An interview with Stavros Benos, guest speaker of our student lecture series
In ancient Greece, a diazoma was the passage between the upper and lower seating areas of a theatre. Nowadays, it is also the name of an NGO aiming to enhance and bring ancient theatres back to life. Diazoma was born in 2008 to publicize the beauty and the values of the ancient theatres by organizing events, adopting monuments, and opening bank accounts “money boxes” for each ancient venue. In a country unused to for-profit organisations’ involvement in heritage management, Diazoma seeks to persuade the economic powers of Greece to contribute to this effort as sponsors. So far, the NGO has been able to fundraise a total amount of nearly 40 million euros for the protection and promotion of ancient Greek theatres.
We had the pleasure to have Stavros Benos, Diazoma’s director, as a guest speaker in our student lecture series.
Mr Benos, why theatres?
Theatres have always had a strong symbolic value for Greece. In the VI and V cent. b. C. Greece witnessed three breakthroughs: science – which freed us from superstition, philosophy – which made us think about our role in the universe, and democracy. And then theatre was born. Theatre was never just entertainment, it was indeed a synthesis of all those crucial changes. It was also the apotheosis of democracy, for many fundamental decisions about social life were made there, and the very administration of justice took place there. Theatres were the mass media of the time. But Diazoma’s focus on ancient theatres was also a strategic decision: as any ancient town had a theatre, we knew that if we worked and succeed with one venue, the others could follow easily.
Diazoma managed to involve for-profit organisations as sponsors. How do you approach them and how do you deal with their expectations?
When we approach big companies, we always present them our business plan (which can be found on our website) with the support of archaeologists. We often have local “allies”, such as scholars or municipalities that want Diazoma to operate in their areas. These people can act as intermediaries between us and the potential donors. As for Diazoma’s relationship with donors, it is important to establish an ideological relationship between the big for-profit organisations and the heritage they are willing to give funding, so that they can understand how much they can gain in terms of reputation.
How do you manage volunteers?
We have about 1000 members and they are all volunteers. Generally, Diazoma prefers to adopt a decentralised model for volunteers, as it is more dynamic. Schools are a precious source of voluntaries; for example, the power point presentation of the theatres has been prepared by high school students, and now they also plan to write the Wikipedia entry for Diazoma.
Projects for the future?
At the moment, we are working on the creation of a cultural itinerary for the ancient theatres of Epirus. Greece needs to develop more branded cultural tourism products, and Epirus’s itinerary is a pilot project that could be used as a model for itineraries in other regions of the country. The project is promoted by the Ministries of Development, Culture, and Tourism, and the Greek National Tourism Organisation, and it is implemented by the Region of Epirus and Diazoma.
A cheeky question: if you hadn’t been in politics for many years, do you think Diazoma could have achieved these results?
I don’t think so.
Students of the MA in Heritage Management 2014-15
A varied bunch of 22 students from all over the world, with very different interests and personalities, but sharing a common passion for heritage. We are learning the best practices in heritage management and trying to keep the heritage values always at the core of our decisions.