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Garo Keheyan: Pharos plans €15 million Centre for Art, Culture and Dialogue

The Pharos Arts Foundation, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is one of the island's leading cultural and educational foundations, especially in the area of music, presenting recitals and concerts with some of the world’s leading musicians and ensembles. Here, the Foundation's Founder and President Garo Keheyan speaks to CBN about the Foundation's history and reveals plans to build a €15 million Centre for Art, Culture and Dialogue

The Pharos Arts Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Could you tell us how it all started and where it is at today?

The Pharos Arts Foundation was registered in 1998 as a Cyprus based, non-profit cultural and educational charity dedicated to the promotion of a wide range of activities in the field of humanities and the arts. It’s origin and its inspiration go back to the early 1990s when I first visited Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and witnessed the deep commitment to the arts and music and extraordinarily difficult circumstances of war and economic collapse. After two major exhibitions of post-soviet art from Armenia and one or two concerts with the famous Chilingirian String Quartet from the UK which were personal initiatives, I was encouraged to set up a foundation and pursue these activities in a more formalised manner.

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Looking back now I think it’s true to say that we have evolved into the leading cultural and educational foundation on the island, especially in the area of music. We were the first active exponent of cultural chamber music on a regular basis and have made a significant contribution in shaping the country’s cultural infrastructure – presenting recitals and concerts with some of the world’s leading musicians and ensembles.

Legendary artists have been hosted in Cyprus over the past 25 years – probably the greatest living pianist of our time Grigory Sokolov has been here twice. Other names that come to mind are superstar pianist Yuja Wang who came in 2016, violinists such as Leonidas Kavakos, Joshua Bell, Julia Fischer and Sergey Khachatryan; cellists Misha Maisky and Steven Isserlis; great singers such as Emma Kirby, Soile Isokoski and Véronique Gens; harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani; ensembles like Academy of St. Martin the Fields, Le Concert Spirituel, Le Talents Lyrique as well as the greatest string quartets of our time. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say our commitment to artistic and musical excellence has never wavered.

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During this time, we have also built up a loyal and dedicated audience that deeply appreciates what Pharos offers and knows that it is on a par with whatever is presented at the top concert halls and capitals of the world. I am proud to be able to say that we have created a historic legacy spanning a quarter of a century and it is second to none.

In addition to music, Pharos has also had a contemporary art space and has hosted leading contemporary artists, published major art books and provided a residency programme for visiting artists. It has a public lecture series on a wide range of topics and has presented an eclectic selection of documentaries and art films. The foundation has also undertaken major cultural projects abroad in Brazil, the U.K., Armenia, Jordan, the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation. Today the foundation is at a crossroads. It is entirely dependent on private funding and support and while our achievement is clear we do need greater public awareness to take Pharos to the next stage.

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The Foundation plans to create the Pharos Centre for Art, Culture and Dialogue in a beautiful setting of ancient olive groves and pine forest at Delikipos. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Our vision is to expand the Pharos project to the next level by creating the foundation’s own dedicated space for art, culture and global dialogue in the beautiful setting of the olive grove which is already being used in the summer months for open air concerts. The Centre will provide spaces for the visual and performing arts as well as a 50,000-volume library and accommodation for visiting artists, writers, composers, musicians and thinkers from all disciplines and backgrounds.

An important element of this Centre will be the Pharos Forum providing, a venue for dialogue and debate on issues that must concern us all. Universal spiritual and material progress which we call civilisation can only flourish in what has become the global village of the 21st century if we share basic ethical principle and develop a new world view, a paradigm determined by a reverence for Life and Nature as well as creative expression.

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The Pharos Centre will cultivate these crucial notions and offer new collaborative ways of addressing difference and discord – of moving away from private understandings, as Heraclitus would have put it, towards perceptions of unity. The Pharos Centre will explore ways in which we can develop a saner, healthier and more sustainable world at the beginning of our millennium.

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Where is the project at currently? Who are the investors behind it and how much is it expected to cost?

We are at the early planning stages at the moment. A top international architectural firm has been approached and have expressed great interest in the project. We very much hope the Government will realise that such a project is in the national interest and will support it. There are potential philanthropic donors – both at individual and institutional level who are also interested in the project. The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around €15 million.

