James Beresford

Greek drama at the New Acropolis Museum?

James Beresford, Issue 113/09, p17, 01.09.2013
Opening to international fanfare in June 2009, the €129m New Acropolis Museum has become the embodiment of the Greek desire to see Elgin’s marble trophies returned to Athens. However, the paying public has been less-than-impressed with the museum, which has failed to attract the visitor numbers that were predicted.

In 2006 journalist Tom Flynn noted: “The old Acropolis Museum currently attracts around 1.5 million people each year. The Greeks hope their New Acropolis Museum will at least double that figure.”

In an interview in Time a year later, Dimitrios Pandermalis, the current president of the museum, anticipated in excess of two million visitors passing annually through the doors.

The museum has, however, failed to meet such expectations. In the four years since opening, 5,440,343 people have visited the museum – considerably fewer than the eight million its president envisioned.

Opening in the teeth of the economic recession, the low visitor numbers are partly understandable. Nonetheless, the rapid decline in attendance over the course of the New Acropolis Museum’s short lifetime is worrying.

During its first year of operation (June 2009/May 2010), visitor numbers were a creditable 1,950,539, falling just shy of the two million anticipated by Pandermalis.

Since then, however, there has been a steep fall-off in attendance and the latest figure of 1,036,059 (June 2012/May 2013) reveals a drop of almost 50% in only three years. Equally unsettling is the plummeting position of the New Acropolis Museum compared with other international museums.

Attendance figures compiled by the Art Newspaper placed the New Acropolis Museum in 25th position in 2010 (the first full calendar year it was open to the public). The museum dropped 13 places in 2011, and an additional 21 places in 2012, finishing last year in 59th position – a fall of 34 places in just two years.

There are some grounds for optimism; the declining trend in visitor numbers should be reversed in 2013 as Greece benefits from the political upheavals affecting rival tourist destinations such as Egypt and Turkey. However, a reliance on the instability of neighbouring countries scarcely guarantees a bright future for the museum.

Restitutionists petitioning for the return of Elgin’s keepsakes have greeted the disappointing attendance figures at the New Acropolis Museum with deafening silence – hardly surprising since drawing attention to the lacklustre performance can only damage attempts to repatriate the marbles.

However, it is hoped that the campaign groups meeting in Sydney this November will grasp the nettle and take time away from their usual diatribes against the British Museum to ask some searching questions of Greek culture officials in attendance.

James Beresford is a writer based in Athens. He is currently writing a book on the effects of the economic crisis on the Greek heritage sector


Comments

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Anonymous
12.09.2013, 13:42
Dear Mr Beresford

No need really to get nasty with Mr Santiago- you are in essence saying that those of us who agree with him or, at the very least, appreciate what he is saying, need psychotherapists. You cut off any professional adult discussion immediately with that quite juvenile reaction.

