The Bailout and Greek Heritage: Is The Nation’s Past for Sale?

Late Wednesday night, Greece’s parliament passed austerity measures established by the recent bailout agreement. In response, sporadic violence flared up throughout Athens, alongside the more numerous peaceful protests decrying creditors’ imposition of further cuts in government spending.

Despite the agreement, Greece’s passing of structural reforms, and surprisingly broad support across the Eurozone for the bailout, the debt crisis drama is all but guaranteed to continue.

On Tuesday, the IMF announced that it would not participate in any plan that does not include debt restructuring – a policy deeply unpopular with powerful EU fiscal hawks German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble. Without either a “haircut” – a reduction in the overall debt burden – or the establishment of a generous timeframe to pay back debts, many analysts are pessimistic about the austerity package’s chance of success.

The measures require Greece to unload €50 billion in state assets, much of which will be sold off to pay back creditors. This could have a huge impact on Greece’s fine arts, cultural, and historical institutions, which have already suffered from an economic crisis that some economists consider worse than the United States’ Great Depression.

Denys Zacharopoulos – the artistic director of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki – sums up the anemic state of arts and culture funding: “The first things to suffer under the government’s austerity plan have been culture, education and health.”

Structured as a nonprofit foundation and largely dependent on state funding, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art has seen its funding shrink from a peak of €500,000 in 2006, to just $180,000 in 2015 – a 64 percent drop off. These kind of budget shortfalls are staggering, and can make a huge difference in an institution’s ability to deliver on its mission.

Many other arts, cultural, and historical institutions are struggling, some with only enough funding to pay salaries. Scheduled exhibitions have been indefinitely delayed, and the planned construction of a new contemporary museum in Athens has been called off. Decreased funding impacts cultural institutions in other ways; in February 2012, for example, priceless artifacts were stolen from a museum in Olympia during an armed robbery. Archaeologists blamed security cuts.

Many monuments and structures – including the iconic Parthenon – are owned by the Greek state. As details emerge concerning airports, sea ports, rail lines, and energy providers that face privatization under the terms of the bailout agreement, the question arises: will Greece’s cultural heritage be up for sale? 

Greece’s constitution features a robust framework for defending the nation’s artifacts and historical sites mandating public funding and protection. But if there is one thing fully evident with the recent bailout agreement, it is that Greece’s laws and referendums have little bearing on the demands of the nation’s creditors.

Regardless of the obligations delineated in the bailout agreement, special consideration for Greece’s remarkable heritage is in order. By removing the country’s capacity to steward and share its own past and cultural traditions, creditors are poised to rip away a powerful tool for national healing and cohesion during these difficult times.

ISIS Destruction of Art Reminder of Nonprofits Mission

ISIS (also known as IS, or ISIL), has dominated headlines for over a year now. The ultra-radical militant group has occupied an astonishing amount of territory, stretching across northern Iraq and into into Syria, with outposts along the Euphrates. As Libya continues to slide into chaos, it has seen an uptick in ISIS-aligned fighters, raising fears of yet another country losing territory to what has quickly become the most visible standard-bearer for radical jihadism.

The group’s success has in part come at the expense of other Islamic radical groups, such as al-Qaeda, which lack a flair for social media and 21st century technologies. Young recruits have flocked to take up arms in the pseudo-state, and according to analysts this is due in part to aggressive online marketing campaigns. From featuring a Canadian recruit playing ice hockey to memes that reference popular violent games, ISIS propagandists create videos and communications that appeal to youth sensibilities. These ploys – combined with filmed beheadings and immolations – are part of a larger effort to catch the world’s eye.

The most recent propaganda effort? The destruction of art.

International institutions such as UNESCO and various NGOs are struggling to come up with meaningful solutions to protect world heritage artifacts in the wake of the highly publicized destruction of ancient Greco-Roman and ancient Mesopotamian artifacts at an antiquities museum in Mosul – the northern Iraq city currently held by ISIS militants. Underscoring the often contradictory blend of radical ideology and self-serving pragmatism, ISIS militants obliterated priceless statues while purportedly carting off others to traffic on the black market.

Pending deputy ambassador to the Libyan delegation at UNESCO Hafed Walda has called for the fortification of museums in Libya. Al-Gailani Werr, a London-based archeologist, remarks on the global nature of this cultural violence: “These things are part of the history of humanity . . . If you destroy them, you’re destroying the history of everyone.”

For violent political groups, the destruction of art is a forceable way of annihilating perceived threats to cultural hegemony and legitimacy. From the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to Nazi Germany, obliterating cultural artifacts was part and parcel with a greater authoritarian design for control and discrimination.

