Atenistas in action.

Community: Q&A with Atenistas

Posted Portes Magazine COMMUNITY
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{Have you ever wandered the streets of Athens and felt a great need to brighten up a schoolyard, brush away offensive graffiti, or clean out a neglected alley? You are not alone! The Atenistas are a like-minded group of individuals that does just that in various parts of Athens. Bringing a fresh look and feel to the city through a variety of volunteer-led activities, the Atenistas have taken action into their own hands. Nadia Papadimitriou of the Atenistas shares some insights about the independently organized citizen-action group and its activities across the city of Athens.}

– Dialogos Radio Exclusive by Michael Nevradakis

Q&A

Tell us more about Atenistas, and how the organization started.

Atenistas is an open group of people living in Athens. We started back in 2010, and the people who inspired the launch of the team were graphic designer Tasos Chalkiopoulos and journalist Dimitris Rigopoulos. They started without really knowing what they wanted to do, they just wanted to do something for the city they loved. They really thought that Athens has many things to give to all of us and there are so many nice things we can enjoy in the city. We have existed for almost four years and have completed more than 180 actions, most of them based in the city center, but also in some neglected neighborhoods around Athens.

 

What are some examples of these organized actions?

The Atenistas have cleaned spots around the city, created public parks, rejuvenated playgrounds, and painted in bright colors, schools around Athens, for example. We have also organized a lot of cultural events, or guided tours in historic areas and unpopular neighborhoods, to help the Athenians members get to know their city better, to feel safe in the city, and to enjoy it. Some of the biggest events have been, for example, organizing the concert of the National Opera of Greece in the Varvakeio Market, or the Tango Night at the former Peloponnese train station, or the Swing Night in Omonia Square. We also have another sub-team that is working with people who are in need and who help in collecting food, medicine, and clothes.

 

Tell us a bit about the urban renewal projects the Atenistas initiate and how the locations in Athens are chosen.

Sometimes we choose the locations because we pass by and we see something.  There are also a lot of civilians who have sent us mail, pointing out places where we can go and help them improve their neighborhoods. We have also been receiving a lot of letters from schools, to help them improve their environments. There is no definite process. Either the people ask us to go there or we pass by and identify these places. Everything we do, we really believe has to be done on the basis of what is common logic to the people and what is simple. The simpler, the better.

What more should we know about the cultural events that are organized or promoted by the Atenistas?

What we mainly do within our cultural sub-team is organize events to help people visit neglected areas to see that they are safe, so they can enjoy being there and understand that there are many interesting things they can explore. We also have a campaign on our website where we announce all the theaters that offer, once or twice a week, cheap tickets so that people can enjoy going to the theater during a difficult period without spending much money. It’s something that we think is helping young people go out and enjoy the city.

 

Since all of these initiatives are volunteer-based, how do you encourage the citizens of Athens to participate, and what is the general reaction?

It is completely volunteer-based, although we don’t really use this word in Greece. The people participating in the Atenistas don’t really see themselves as volunteers. They see themselves as active citizens that do things to improve their everyday lives and the lives of their neighbors, to enjoy living in this city. As for what we receive back from the citizens, I think that this is the best part of being in the Atenistas. It’s really touching and it really fills you with energy and satisfaction. People really acknowledge what we do, and whenever we are in a neighborhood, they come there, they congratulate us, they help us, and they work with us. Most importantly, after we leave the neighborhood, since we usually go for a day, what happens next is that the citizens living there adopt the place, adopt the small park or the playground, and they use it. They socialize there, they teach their children to play there and to protect it and clean it, and the whole neighborhood has a better feeling.

 

Following up on this, what is the typical turnout for any given event?

It depends on the event. For example, when we organize a cultural event or an open event like the concert of the National Opera, there are more than 3,000 people there. Recently, we organized the Open Walk Athens for the second time. It is an initiative where we give Athenians a map that we created and we urge them to walk around the city and to explore hidden diamonds. There were more than 4,000 people at this event. But we also have smaller cultural events that attract about 1,000 people, like the Swing Night, while activities that have to do with parks and cleanup can host about 50 to 100 people, so that we have enough tools and enough work space to accommodate everyone. As for painting schools, it is even fewer people because we always work with the teachers, the pupils, and their parents for them to create a connection to the school and a feeling that it is their school. So we usually organize those events between a few members of the Atenistas and the people from the school.

 

From what I understand, the Atenistas are split into several different teams, each with their own area of emphasis, is this correct?

Exactly. It has something to do with logistics, as none of us can do everything. It’s easier for us to work in smaller teams and to create action because we are more productive that way. But all the teams support one another, we are all Atenistas.

 

Have you found that there is a greater need for your efforts and initiatives in recent years as a result of the economic crisis?

The Atenistas were created almost a year before the crisis in Greece, and it was due to a need to show that we love our city. Of course, the conditions that were created afterward perhaps made our work more urgent, but no, the Atenistas are not a creation of the crisis. I think it is an expression of the maturity that little by little is coming across the Greek society. It’s a reflection of the realization that we as citizens also owe something, to the city, to the state, to the neighborhood. Atenistas don’t like to complain at all. We don’t want to stay and wait for the state to do everything for us. We are people who have responsibilities and we have to do something on our own. Of course the state has obligations, but we ourselves can do things and we have to do them now more than ever!

For more information about Atenistas visit atenistas.org.