Having a Master in Art Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage I agree with your point regarding declining tourism due to economic reasons as being a factor in low museum attendance, and there is where more emphasis should be put. The projections for increasing tourism in Greece for 2014 and beyond are quite positive if they continue to stabilize and regarding the museum, it would certainly be an added incentive to visit if the Elgin marbles were in their proper home in their proper context.
Thank you
12.09.2013, 18:21
Dear Sir/Madam,
I have no intention of getting nasty with any comments. I was merely pointing out that he failed to address any archaeological issues.
You’re correct in respect to the projected increase in tourism for Greece over the course of this year (I’ve not personally read of any predictions for 2014, but, if you’re right, then that would also be good news.) However, because of what has happened at the Acropolis Museum over the last few years, we can no longer give any credence to further prophesying by the President of the Museum – or indeed any other politicians or campaigners – when it comes to guesstimating how many of these additional tourists will actually visit the Museum. The next set of figures published in the April issue of the Art Newspaper, together with those released by the Acropolis Museum a few months later, will therefore make interesting reading. We all just have to hope that visitation picks up rather than drop below the one million boundary.
As for the ‘proper home’ and ‘proper context’ of the Marbles, then I imagine Neil MacGregor would argue that the BM has already ticked those two particular boxes.
Regards, JB
09.09.2013, 21:42
Dear James, may I ask you a direct question, do you love Archaeology?, Do you admire beauty?, A masterpiece of human art was created 2500 years ago and it managed to survive wars, attacks, pollution and earthquakes. A clear fact is that at the moment an important part of such a unique symbol of human history is waiting in a completely irrelevant room in a completely irrelevant city away from the place that it was created. If you love art, if you love archaeology you can not be against the reunification, it simply makes no sense. And please, do not use in your argument nationalistic issues... please... London is not the centre of the World anymore, and the British Museum represents one the worst kind of colonialism... and by the way I am not Greek.
12.09.2013, 15:16
Thank you for Santiago for writing:
'an important part of such a unique symbol of human history is waiting in a completely irrelevant room in a completely irrelevant city away from the place that it was created'.
10.09.2013, 08:34
Dear Santiago Gonzalez,
Thank you for your comment. However, might I suggest that you not skirt round the problem of declining attendance numbers that is the focus of the above article. Your art historical questions can best be directed towards trained art historians, while your discussions relating to the nature of beauty or ethics would be better asked of a philosopher: I am neither. If you’ve a further need to express your emotional desires, then might I suggest you consult a psychotherapist rather than an archaeologist.
Regards, JB
12.09.2013, 13:23
Dear James Beresford,
I was the first surprised of reading the connection you made between the Acropolis museum attendance and the reunification of the parthenon sculptures. In any case, I think that linking a miscalculation in the public attendance with the reunification is a very simplistic approach and a very poor argument. Moreover, It seems that you have some problems accepting other people opinions. I would like to remind you that as an independent reader I am free to comment on wherever I think is relevant in the article and what captured my attention was your unfair approach therefore I made a comment on whatever captured my attention. Regarding your suggestion of "consulting a psycotherapist in order to express my emotional desires" I personally believe that expressing emotions is not wrong at all, on the contrary is very good for your psyque, to relieve inner bitterness and frustrations and to feel good with yourself. I am very happy to be able to express emotional desires in the field of history, archaeology and in mi life in general. I will certainly consult a psychotherapist when I feel that my mind is getting rusted and anchored in the past, but thanks for your suggestion, its really appreciated.
Best Regards,
Santiago Gonzalez.
09.09.2013, 15:39
Dear Mr. Beresford,

It was interesting to read the statistics in your article. However, using museum visitor numbers against the reunification of the Sculptures made your commentary rather unidimensional. The reunification of the Sculptures is an issue in the core of which there are values. Values are an important factor in making decisions in the heritage sector.

Regarding your tone referring to the supporters of the reunification, I wondered whether the purpose of your article was to merely stir the issue. Developing a set of arguments that cover the different aspects of the reunification, as opposed to trying to diminish people's effort to support a new decision, would make your opinion better received.

The reunification is about bringing everyone together and revising a policy according to today’s values, standards and emotions. We can all work together to improve the way we communicate and inspire people through heritage.

