Who said that no-one does anything for free? Why shouldn’t senior citizens dance the tango? Why can’t small groups of people change things? By literally stopping traffic and bringing the city center to a standstill, ‘Thessaloniki Allios’ is proving that small groups of creative, positive people can and do change things for the better. In a similar way to ACT’s service learning, volunteerism spirit and numerous projects and groups, ‘Thessaloniki Allios’ seeks to change mentalities and realities from the bottom-up through creative, optimistic cooperation, rather than negative opposition.
On March 21st, The American College of Thessaloniki was honoured to host Giorgos Toulas, creator and head of ‘Thessaloniki Allios’, as part of the InspirationXchange discussion series, under the auspices of the Dukakis Center for Humanitarian and Public Service; an event that simultaneously launched ‘Politis’, the Dukakis Center’s blog and carried a live-stream of the discussion. ‘Thessaloniki Allios’ was born in June 2010 with a series of events involving hundreds of volunteers and participants that infused life and culture into every part of the city, with the aim of entertaining, encouraging and inspiring people to get involved in cultural, social and environmental actions and to work together. For 2 days, Tsimiski became a pedestrian zone (a huge feat in itself) and the events left thousands awestruck by the incredible creative force of the city.
Mr Toulas, his team of co-workers oversaw a diverse array of events, including: The Naked Bike Ride-in which over 1000 cyclist flooded the city centre and formed a beautiful mosaic of body paints, hats and swimsuits, street theatre, free music and dance performances, playgrounds with storytelling and recycled play-equipment, poetry (written on hundreds of paper planes and flown from the balcony of the Elektra palace Hotel) and groups of musicians playing in hospitals and old people’s homes. The events were magical and exciting for all that walked through the streets of Thessaloniki and many were aimed at highlighting the forgotten beauty of areas of the city that have been abandoned. After exhaustive cleaning operations, in a former Jewish neighbourhood, vintage lamp shades, lights and chandeliers adorned the old wires hanging between rooftops, old houses became art galleries, swing dancers performed through the streets and theatrical shows were staged in the alley ways. The list of amusing and inspiring events goes on and what Thessalonians wanted most after this thrilling weekend was more! And so the group has grown and continues.
There have been countless events and initiatives since then, including ‘Limani Allios’, with free performances and an intruiging display about the people that have arrived and departed from Thessaloniki Port, that encouraged all visitors to write about their ‘immigration / emigration’ backgrounds and pin it to the display to create a ‘tapestry’. In addition, there have been regular drives to collect food and medicine for organizations working with people in need, which have been swamped with donations. A recent action to hand out blankets to homeless people during the cold nights was supported by the Mayor’s office and contributed to the Municipality’s decision to open Municipal buildings for people to sleep in during the cold spells for free.
Listening to Giorgos Toulas recount the human stories behind the creation of ‘Thessaloniki Allios’and all they’ve managed to achieve was both moving and hope instilling. The discussion that followed after Mr. Toulas’ talk was very interactive and we should aim to involve ACT and Anatolia students, staff and facilities in the upcoming events of ‘Thessaloniki Allios’.