In a small pedestrian street off Victoria Square in Athens, neighborhood teenagers from different national, social, and cultural backgrounds are finding a place for expression and creation. At number 13 Elpidos Street (Hope Street), a simple but vital space has taken shape, an extension of public space where the sidewalk ends which quickly filled with cheerful activity and playful teasing.
The aim of Victoria Square Project (VSP), conceived by Rick Lowe and Maria Papadimitriou in the context of documenta14, held in Athens in 2017, was to form a ‘social sculpture,’ an evolving social and artistic experiment offering contemporary art at the scale of the neighborhood. It soon became an open space for creative expression for Victoria Square’s culturally diverse inhabitants.
Today, three years later, VSP, having forged strong ties with the neighborhood, has established itself locally as the main stage for artistic and social development, encouraging enhanced social cohesion and intercultural interaction. VSP has laid solid foundations and is now building on them. It works with organizations such as MONUMENTA, the Melissa Network, the Theo Angelopoulos 2nd General High School of Athens, SynAthina, KETHEA’s Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals Transitional School, the Curing the Limbo program of the Municipality of Athens, and local residents’ initiatives. At the same time, it publicly poses the question “Who is the contemporary Athenian?” seeking to uncover the wonderful kaleidoscope of elements that make up the cultural identity of Athens.
Through creative activities and use of contemporary art, VSP seeks to improve the life of a neighborhood that has been struggling for years. According to Angelos, “When the young people in the neighborhood enter into a dialogue and create together, they bring about a process of mixing, a mosaic of opinions, disagreements, beliefs. And through all this, vested benefits are established, relationships are fostered, and people become kinder—sometimes effortlessly, sometimes with effort.”
We at SNF recognize the importance of supporting organizations like VSP in their work to give people an outlet for creative expression, give young people enriching opportunities, and strengthen community expression, interaction, initiative and, above all, commitment to productive mutual goals. The aim is for young people to build a sense of self-awareness within their local community, where marginalized individuals are brought into the center of things.
The history of humanity involves the migration of people, whether by choice or by necessity, and all societies are shaped by migration. Philoxenia—“hospitality,” literally “love for strangers”—is a core Greek concept. But all too often, our worst instincts prevail, making us see a threat where we should be seeing a fellow human being. Not so at 13 Elpidos Street. VSP is helping foster the new narrative taking shape in its neighborhood and, by extension, contributing to the contemporary Athenian identity.
SNF Program Officer, Athens
“An album from our square,” a project curated by VSP members in the context of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Public Humanities Initiative, which is made possible through an SNF grant.