Lonely Planet Writer

Meet the Greek guerilla conservators saving Athens street art one piece at a time

Inspired by Greece’s woes, including an ongoing economic crisis, the public walls of the Greek capital have taken on another layer, pushing Athens into the street art spotlight.

Athens street art.
Athens street art. Image by Marissa Tejada

Now compared to the likes of Berlin, Athens’ street art is well loved by an urban community that feels the messages or simply appreciates the artistic talent involved. But not everyone agrees, and that’s when murals may end up with a splash of paint or destroyed with dizzying tags.

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When that happens, not all is lost. A new volunteer group Street Art Conservators ,ST.A.CO; intervenes. Its dozen or so members are formally trained in the conservation of antiquities and art, and with a ‘conservation toolkit’ of toothbrushes and sponges, they painstakingly clean up vandalised murals so the public can enjoy them again.

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‘We consider every single piece we conserve, during its short lifetime, as unique and spectacular, a piece of the city’s art puzzle’, says Eleftheria Mavromati, an archaeologist and ST.A.CO volunteer.   ‘We treat them with respect, even having ‘adopted’ some pieces that truly stand out due to their artistic or historical value. Sometimes, artists use mixed techniques which makes the conservation more of a challenge.’

Athens street art.
Athens street art. Image by Marissa Tejada

For their latest project, members meet at an abandoned street corner building that was transformed by the detailed gold, amber and brown shades that create the wise, stern and magnificent countenance of an owl, an ancient symbol of the city. The mural, titled ‘Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens’, was painted by the street artist known as Wild Drawing for a city culture festival and because of its beauty, went viral soon after. ST.A.CO volunteers meet to carefully brush thick splashes of pink paint inch by inch. They do this knowing the street art could be ‘pressed’ or destroyed overnight.

Athens street art.
Athens street art. Image by Marissa Tejada

‘There is joy in what we do. If a piece can live a few minutes or a few months more, that means the public can enjoy it more’, says Mavromati.

that’s why Mavromati and her fellow volunteers continue to ‘scope out’ the city’s central and historic districts of Psyrri, Metaxourghio, Monastiraki, Plaka and Exarhia to see where they can lend their time and talents.

‘Athens is unique, as every town all over the world. Here, the ancient is standing beside the modern and in between it all is this incredible and lively street-art gallery that we want to keep alive as long as possible.’

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