Indeed, the mere fact that ISIS went out of its way to destroy material objects it construed as fundamental threats to its fragile world-view underscores the democratic nature and resilience of art. This is why a guarantee of protection for cultural rights is enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and why so many nonprofits the world-over dedicate so much time and so many resources to ensure that everyone the world over has his/her cultural privileges upheld.

As the turmoil rages on and more lives and cultural heritages are lost to ISIS’ extremism, arts nonprofits should feel emboldened in their pursuit of universal accessibility to cultural artifacts and experience. As Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, states:

When culture is under attack, we must respond with more knowledge, and with ever greater effort to work to explain the importance of humanity’s shared heritage. This is why we appeal to all cultural institutions, museums, journalists, professors, and scientists to share knowledge widely about the Mesopotamian civilization. We need to remind all of the history of this land which led the Islamic golden age.

Nonprofits possess a fundamental role in Ms. Bokova’s call-to-action. In the face of nihilistic destruction and violence, the celebration and protection of culture is part of the remedy for peace.

Philadelphia, the Democratic National Convention, and the Nonprofit Sector

On January 14, the Republican Party announced that its 2016 national convention will take place at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Democratic Party has narrowed its field down to three contenders, including Columbus, New York City, and Philadelphia.

The event is no small matter. Conventions during the 2012 election cycle – Tampa Bay for Republicans and Charlotte for Democrats – attracted tens of thousands of people to the two host cities, along with a flush of consumer spending.

Pundits and academics debate the economic benefits of hosting the convention. The National Journal cited one study in 2012 that claims that the financial gain is minimal. The reality most likely rests somewhere in between the wildly optimistic projections of city officials and the reductive conjecture of one study that trades causality for correlation; cities enjoy both an injection of spending as well as intangible rewards, including the the elevation of the city’s cultural brand.

Should the Democratic Party pick Philadelphia, the benefits would be manifold. The influx of civic-minded delegates – energized by the democratic process – would be drawn toward one of the highest concentrations of U.S. cultural treasures and symbols in the entire country. In turn, the city’s world-class cultural institutions and performing arts community would undoubtedly benefit from the uptick of visitors, especially convention delegates habituated to the giving culture inherent to political activity.

The list of Philadelphia’s historical offerings is extensive; the city boasts the Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House, and the entirety of the Independence National Historical Park.

The arts are similarly well-represented. Philadelphia is third in the nation for per capita spending on the arts. From the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art to the unparalleled Barnes Foundation; the internationally renowned Philadelphia Orchestra to the ever-innovative Philly POPs; the options for arts and cultural performances are as abundant as the talent pool is deep.

In choosing Philadelphia, the Democratic Party would provide their delegates and other convention-related visitors with an unforgettable experience, and the city’s institutions would enjoy both short-term and longterm profits.

The immediate financial rewards, of course, would contribute further to a rebounding economy and a growing nonprofit sector. In the wake of the recession, nonprofits are recovering at a faster rate than the private sector. Philadelphia’s arts nonprofit community alone employs over 44,000 people, who would stand to gain from the inflow of ticket-buying delegates from across the county.

Additionally, the national stage would elevate Philadelphia’s status as a U.S. cultural center. In cultivating national interest, the convention would entice future visitors. The city’s institutions can further profit from the satisfied patronage of philanthropic delegates, potentially creating a new wellspring of fundraising prospects.

Philadelphia is the logical choice for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Nonprofits should look forward to sharing their mission and goals with U.S. citizens from every corner of the nation, and anticipate ways to educate, entertain, and grow during the convention weekend.

Sendak Foundation Withholds Collection Bequeathed to Rosenbach Museum

The executors of Maurice Sendak’s will are at odds with the Rosenbach Museum and Library; the Sendak foundation has failed to hand over a multi-million dollar rare book collection the famous author reportedly gave to the Rosenbach. The museum has filed a lawsuit against the foundation.

Two and a half years after Sendak’s death, the Sendak Foundation is planning an auction—scheduled for January—that the Rosenbach fears could feature items included in the collection bequeathed to it. The Foundation has argued that it will not hand over several particular items, including valuable editions of Peter the Rabbit, because they are not technically rare books but are rather children’s books. An ironic argument, considering that Sendak viewed the distinctions between children and adult literature to be largely constructed and invalid.

There’s more at stake then the Rosenbach not receiving the items currently withheld. The Sendak Foundation is also looking to reclaim 10,000 works shared by Sendak with the Rosenbach since the 1960s. Citing similar research and collecting interests, Sendak contributed thousands of art pieces, manuscripts, and books over the years to the museum.

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