Best regards,

Nikolaos Chatziandreou, PhD
MA Managing Archaeological Sites
AcropolisofAthens.gr
09.09.2013, 17:52
Dear Dr Chatziandreau,
The above ‘article’ is only a short comment piece that had to be kept under 500 words. As such, it could never develop into a detailed discussion of the all the issues relating to repatriation (a multiplicity of topics which have filled many books over the years).
Attendance figures at the Acropolis Museum do, however, provide measurable and quantifiable data – a distinct rarity in the Marbles debate that, as you know, generally gets bogged down in discussions of ethics, 19th century legal issues, or appeals to nationalistic/patriotic emotion. You yourself suggest forming a policy in respect to the Marbles based on ‘today’s values, standards and emotions’, but I think you’d have better luck trying to catch a will-o’-the-wisp than resolving the long-standing debate by reference to such a fuzzy set of criteria.
Interpreting the visitor numbers is difficult and isn’t even attempted in the above article – it merely highlights the issue of declining visitation. It will be interesting in future to raise questions such as whether the figures indicate a general societal lack of interest in the Marbles, or if the drop in attendance at the Museum is instead more closely linked to the state of the economy. Hopefully these and many others will be asked before too long. With just four years of figures – all gathered in the middle of a recession – it’s clearly too early to begin forming any conclusions concerning the medium- and long-term success of the Museum. (As I also note in the article, I’m hopeful that there will be a rebound in attendance over the course of this year, with visitations to the Museum increasing as the economy stabilises and tourism picks up.)
Despite its limitations, the above article was primarily intended to generate discussion because the fall in attendance is of very real concern and yet has been utterly ignored. I certainly can’t understand how the authorities at the Museum, or the Greek press, or even the various repatriation groups, all managed to miss the worrying decline in attendance figures. The numbers have, after all, been spiraling downwards for more than two years. It appeared to me that those who should/must have known about the drop in visitor numbers were either burying their heads ostrich-like in the sand to avoid acknowledging them, or purposely sweeping the troublesome figures under the carpet in the hope that no one else would notice.
With the 2013 colloquy of Marbles campaign groups set to be held in Sydney this November, it therefore seemed a good opportunity to bring the matter to public attention, and also to try and get the problems at the Acropolis Museum discussed by the various repatriation groups meeting in Australia. These international organisations have the potential to put pressure on the President and Board of the Museum to at least acknowledge the problem, and hopefully start developing strategies to turn things around.
Regards, JB
09.09.2013, 19:14
Dear Mr. Beresford,

What you refer to as "a fuzzy set of criteria" are crystal-clear concepts to me and to millions of other people in the world: physical integrity of cultural artefacts, conceptual integrity of monuments, authenticity of museum exhibitions, local heritage, community values, community rights, ethics, unity between people, clarity in reviewing historical facts, and, above all, respect. Above all, respect. These are clear concepts.

The dimensions of an issue can be mentioned briefly to provide the context of a statistics report in as little as one sentence. In your 500-word piece you did not provide any hint of the multidimensionality of the Sculptures' case.

With regard to your economic comment, it would have helped if you had clarified in your piece what you meant by economic crisis: the economic crisis in Greece in particular? the economic crisis in the world/other countries? How do you connect each possible meaning to the lower visitor numbers? There are some gaps in your argument of causal relationship between the two. That would open a new and technical discussion.

Regarding "appeals to nationalistic/patriotic" emotion: I always find it profoundly entertaining to hear arguments against the reunification of the Sculptures based on allegations of "nationalism". The seizure of the Sculptures from Athens was a typical act of colonialism, and their persistent retention today is the epitome of neocolonialism.

Declining numbers: Yes, they are important and they must be taken into account in annual museum performance assessments. It was valuable you brought forward the statistics figures but I disagreed with the ethic in the way you 1) used the statistics to approach issue and 2) you treated the campaigners' stance. At the end of the day, supporters express an opinion, as much you express an opinion.

Again, respect is the keyword.

Have a nice evening. Enjoy Athens, its people, heritage and weather.

Nikolaos Chatziandreou

09.09.2013, 19:50
Dear Dr Chatziandreau,

May you have the best of fortune on your ethical crusade. Just beware the trackless quagmire that lies en route to the mist-shrouded moral high ground.

Regards, JB
09.09.2013, 21:11
Dear Mr. Beresford,

What will the world become if we stop to pursue ethics and higher standards for our conduct? - in archaeology, in museum affairs, in every aspect of our lives.

