Athens City Resilience through Culture

Culture as an agent of urban transformation, inclusion and development


The major urban challenge currently is “How can a city adapt and grow in today’s rapidly changing world”. And although “by building resilience” seems to be the answer, the most efficient methods towards long-term resilience are still being searched for.


With this in view, an interdisciplinary research about the ways in which culture and the arts could contribute to the Athens City Resilience Strategy 2030 (ACRS 2030) was concluded last April. The ACRS 2030 will be considered as an essential document for the City of Athens´ strategic planning, decision-making, and impact-monitoring processes. Athens stands as a role model city in the framework of the R.O.C.K. project, being part of a broader agenda of the City, trying to connect its long-established cultural assets with a new mentality of collective and accessible urban development. 


The report generated from this study (you can find the full document here) highlights the key findings, the challenges and the opportunities that the current social and economic environment in Athens enable towards a new urban agenda, in which culture is a driver of change and development. 


The study was commissioned by the British Council as part of its partnership with 100 Resilient Cities – pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) - an organisation which helps cities around the world become more resilient in the face of physical, social and economic challenges. Robert Palmer, an independent international cultural expert, in close cooperation with the Resilient Athens Team and British Council offices in the UK and Athens, was in charge of the project.


After a series of in-situ and in-person research steps, and after the analysis of the recent evolution of cultural sector in the Greek capital, a grid of proposed Resilience Strategy Actions was shaped. Adopting the definition of urban resilience by 100RC which describes it as “‘the capacity of individuals, institutions and systems within a city to adapt, survive and thrive no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”, the consultation generated from this study was structured in five main pillars: 


(i) Interconnectivity and collaboration to improve resilience 

(ii) Cultural development in the neighbourhoods of Athens which promotes inclusion and creativity

(iii) Proposal of new models for finance in the cultural sector

(iv) Management of cultural activities and interventions in public space &

(v) Expansion of the strategy for Athens as a stay at home destination for residents and as a cultural destination for visitors. 


Focusing on the priority issue of “inter-connectivity and collaboration to improve resilience within cultural and creative sectors and between culture and other sectors” the Athenian R.O.C.K. team, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum Athens, the U.S. Embassy in Athens and the British Council Greece, ran the first ever Museum World Café: Launching Synergies for Cultural and Civil Society Professionals, in the framework of "The Co-Museum" Conference held at the Benaki Museum on 29 November 2018. The event, supported also by the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, was designed to pilot discussion groups of professionals in the cultural ecosystem of Athens around issues of common interest, to encourage collaboration, resource sharing and ideas generation. The main objective was to capture the key challenges that cultural professionals experience as well as ideas and proposals that will lead to vital and sustainable synergies they want to achieve in the cultural sector in Athens. This objective was realised through open dialogue among thematic clusters where the range of perceptions of what is occurring now was exchanged by 91 diverse stakeholders from private institutions, cultural foundations, museums, public authorities, civil society actors, artists, curators and other cultural professionals.


Summing up the challenges and opportunities that were put forward by the participants, we can conclude to the following first results:

  • Accessibility to culture is essential. On one hand, museums should act as social spaces and community spaces and should welcome more cultural activities. Artists are the key mediators!
  • Communicate Better. There is a need to communicate with one another and share a common vision. Create educational strategies that embrace different communities.
  • Capacity Building training programs for cultural professionals will enable them to produce new financial models and start partnering with public institutions in equal terms.


During the austerity years, the cultural sector has been affected a lot; on the one hand, it has been suffering severe financial cuts and on the other, has been lacking a cultural administering body or a shared cultural strategy for it to grow. Despite the storm, the financial crisis triggered a wave of citizen mobilisation as well as the emergence of many cultural and community spaces across the city, highlighting the importance of culture and the arts. 


Photo credits: Thodoris & Athanasios Anagnostopoulos (featured image), Olga Adamopoulou

You may watch the videos from the conference here.

You may read and download the full report below.

Author: Magkou Matina - ADDMA