UNESCO Women Make News 2012

Inspired and Inspiring – Yvonne Georgiadou

On first meeting Yvonne Georgiadou, one is immediately captured by her warm, welcoming smile and flamboyancy. With her flaming red hair, she exudes an air of confidence as we sit down to a welcome cup of cappuccino overlooking the emerald green sea of the Mediterranean.

Yvonne is highly qualified as a musician having left Cyprus at 18 to study at the Royal Holloway University of London specialising in History of Music and Performance. She continued at the Trinity College with a Masters as well as the Birkbeck College in Opera Studies.

Moving back to Cyprus was an impulsive decision. “I felt my life in London had come to a halt and needed to move forwards. So, in 2005, I came back with the aim of giving it a summer holiday feel. By the end of the year I had decided to remain in Cyprus. There was an air of confidence everywhere with many radical improvements – all for the better I must add. Changes are not easy – so I put myself into a ‘positive mode’ and in this way, I was able to put my life into perspective and kept my focus on appreciating all the everyday things that really do matter. Being fifteen minutes away from the sea also gave me the luxury of being able to contemplate the ‘puzzles’ of life and give me that survival mechanism which helped to make the transition less troublesome.”

Yvonne began working at the Pharos in April 2006 following a call from the President, Garo Keheyan for assistance with music texts. Gradually, she took on more and more responsibilities showing her dynamic personality and innovative ways. Yvonne is quick to point out that many of these projects however, would have never come to fruition without the insight of Garo. “He is extremely open-minded and recognised that flexibility in my work hours was essential. He realised that I was not a person who could work 9-5 and be locked up in an office environment. Essentially, I see Pharos as part of my family and an expansion of my interests so do not see my job as a huge workload and frequently work much longer hours anyway. It’s not about clocking hours, but rather of positive results. Furthermore, giving me the freedom to work from home in Limassol saves a lot of time and energy in commuting which I instead put into constructive work.”
Many women experience overt discrimination in the work place because of their gender. “I know there are many bad stories out there – lower salaries, fewer opportunities but again, the Pharos Arts Foundation is not a typical workplace. I can best describe it” she says laughing “as a mad place surrounded by mad people full of enthusiasm for what they do with gender inequality never having had any place there. That doesn’t mean there are no challenges. It’s difficult to be a woman with demanding work and taxing hours but working for the Pharos is not about financial success- ours is about education, high standards and altering many false perceptions.”

Yvonne has been responsible for many new initiatives from the Cyprus Artists Series to a highly developed education programme – something very close to her heart. “Education is about all the small details and information which can help a young individual reach their maximum potential. It is not only about school, although that does play an important role. Learning how to appreciate art and culture is essential and children should be given the opportunity to find alternative ways to express their thoughts and feelings. It’s not about making them professional musicians but learning the art of listening. We are bombarded by trash every day, and it makes me sad to see people unable to distinguish real art from that disguised as art. The only way to raise free and open-minded individuals is by nurturing their creativity and imagination and giving them the opportunity to experience and value different things – great music, challenging art and provocative literature.”
The Pharos Arts Foundation has a strong bond with the education system and many events are organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture.

“I personally discuss and exchange ideas with all our visiting artists. The impact is immediately visible – whether it’s children with special needs to young student composers delivering exciting new works or rural school children listening to ensembles whose last concerts were in the biggest halls of Europe. We have had over 50 000 benefit from our programme, with artists commenting that they derive extensive pleasure and satisfaction from the children’s response.”
Imparting the message to rural communities is often more challenging but Yvonne points out that the opposite is true in Cyprus. “In the small, ancient village of Kouklia where we host the annual International Chamber Music Festival, the teachers are very welcoming and recognise the necessity of culture as a way to develop, invest and promote their area. In the city Nicosia for example, much of the money is wasted and it is significantly more than that given to rural communities. Delikopos too, is an amazing little village surrounded by the most magnificent forest. The Pharos has created a world-class venue - the Olive Grove which is currently used for open-air concerts and under threat through the plans for the creation of a new quarry which would mean the destruction of many kilometres of forest.” Not one to mince her words, Yvonne laments “While we are trying to enhance the area, promote agro-tourism and create an internationally renowned arts village....” and shuddering at the thought, finishes “the vision will be wasted along with the trees and people’s health in the area.”
Articulate and passionate, I wonder what keeps Yvonne focused as a woman. With a broad smile she replies “If I discovered the secret to a woman’s happiness and balance I would become the richest woman on earth. I just try to stay as focused as possible, retain the passion in whatever I do and then serve it as a soldier. I need freedom to express my ideas and relish being with people who inspire me. ” An avid cat lover, Yvonne finds Cybele a great source of inspiration and information. “There are so many things you can learn from animals, there is no recipe, you just have to take it as it comes and make yourself happy at that specific moment. The most important thing is not to let yourself feel constrained.”

Despite it being a weekend, I’ve have noticed Yvonne’s mobile work phone flashing incessantly. Although we could talk and exchange ideas for ages, time has flown and we must part. I believe that we are truly lucky in Cyprus to have such an energetic and inspirational woman in the arts world. A mover and shaker.