Best wishes,
Nikolaos Chatziandreou
Dennis Tritaris
Web Designer, Orama Communications
09.09.2013, 00:45
What an interesting exchange of arguments.
As a member of a campaigning Committee I’m excited that the debate is still going strong.
As campaigners this is the only thing we can do right now. Keep the debate alive.
Our Sydney Colloquy (of which I’m proud to be the coordinator) will be another opportunity for debate, information sharing and exchange of ideas towards the resolution of this 200 year cultural dispute. http://www.parthenonmarblesaustralia.org.au/colloquy2013
Mr Beresford as you live in Athens you can appreciate the burning desire for the repatriation of this symbolic Sculptures’ collection. It might be hidden under the crisis’ everyday reality but it will always be there.
I too find the connection between the Repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles and the performance of the Acropolis Museum irrelevant. Phedias and Pericles never thought or intended for their masterpieces to be displayed on eye level in an artificially lighted building.
We can be “accused” of being naïve and romantic but we also can be pragmatic and realistic.
If we pay so much attention to the Acropolis Museum’s visitation numbers shouldn’t we start thinking more like that and start calculating how much is the loss revenue for the Acropolis Museum when its major collection is split in half? Why does the Acropolis Museum need to “defend” its performance when it is forced by the circumstances to showcase plaster casts?
Let’s start thinking what would it mean for the Acropolis Museum to be able to advertise and showcase “For the first time after 200 years: The Parthenon Sculptures Collection Reunited”. If I think like a marketing professional I can see $$ signs in the horizon. If I think like a “naïve romantic” Greek Australian I can see the queue for the entrance to the Acropolis Museum being such a problem that visitors will have to pre-book their visit months in advance. I can see grandfathers with the kids and their kids visiting a Museum where their country’s most brilliant creations will be displayed. And they will do what their ancestors over 200 years didn't have a chance to accomplish.
The bottom line is: Keep talking about it. One day it will happen.
People tell me “Be realistic. This will never happen”. My response is always the same:
Never say never.
If you told an American on the time of Elgin that one day they would have an African American President they would tell you “Be realistic. This will never happen”.
If you told an English man on the time of Elgin that one day women would have the right to vote and be elected they would tell you “Be realistic. This will never happen”.
So my friends I’m telling you: One day the Parthenon Sculptures will return to Athens.

Dennis Tritaris
Public Affairs Officer
International Organising Committee – AUSTRALIA –
For the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
09.09.2013, 13:21
Dear Mr Tritaris,
I’m glad you find the debate stimulating (although there are other words that might better describe it).
I’ve already written too much this afternoon in response to your British counterpart, so my apologies for keeping this reply relatively brief. Hopefully my comments to Mr O’Hara will also address some of the points you raise.
One issue you mention is that the Acropolis Museum has lost revenue because ‘its major collection is split in half’, and which is ‘forced by the circumstances to showcase plaster casts.’ I’m afraid that’s the fault of the architects and their governmental design brief. The Museum was constructed in the full knowledge that half the Marbles resided in Bloomsbury with no immediate prospect of their return.
Given the destruction to Greek heritage over the years (not least to the post Classical remains of the Acropolis), perhaps Greek governments of the recent past should therefore have focused their resources and rhetoric on preserving the archaeology already in their care.
As a poor (and, like too many of my neighbours, currently unemployed) archaeologist, I’m afraid that there’s no hope of my being able to attend the Sydney colloquy. I do, however, wish you the best of luck with the meeting and have little doubt that you’ll instill renewed vigour into your campaign. (I attended last summer’s conference in London that, although interesting and offering some fascinating presentations, would perhaps have benefited from more open debate. Hopefully you’ll allow for that.)
I must be honest and admit that I often find the repatriation campaigns conducted in countries like Australia somewhat hypocritical. By all means request the BM to give back the Marbles but, if you’re serious about the ethical arguments, then maybe you and other campaigners based in Australia or North America should set an example by handing back your own land and property to the aboriginal groups to whom it originally belonged? Not only was the land crucial to the subsistence strategies of First Nation peoples, it was also frequently imbued with myths and legends, and often contained great religious significance. All this was taken from them by force (and usually in the years AFTER Elgin removed the Marbles from Greece, at least in Australia). If you were to give your property to the descendants of the aboriginal groups who formerly lived there (without any financial reimbursement), then it might prove a significant step in demonstrating your campaign truly is motivated by ethics rather than an affirmation of Greek ancestral pride. Who knows, such a gesture might even touch an emotional chord with the Trustees of the BM.
Regards, JB
Dennis Tritaris
Web Designer, Orama Communications
09.09.2013, 22:21
Dear Mr Beresford.
I will keep this answer brief for a couple of reasons and one of them is being kindly insulted by the use of the word “hypocritical”.
1. I used the word “exciting” for the debate. Not “stimulating”. I don’t want to be part of a campaign just for the thrill of it.
2. It is my understanding that at the time the Acropolis Museum was envisioned planned and its construction was approved and started the main argument of the British side against repatriation was that the “Greeks” didn’t have a venue or the means to receive the Sculptures back. Of course with the creation and opening of the Museum the arguments changed and the concept of “A History of the World in 100 Objects” was introduced.
3. If you got a chance to browse the details of our Colloquy we allow for statements and presentation remotely and via the use of modern technology. A number of our presenters will use this opportunity to be part of the discussion without travelling all the way to Sydney. So anyone could be part of it without spending much.
4. With your permission we would like to concentrate our Campaign at this moment of time to the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures. When this happen and after we finish celebrating we could redirect our campaigning efforts into correcting other wrongs inherited by past generations. I found the use of the word “hypocritical” a bit offensive and unnecessary.
Regards DT
Eddie O'Hara
Chairman, The British Committee, for the ReunificatIon of the Parthenon Marbles
08.09.2013, 19:39
Dear Mr Beresford,