This project will be a great asset to the island and project its role in the region as a Centre for cultural exchange and dialogue as well as cultural diplomacy. As Cyprus aims to position itself as an important international business hub it is also important that a sophisticated cultural environment also exists. Pharos has shown through its 25-year proven track record that it can deliver and be a cultural asset of unique value to the island.

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What is the foundation’s philosophy and vision?
In a nutshell, Pharos’ philosophy is to be a beacon of light and inspiration to individuals and to effect societal change through an awareness of the importance of the arts and music in our lives. Its purpose is to nurture and nourish the spirit and the soul. We live in difficult and dangerous times. While a small part of the world population has access to material well-being many suffer mass deprivation. It is essential for us to realise the deeper aim and purpose of human life. These essential understandings come to us primarily through an appreciation and understanding of the arts. Art is the enrichment of the human spirit. Art is tangible and people must be aware of this. Money and capital cannot be an economic value in and of themselves. Our real capital is human dignity and creativity.

Capital is human capacity and what flows from it. This is what Pharos invests in and what it is trying to develop and reveal. Glen Gould the pianist once said, ‘’The purpose of art is the life-long construction of a state of wonder and serenity’’. Certainly, the highest purpose of art is to inspire humanity. Everything that gives joy and meaning to life comes through the arts and the artists who inspire and guide us. Another very important aspect of Pharos’ philosophy and vision is youth education.

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Over the past 20 years we have organised hundreds of educational concerts and masterclasses that have reached 80,000 secondary school students. I always say knowledge and culture create successful societies. I feel very fortunate that my vision and the Pharos mission is shared passionately by the foundation’s Artistic Director, Yvonne Georgiadou, whose commitment to Pharos and its work has been extraordinary and vital to our success.

Can you tell us a bit more about the international festivals and events the Foundation hosts? And the locations?
Pharos has created two internationally renowned music festivals in addition to our regular concert and recital series, presenting around 30 concerts a year. The Chamber Music Festival takes place in late May early June every year at the Royal Manor House within the Sanctuary of Aphrodite. It is a truly world class festival, bringing together around 20 musicians who present chamber music at the highest artistic quality. Each year the Artistic Director of the festival, Alex Chaushian, brings together the greatest names on the world stage today. Daishin Kashimoto, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, is a regular visitor.

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The Contemporary Music Festival which will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year was the first of its kind and has invited the legendary contemporary music ensembles of Europe to perform in Cyprus, including the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain and Klangforum Wien. We have presented many world premieres and supported the careers of prominent Cypriot composers such as Evis Sammoutis, Vassos Nicoloau, Yiannis Kyriakides and Andreas Tsartas.

One of the special features of Pharos concerts are the exceptional and unique venues that the foundation is fortunate to use. The Sanctuary of Aphrodite is a unique historic sight and a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The Shoe Factory, the foundation’s home for chamber music in Nicosia, has become recognised throughout Europe among musicians as a very special space with exceptional acoustics and for the intimacy that is often lacking in larger venues. It has also contributed to the regeneration of the old city. Finally, the Olive Grove in Delikipos is the open-air summer concert venue of the foundation set among ancient olive trees and pine forest. It has become a favourite with audiences for its sublime atmosphere and energy.

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Tell us about yourself. You are also the Honorary Consul of Brazil in Cyprus and have received awards for your services to culture? Can you elaborate?

I was born in Cyprus and my grandparents came here as refugees from Asia Minor in 1915. My father Hagop Keheyan was a self-made man who was a pioneer in the banking, insurance and the property sector on the island, but who also suffered large losses as the consequences of the Turkish invasion.

I was educated in the UK and USA with degrees in English literature from Oxford, International relations from the USC and an MBA from UCLA, so I consider myself very much a global citizen and a generalist. In 1982 I was appointed the Vice-Consul of Brazil and succeeded my father as Consul a decade later. I feel blessed and privileged to represent such an important country on the global stage and very pleased that I have been able to promote Brazilian culture and art through the Pharos Arts Foundation. For over 10 years the foundation organised a Brazilian culture month in Cyprus, putting our island on the map in Brazilian artistic circles and offering Cypriots an awareness of the richness and diversity of Brazilian art and culture.

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I also feel honoured that my services to culture have been recognised by the Governments of France, Brazil and recently Italy. We must always remember that burial shrouds do not have pockets and it is what we have given to others that we shall take away with us on our next journey.

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