Mathew Halpin: The Australian artist breathing new life into Crete’s abandoned neighbourhoods

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Home is where the heart is – this is not a story of a Greek who came to Australia.

Mathew was born in Sydney, mostly grew up in Adelaide but for the last ten years he calls Heraklion, home. Now, Director of The Lakkos and Ano Asites artists residencies, he uses contemporary art to attract tourists and young people to some of the island’s neglected villages.

– Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Crete? 

I was born in Sydney, but mostly grew up in Adelaide. Before moving to Crete, I was living in Tallinn, Estonia for three years. Before that I lived in London. After so many years of living in cold countries, I wanted to find a place more like Australia, but still in Europe. I had some Cretan friends who lived in Heraklion. After travelling around Greece I fell in love with Crete, and decided it was a great place to make a new life. 

– What do you like about Greece and specifically Crete? 

I am a bit of a history nut. I love places with a long story. Athens is wonderful, but after living in a few big cities, I was keen to find a smaller one, with a slower pace of life. There are many amazing locations in Greece.

You can visit many Greek islands for different reasons, or you can just go to Crete – it has it all. Obviously the beaches are wonderful, but for me the dramatic mountains are where my heart is. Plus Cretan people are very welcoming, and lovely to spend time with. 

– What does your project involve and how did you come about it? 

I have started two artists residencies in very special locations, both locations were being neglected for different reasons. I feel in love with the nearly abandoned areas. In order to draw attention to the locations I started artists residencies.

Many artists/ writers/ dancers/ musicians come and stay for a minimum of two weeks. It has proven to be a great cultural swap. The artists and local communities both benefit in many ways. 

– What is the feedback you get from the locals? 

In both locations [Lakos and Ano Asites] the locals really appreciate the difference, art has brought to their places. It often leads to locals being able to show off their own arts and crafts. The cultural swap is very valuable. 

– Has COVID-19 impacted you? In what way? 

Yes, COVID has been a very big problem. We had very low infections, but Crete is a place that heavily relies on tourism. Both residencies have been empty since March, but the bills keep rolling in with no income to pay them.

I took over four abandoned houses to renovate instead of paying rent. There is no money to do important maintenance. Plus the village project was very new. The locals were very sad that no new murals were being made this year. To make up for it last week I painted an old advertisement for FIX beer on the kafeneion. 

– Tell us five things you found out along the way about Greece and/or Crete? 

  1. The old saying ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’ is totally not true. Greeks are naturally very generous, and are not cunning enough to expect anything in return. (Of course you always do give something back, but that is just good manners.) 
  2. European civilisation began on Crete. 
  3. The family network is number one priority in Greece. The financial crisis would have been a disaster for many poor people in most countries. Because the Greeks look after their own, people were not forced to live on the streets. 
  4. So called ‘Turkish baths’, actually started in Greece! 
  5. In Crete never say no to a raki when offered one! 

– Share your favourite Greek word with us 

τίποτα – Because in English it sounds like teapot. It is also a nice thing!

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