Cycladic Arts on Paros

Riding the summer ferries that run from the ports of Athens across the scattershot of the Cyclades is like riding the rush-hour metro, but with sticky carpet and TV’s blasting Greek music videos from the 2000’s. You’ll see everyone there, the bright-eyed family with matching luggage, the black-frocked priest in his Santa beard, the Italian kids with iPads and ice creams, the ladies trip flocks with their huge sunglasses and fingernails clacking against their phone screens.  The seats are all taken and the canteen counter is piled high with koulouria, the long thing sesame-crusted bagel.

On that same ferry in the off season finding a window seat is no problem. The guest list has changed, too; an older woman returning from a doctor’s appointment in Athens, a farmer with new parts for the tractor, a writer returning to solitude. 

The Cyclades light up each summer, with sun, wind and visitors who come and go. We’ve always been interested in those who stay, those who were born on these islands and who still live here, and the new crop of people who are making the Cyclades their all-year home, bringing new ideas, new life and vision to the quieter parts of the year.

Dimitra Skandali was born on the island of Paros. Her studies and work as an artist took her through Europe and America, but the island called her home. She now runs Cycladic Arts from the old stone house where her grandparents raised twelve children. Cycladic Arts hosts month-long residencies for artists from all over the world. We chatted with her about growing up on Paros, how the island has changed and the joys and challenges of living on a small rock in the Aegean.

photos by Dimitra Skandali

QC: What was it like growing up on Paros? Has the island changed since your youth? 

DK: It has been like growing up in paradise but also feeling isolated and far away from everything from the outside world.  Paradise like landscapes, and inviting seas and coves, surrounded by love. At the same time living in the rhythm of tourism, meaning that we were always exposed to crowds of tourists during two months of the summer and then alone again experiencing lonely winters.

The island has certainly changed since my youth (I was born in 1969): more tourists are visiting in the last decades and also, especially after the financial crisis in 2010-2017 and the covid years, more people selected to live permanently on the island. That means we are facing overwhelming construction activity and the landscape and natural beauty is sometimes damaged, with no return. A positive progress of all this is that the tourist season has been extended for more months but the feeling of isolation has remained almost the same, even though the internet has offered other kinds of mind openings.

photos by Dimitra Skandali

QC: Since launching Cycladic Arts you’ve hosted so many interesting artists. Surely the island has influenced their work. Do you think they’ve also brought their own influence to Paros, in some way? 

DS: Our program is very new (Cycladic Arts was launched in July 2022) and we cannot make big statements about its influence on the island. We can definitely say that artists, writers, musicians who have already been here have been influenced by it! And we notice the very positive support and encouragement from the local and foreign community in our activities and programs, such as the open studios, the public exhibitions etc. The support is really touching and there is nothing better to see gatherings of all kinds of people, backgrounds, ages, interests, interacting with each other and showing interest about what everyone is doing. The love of the people has been overwhelming and I wanted to thank everyone for this! In a personal level, my (wider and closer) family and I are more than happy to see that the history of the family building, a century-old katoikia, where my grandparents raised 12 children (my father is one of them), has a continuity, and it is still filled with life like the old times! We want to make sure that the family history can be inspirational and to learn from in one way or another.  Also, it makes us more than happy to see how much the artists and all creatives enjoy everything: our facilities, our gardens, our village and the whole island. 25 days (which is the residency period) feels always a short time comparing to what the island can offer.

QC: What makes Paros unique? 

DS: Paros is a very beautiful island and the proximity to the big port of Piraeus and the city of Athens makes it an easy destination (it is only 3 ½ hours by ferry and half an hour by plane from Athens).  What makes a difference from other islands is that it combines beauties and interests for different types of visitors: families, alternatives, old people who what to be in a quiet place and young people who want to party. The landscape is very smooth with soft lines (without high mountains) and accessible protected beaches and beautiful paths to hike between the villages. 

photo by QC

QC: We find the color of the Aegean impossible to describe. Can you help us?

DS: Oh my – the color of the Aegean is hard to be described from myself as well… I see it in my dreams …  it is a unique feeling to sail, to swim or to dive into the Aegean. Everyone should do this at least once in his life. The beauty is incomparable!  It changes from light turquoise, to deep blue with endless tonality variations! Really unique!

photos by Maja Sherina Fankhauser

QC: Can you tell us a favorite dish or taste from Paros?

DS: I would choose a favorite sense: smelling wild herbs while hiking in nature especially in the spring time, is truly magical!  Sage, oregano, rosemary, chamomile, while enjoying the wild flowers, and the bees and butterflies’ activity, and then basil, mint and jasmine as you walk from the gardens in small villages during the summer, really makes you feel grounded The activation of all senses, makes everyone happy I believe!

And, what can I say about Greek food?  The way that everything is made by simple materials, olive oil and herbs, makes the simplest dish the most favorable. And if you are lucky to find a taverna with an old woman cooking, you are the luckiest person!

photo by QC

QC: What’s your favorite season on Paros? 

DS: My favorite seasons are spring and fall: the wakening of nature, the bees, the butterflies, the wild flowers, the herbs, give a feeling of being in paradise!  And then, after the busy summers, the calmness that comes and the light of Fall together with the calm sea takes you to a serene place where your heart wants to stay forever.

QC: Ours as well :).