Nam Visitor Numbers

Thank you for giving so much attention to my observations on your article about the decline in recorded attendances at the NAM. I am grateful for your courteous comments but found it novel as a calloused veteran of Militant era politics on Merseyside to be described as a “romantic idealist”. I also have an aversion to the overuse of the word “passionate” by certain politicians to describe their convictions. I do however confess to a principled commitment to the case for the reunification of the sculptures of the Parthenon and am pleased to note that you also are not unsympathetic to this. This commitment has nothing to do with statistics of attendance, whether at the BM or at the NAM. Indeed it was the BM which first introduced this factor when it disingenuously claimed that 5 million visitors annually visited their Duveen Gallery when of course this figure referred to those coming through the front entrance. By contrast one may be confident that almost everyone passing through the front entrance of the NAM will visit its Parthenon gallery. You refer to an old EDM of mine in which you describe the mention of projected attendance figures as a “central plank”. Not so. This was introductory descriptive detail from the then prospectus of the planned museum. The central planks were the project of a museum dedicated to the narrative of the Acropolis and the Parthenon in particular, its location “at the one place on earth where it is possible to have a simultaneous visual and aesthetic experience of the Parthenon and its sculptures”, its glass walled roof gallery orientated to the ground plan of the Parthenon, and the fact that the gaps in the displays in this gallery would redound to the discredit of Britain in the eyes of foreign visitors. By contrast the filling of these gaps would bring us great credit.

The polls in The Times and the Art Newspaper are difficult to compare. The Times poll is admittedly based on the views of a selected group of experts. But their expertise does give credence to their listing. By the same token the BCRPM gave great credence to the poll last year of readers of the Museums Journal who by a large majority supported reunification of the Parthenon sculptures. The Art Newspaper poll as I understand it is based on simple visitor numbers. It is not surprising therefore that the big players (The Louvre, The Met, the BM, the Tate Modern and the National Gallery, all with the aid of big hitting temporary exhibitions) came first to fifth. For the NAM even to be placed in this company must have something to do with quality. The annual report of the NAM (available on line) gives evidence of this quality.

Finally I address your remarks about how the costs of what you come close to characterising as a white elephant could well have been spent on feeding the homeless in Greece. In the first place the costs of the NAM were incurred before the current economic crisis broke. Secondly it is a common fallacy to presume that public expenditure on one project might necessarily have been expended on another. Thirdly the costs of the NAM project incurred an EU subsidy not necessarily transferable to another project. Fourthly, as I understand it, the revenue costs of the NAM are not supported by subsidy from the public exchequer.
Having said all that, I am pleased that you share my wish that the NAM should be a success.

The declining numbers of attendance are indeed a matter of serious concern which I am sure is being addressed by the Director and his Board. I am sure you join me in wishing them well in this.



