by the Classics. Are there plans to honor the Classics along with the countless modern literary greats within the year’s events?
Athens combines a unique cultural tradition with a contemporary, progressive creativity. In this context, there are of course many events, conferences, round tables, retrospectives etc inspired by the classics, along with modern culture, young writers and artists. Such an example is the Urban act graffiti walls – an artistic intervention on school buildings inspired by classics, such as Thervantes.
Nobelist Greek poets as Seferis or Elytis are honored along with young poets with reading texts in bus lines. Classical theatre plays are staged or classical movies based on literature are screened along with pop up readings performed in city’s streets.
What do you think people will be most surprised or excited about with this year’s events?
As mentioned above, the program has such a variety and is addressed to so many different people and tastes that everybody can meet its’ favorite element. We have taken care so that book is combined with different arts and contains the element of surprise. Book can also be fun, games, it can be technology, travelling, gastronomy or psychology. It can reach the citizens in their neighborhoods, their yards, their public transportation, their schools or kindergartens, their elderly homes.
This element of surprise and access to everyone is something we focused on. Apart from that, from the very beginning people get excited with the invited foreign authors. The events are open and free for everybody, so people from different backgrounds have the opportunity to meet with their favorite writers in person and listen to their stories – the events are not a usual book presentation, the writers talk about their life, their experiences, their disappointments or difficulties, their inspiration sources, and they answer to questions, they have a dialogue with the public.
From their side, we notice that the writers themselves are very inspired and positive surprised by the interaction and the participation by the public.
Athens World Book Capital 2018 is made possible thanks to its donors and contributors: Major Donor is Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Gold Donors are John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and Core SA. Donors are Onassis Foundation, Welfare Foundation for Social & Cultural Affairs, Laskaridis Foundation and Greek Collecting Society for Literary Works (OSDEL). Valuable contributors are Aegean Airlines, Athens International Airport and Urban Rail Transport SA (STASY).
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