Belgian Artist Jan Fabre Forced to Quit Directorship of Greek Festival After Protests

His Belgian-focused program outraged Greek artists.

Renowned Belgian multidisciplinary artist, stage director, and choreographer Jan Fabre and newly appointed artistic director of the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival looks on during a press conference at Athens Acropolis museum on March 29, 2016 to present the festival's program. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP/Getty Images
Belgian multidisciplinary artist, stage director, and choreographer Jan Fabre resigned only days after he presented the festival's program at a press conference in Athens.
Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP/Getty Images

Belgian artist Jan Fabre resigned this past Saturday, April 2, from his role as artistic director of the Greek summer arts event, the International Festival of Athens and Epidaurus, Reuters reports.

This might be one of the shortest tenures of a festival director ever recorded, as only one month earlier Fabre was invited by the Greek Ministry of Culture to curate the festival’s 2016-2019 editions.

His resignation follows a vociferous protest from locals in response to his announcement that the programming for this summer’s edition would be dedicated to his native Belgium. 

“In 1980 the ‘Flemish Wave’ was born when a group of interdisciplinary artists overturned artistic conventions and influenced the art scene to become what it is today,” Fabre explained at the press conference in Athens on March 29.

Furthermore, the ensuing editions were to focus on artists who have collaborated with Fabre. According to this concept, Greek artists would have made up one third of the lineup.

This outraged Greek performing artists and members of parties across the political spectrum, who would have been financially impacted by Fabre’s focus on Belgian artists. Subject to drastic budget cuts, local performers and artists penned an open letter on April 1 demanding the resignation of both Fabre and the Greek minister of culture, Aristides Baltas.

“First we do not recognize you as the artistic director of the Festival of Athens and Epidaurus, and second, we need you to repair the insult that you have made ​​by doing what makes sense: send your resignation to the minister who gave it to you,” the letter reads.

Fabre stepped down the following day, explaining that he had accepted the invitation to direct the festival under the condition of artistic freedom. “This is not possible any more in Greece. I do not want to work in a hostile artistic environment in which I came with an open mind and heart,” Fabre wrote in a press release announcing his resignation.

This past Monday, the culture ministry announced Fabre would be replaced by the Greek actor-turned-director Vangelis Theodoropoulos. However, the minister of culture expressed his bitterness at what he perceives as a missed opportunity “aimed not only to extend the international character of the Festival but also to make Greek creations known internationally.”

The festival has been running for over six decades and has featured iconic figures from Maria Callas to Dame Margot Fonteyn, while spotlighting performances of ancient Greek drama.

The festival runs from June to the end of August and is held mainly in Athens, and the ancient theater of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese.


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