09.09.2013, 12:41
Dear Mr O’Hara,
I can’t imagine why anyone would wish for the Acropolis Museum to be anything but success. The €129 million would have been better spent on more pressing archaeological projects (or on social welfare programmes) in Greece, but now the Museum is up-and-running it needs to be supported.
Regarding your main point, while you argue ‘[t]his commitment has nothing to do with statistics of attendance, whether at the BM or at the NAM’, the exaggerated claims made by Prof Pandermalis and Dr Tom Flynn were clearly intended to bolster support for the return of the Marbles. In the official annual report published by the Acropolis Museum in the summer of 2011, it was also claimed: ‘Museum visitation numbers are a measure of the Museum’s success.’ Should we not take this official report at its word and judge the success of the Museum on its attendance? In the colloquy held in London last June you also included the ‘Brief Message From Professor Pandermalis’ near the start of the conference programme. If you were to reread it, you’ll find that right at the start of the President’s letter – on the first and second lines – he is keen to stress that the Museum has completed ‘its third exceptionally successful year of operation. With over 5 million visitors in its first three years...’ Less than 15 months ago, Prof Pandermalis was therefore keen to promote the New Acropolis Museum by gauging success against attendance. The BCRPM was also quick to highlight the importance of these visitor numbers supplied by the President of the Museum, referencing them on your Committee’s website: http://www.parthenonuk.com/index.php/refuting-the-bm-s-statements. If visitors numbers really are so unimportant, then why not point this out last year instead of uploading warm and fluffy figures on to the website?
Back in 2009, it was even noted of (current PM) Antonis Samaras: ‘The museum is also expected to … [attract] some 10,000 visitors a day and about 2 million every year, an in-flux that Culture Minister Antonis Samaras believes will shift public opinion in favor of the Parthenon Marbles’ return.’ (Athens Plus, Vol.53 19 June, 2009. p.4.)
It’s clear the Board of the Acropolis Museum are aware of the rapidly declining international ranking of their museum. In the Museum’s annual highlights report published in the summer of 2011, it was proudly noted that, during 2010, ‘the Acropolis Museum managed to achieve a ranking of 25 in the annual breakdown of museums internationally by visitor numbers, released by The Art Newspaper.’ However, in following years, no further mention was made to the Art Newspaper’s ‘league table’ as the Museum dropped to 38th place in 2011, and then declined to position 59 last year. Why did all reference to these tables disappear when attendance fell away? Am I cynical to think the President and Board were sweeping bad news under the carpet? If attendance records are of such limited importance, then the authorities at the Museum should have no problem pointing out the fall in visitor numbers, or the descent down the Art Newspaper 'league' rather than hiding them.
Given the above, I would therefore urge you to treat the President of the Museum and his Board with a degree of caution, and should they attend the colloquy in Sydney, then please quiz them robustly to determine if they have a well-defined plan to turn attendance around and secure the financial base of the Museum. Unless this is done then either the Museum will become a drain on the Greek state, or there will presumably be cutbacks in the 200-or-so staff at the Museum – something which nobody wants to see. The Marbles Reunited website notes that some €7 million is required annually to keep the Museum ticking over (http://www.marblesreunited.org.uk/news/director-new-acropolis-museum-gives-press-conference-third-anniversary-museum). That’s a good deal of money to raise from little more than one million visitors (many of whom receive free or discounted entrance). I for one have always found the Museum staff to be efficient and helpful (except for one woman who constantly gives me a telling off whenever I get too close to the Lenormant Relief!), and they should certainly not suffer as a consequence of poor decisions taken at Board level.
There is more to say in response to your long comment, especially in respect to EDMs and funding of the Museum (and use of ERDF money), or the fault of successive Greek governments to have the Museum built well in advance of the economic crisis (or how Greek politicians led the country into austerity). However, I’ve already written too much. Hopefully I’ll have the pleasure to discuss some of the issues with you in person in the not too distant future.
Warm regards, JB
PS I spent the last two years lecturing in Lahore, so I’d hazard a guess that even the ‘Militants’ you encountered on Merseyside in the 80s weren’t quite as much of a problem as you might have thought. (Although even the Taliban seem less ideologically motivated than some of the people who have responded to this short article!)
05.09.2013, 17:52
I'm surprised the writer of this article chooses Athens as his base given the feeling of antipathy present here. To say that Greece would somehow benefit from the current economic misfortunes of its neighbouring countries is arch and cynical. No matter how individuals attempt to manipulate the facts, the facts speak for themselves: the argument for the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures still holds strong, and no-one can undermine the efforts by campaigners to see these incomparable antiquities returned to the home that awaits them – the New Acropolis Museum - in Athens.
09.09.2013, 10:50
Dear Ms Borg,
Please forgive me for not responding to your comment until the weekend.
The attendance records for the New Acropolis Museum are all available in the annual ‘Highlights Report’ published each summer by the Museum (though the first year is available only in Greek). I have also double-checked the visitor numbers and had them twice confirmed by the wonderfully helpful Acropolis Museum staff. The international museum ‘league tables’ are also published annually in each April issue of the Art Newspaper. Please feel free to take a close look through these publications and, if you find that I have unwittingly managed to ‘manipulate the figures’ (as you rather unfairly claim), then please respond so that I might make corrections to the above article, and also offer apologies if I have mistakenly offended people such as yourself.
