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Athens: Books everywhere

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Le refuge (The Refuge), an installation by French artists Dominique Jalu, Christophe Lalanne and Lorraine Beaujouan at the Ivresse Livresque exhibition, Amboise, France, 2015.

Athens, the Greek capital, kicks off a year-long celebration of reading, culture and knowledge as UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2018, starting 23 April. “Books everywhere” is the motto this year, which means books and a feast of related activities are open to everyone, to be encountered and savoured in every corner of this historic city.

Anna Routsi

Book lovers in Athens and those visiting it, are in for a treat. Proud of having been named World Book Capital for 2018, the ancient capital kicks off its global cultural event to celebrate books in myriad ways, in  April 2018.

In preparation for the event, the City of Athens has worked hard to translate the vision of the Mayor of Athens, Georgios Kaminis, into reality.  The aim of the mayor − and his team of seven people working on the event − has been to involve citizens of various social, ethnic and age groups and to diffuse the book and reading culture throughout all of  Athens’ neighbourhoods via smaller, localized activities. This is expected to increase the self-esteem of the people and contribute to social integration and coherence. Additionally, the city’s creative forces would be merged with a common cultural goal: to leave a solid legacy, in terms of physical evidence and in the mindset of its citizens, encouraging them to love and read books, long after the year has gone by.

To make this possible, the City has joined hands with over 150 institutions where learning takes place, and with writers and the publishing industry. These include cultural institutions,  museums, civil-society groups, startups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), embassies and international organizations. Not surprisingly, about 150 libraries across Greece will implement several special programmes within the summer reading campaign, led by the National Library of Greece.

Municipal programmes and organizations will also participate in the year’s activities – including the City’s Athens Culture Net and Open Schools, both funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation;  Technopolis, the industrial museum and cultural complex; OPANDA, the Youth, Culture and Sports Organization, the civil-society platform SynAthina and refugee programmes.  

One million visitors expected

The programme features a vivid patchwork of over 250 events and activities, all revolving around the world of books, learning and knowledge. With a million visitors expected, the city aspires to provide a literary backdrop to cater to all tastes and ages. Besides spreading a love for books and learning, it hopes to foster open dialogue − not only for the creators, stakeholders and the intellectual elite, but most importantly, for all its citizens.

Books and reading are melded with art and creativity, focusing on learning, but also exhibiting that books can bring joy and pleasure to readers.

At a time when the country is going through financial hardships and the book industry is facing a crisis, financing the event has had its challenges. Even so, the City of Athens has allocated a budget of €500,000 for communications to support the event, and contribute to the book activities of OPANDA. Donations from institutions, sponsors, and embassies that will directly support the programme amounted to another €500,000 (at the end of February 2018) and was expected to increase. What surprised and motivated us was the interest and willingness of most participants to commit and undertake actions, using their own means to be a part of this very special event for the city.

The year of celebrations of cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capitals traditionally starts on 23 April, World Book and Copyright Day.

Athens is the 18th World Book Capital, after Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Anvers (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2007), Amsterdam (2008), Beirut (2009), Ljubljana (2010), Buenos Aires (2011), Erevan (2012), Bangkok (2013), Port Harcourt (2014), Incheon (2015), Wroclaw (2016) and Conakry (2017). Sharjah will follow Athens in 2019.

Learn more:

Dicover The UNESCO Courier issues on books. Famous novelists, such as Jorge Adoum, Miguel Angel Asturias, Marshall McLuhan, Alejo Carpentier, Le Clézio, André Maurois, Alberto Moravia, Luis Sepúlveda and Antonio Skármeta talk about the same passion: books! 

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Photo:

Exposition Ivresse livresque

Anna Routsi

An advisor to the Mayor of Athens for the programme and communication of Athens World Book Capital 2018.