To Rebrand Itself, Greece Digs Deep Into Its Cultural DNA The news out of Greece has been terrible. But with a large new exhibition of ancient artifacts at Washington, D.C.'s National Geographic Museum, the Greek government is trying an image reboot.
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To Rebrand Itself, Greece Digs Deep Into Its Cultural DNA

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To Rebrand Itself, Greece Digs Deep Into Its Cultural DNA

To Rebrand Itself, Greece Digs Deep Into Its Cultural DNA

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The news out of Greece in the past several years has been pretty bad. An ongoing economic crisis has meant an unemployment rate around 25 percent. And more than a million refugees and migrants have come into the country in the past year and a half. So what is the Greek government doing in response? For one thing, it sent a big art exhibition to Washington, D.C. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas explains.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: The show is called "The Greeks: Agamemnon To Alexander The Great." It's a survey of 5,000 years of Greek art and artifacts. Most of the items have never left their homeland before.

MARIA VLAZAKI: We wanted, in the beginning of the economic crisis in Greece, to show what really Greece is and what really Greeks are.

TSIOULCAS: That's Maria Vlazaki. She's the secretary general of Greece's Ministry of Culture and Sports. She's also an archaeologist, and she is one of the curators of this show. She's been planning it since 2010, not long after the global financial meltdown began. Vlazaki points out the Greek government lends items all the time. But she's very straightforward about one of the reasons the show of more than 500 objects is touring the U.S. right now - she wants to inspire tourists.

VLAZAKI: They see so many masterpieces and also things of daily life that I think they will be very interested to visit Greece because they will see how Western civilization has been inspired by Greece.

TSIOULCAS: Among the oldest items on display are mysterious, angular, little figurines from roughly 5,000 years ago.

FRED HIEBERT: It looks like modern art.

TSIOULCAS: Fred Hiebert from the National Geographic Museum is the show's co-curator, and he says that he's still stunned by how willing the Greek museums and archaeological sites were to lend some of their most valuable treasures.

HIEBERT: We're coming to a section here which is from a site museum that I never, ever thought we would ever borrow from because it's the royal burials of the kings of Northern Greece at the time of Philip the Great and Alexander the Great.

TSIOULCAS: We're standing by a case that contains a finely wrought wreath made of dozens of tiny, very delicate and detailed flowers and myrtle leaves, cut from thin sheets of gold. It was made for Queen Meda, one of Alexander the Great's stepmothers.

HIEBERT: When we were putting this in the case, it glimmered and jiggled with every slight breeze. It's absolutely the most amazing piece of work I've ever seen.

TSIOULCAS: But will visitors who see these treasures then want to go to Greece? Could the show even help foreigners reframe their perceptions of the struggling country? Peter Economides thinks so.

PETER ECONOMIDES: You know, Americans are bombarded with all the news about Greece's bad news. I think it's a reminder - a very palpable, tangible reminder - up close. It's at the essence, it's at the core of what Greece is all about. And it creates very, very positive impressions.

TSIOULCAS: Economides is from South Africa, but his family is Greek. These days, he's a brand strategist based in Athens. And he was part of one of the most high-profile rebrandings of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers.

TSIOULCAS: The Apple reboot - so Economides knows a thing or two about how companies and even countries put themselves out into the world. And he says that looking to ancient Greece may not just coax Americans to reframe what they know about the country today.

ECONOMIDES: Greeks need to re-understand who they are so they can get their act together. Branding starts inside. It's not something you talk. It's something that you do. It's something that you are. It's something that drives behavior, cultural behavior.

TSIOULCAS: Tourism to Greece is actually up, but Economides says the country needs to re-imagine itself as something more than a vacation paradise of cheap villas and abundant sun and sea and some interesting archaeology. It's about Greeks themselves being inspired by that ancient history to do more, to create a 21st-century country that's as innovative as it was thousands of years ago. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News.

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