With your position as Literary Desk Manager at the Sunday Times, I can fully understand if you have a personal preference for the romantic fiction pioneered by Merkouri, or the epic fantasy occasionally put out by campaigners like O’Hara (see below). You can, of course, continue to uncritically accept the arguments put forward by these politicians. However, like them or not, the statistics mentioned in the above article offer a clearer (albeit still imperfect) understanding of the current popularity of the Acropolis Museum and the present levels of interest generated by the sculptures inside.
Is it hard-hearted of me to welcome the seeming boost in visitor numbers to Greece (and hopefully to Athens and the Acropolis Museum) in the wake of disturbances in rival tourist destinations? If so, then please let Greek hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners act as judge and jury. The Greek press was yesterday happy to report that tourism is up 15.5% over the first five months of 2013, with revenues expected to rise 10% across the year. (Here’s an English language version: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite2_1_06/09/2013_517553) Let’s hope that many of these additional visitors have also come to the Acropolis Museum and will boost the next set of attendance figures.
I’m saddened by your assumption that I dislike Greece and have a ‘feeling of antipathy’ towards the country and its people. Athens is a wonderful city in which to live, while today’s Greeks are every bit as interesting and dynamic as their Classical ancestors (and would surely not be in this economic mire were it not for their corrupt political class). Moreover, as an archaeologist whose research focuses on Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, Athens seemed a logical city in which to live.
Eddie O'Hara
Chairman, The British Committee, For the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
05.09.2013, 17:03
Thomas Dowson is correct. Attendance figures are irrelevant to the case for reunification of the Parthenon sculptures. Indeed why not send them to Beijing? More important than numbers is the quality of the NAM, which was recently adjudged by The Times (* The world's 50 best museums, 11 May 2013) to be the third of the top fifty museums in the world. Central to its purposes is to provide the best possible presentation and narrative of the sculptures of the Parthenon. Their preeminence merits this. The NAM has demonstrated that it can provide it. And then there are the cultural and ethical grounds for reunification.
05.09.2013, 22:18
Dear Mr O’Hara,
Thank you for your comments. I very much respect your dedication to the reunification cause and I found your speeches at last year’s London colloquy very interesting. Despite what you and others clearly think, I should state that I’m not opposed to the repatriation of the Marbles to Athens and I would actively support an immediate loan deal to help boost tourism into Greece in an effort to combat the country’s financial crisis (and maybe even boost morale). I would, however, just like to make a couple of points.
Re: The Times list from May. This underscores the point of the above article. Within a week of publication it was being referenced not only in Britain but here in Athens, with Greek journalists dispassionately(?) reporting: ‘second [on The Times list] is the British Museum in London, which houses the stolen Parthenon Marbles that officials refuse to return to Greece.’ (http://eu.greekreporter.com/2013/05/14/acropolis-museum-worlds-3d-best/). The President of the Acropolis Museum would also quickly refer to The Times list. By contrast, not a single newspaper, campaign group or museum official has noted the dramatic nose-dive in the position of the Acropolis Museum which became clear when the far more comprehensive Art Newspaper ‘league table’ appeared a month earlier. As you neglected to mention, The Times list was also compiled from group of just nine (British/British-based) critics and historians pre-selected by the newspaper; by contrast, the Art Newspaper survey reflected the interests of millions of international museum-goers. (You might also be forgetting that some of the Universal Museums, such as the Louvre or the Met, were purposely excluded from the The Times list.)
In respect to your assertion that attendance figures are an irrelevance, might I just remind you of one of your own Early Day Motions from when you were pushing the repatriation cause as a British MP. You noted that ‘the Greek Government has commissioned a new Acropolis Museum at a cost of £29 million to be situated at the foot of the Acropolis,’ and which you went on to claim was expected to bring an ‘estimated three million visitors per annum to the Acropolis Museum from around the world… when it is opened at the time of the Athens Olympics in 2004.’ (http://www.edms.org.uk/2001-02/336.htm). If museum attendance is ‘irrelevant’, then why use visitor numbers as a central plank in your argument to fellow MPs? If visitor numbers were relevant before the museum opened then why aren’t they valid now? However, given that you managed to exaggerate annual visitation to the Acropolis Museum by almost three times its current figure, I fully understand your annoyance at my article. (Did you at least receive a cash prize for managing the clean sweep of grossly inflated attendance figures; an opening date that proved five years too optimistic; underestimating the construction costs of the museum by a mere £80 million?)
I apologise for being rude at your expense, but it is this romantic naiveté in respect to the Marbles that have cost Greek and European taxpayers millions of euros – money which could sorely be used right now to assist the homeless we see on Athenian streets each day, or to help other museums and archaeological sites get through this period of austerity. By all means go to Sydney and discuss 200 year-old legal issues, or debate how the Parthenon is an ‘Icon of Global Citizenship.’ However, please don’t neglect to raise the question of WHY the Acropolis Museum is hemorrhaging visitors, and WHAT CAN BE DONE to reverse the trend. We all want the museum to be a success, but to be so it requires the lifeblood of money that flows from paying visitors: deserted galleries and empty cash tills are a poor return on £110 million. To borrow from Carville: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’
Thomas Dowson
Editor, Archaeology Travel
05.09.2013, 23:15
Mr Beresford,
Given that you put so much store into Eddie O'Hara's use of projected estimates of visitors numbers in his 2001 Early Day Motion (which can hardly be described as a "central plank"), it is interesting that you have neglected to acknowledge another of that EDM's "central planks" ( to use your misleading terminology, for it is as prominently stated):

"that this gallery will remain empty as long as the Parthenon Marbles are not available for display in it"

The "romantic naiveté" here is the idea that funds used for the construction of the Acropolis Museum could be used today to assist the homeless on the streets of Athens. At the time the museum was in the planning stages, at the funds were made available, no one was predicting the economic crash.

'It's the missing marbles, stupid.'
Thomas Dowson
Editor, Archaeology Travel
03.09.2013, 13:13
As ill informed as this article so patently is, clutching at the statistics of visitor numbers to the Acropolis Museum in Athens smacks of desperation.

The British Museum has long argued that more people would see the Elgin Marbles in London. While I am not aware of anyone offering a serious challenge to such a claim, the point is this issue is irrelevant to case for the Marbles return to Athens. If it were relevant, we should be packing up all the World's historical artefacts and sending them to the Louvre. After all, Paris receives more visitors annually than London.
03.09.2013, 12:06
There are fewer people visiting the Parthenon Gallery in the British Museum!

We are not silent, nor do we feel that visitor numbers are the real issue.

Apologies to the British Museum if you and they feel that the campaigning groups are simply attacking such a great museum. Rest assured we all have huge amounts of admiration for the British Museum and all that it does, however on the question of the Parthenon sculptures their continued attempt to justify maintaining two halves fragmented between two great museums in Europe, is an issue. An issue of respect for a peerless work of art.

The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles continues to support the cause for reunification because we feel there is a greater story to be told.

A story that two great museums can play a significant part and which will communicate the need to respect culture - at all times.