THE STAVROS Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), has witnessed around 25,000 visitors per week since August. On February 23, the 620 million euro centre which was solely funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), was officially handed over to the Greek state. The SNFCC is the new home of the Greek National Opera (GNO) and the Greek National Library (GNL) and also boasts a fantastic park land, used for open air concerts, comprising sports facilities and more. The signing ceremony included speeches by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and SNF Co-President and Director Andreas Dracopoulos. A spectacular performance with artists from various fields followed, the highlight of which was world-renowned soprano Sumi Jo’s performance of the aria ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma’; An apt choice, considering that another famous interpretation of this aria was rendered by the great Greek diva of opera, Maria Callas.
President Pavlopoulos spoke of how the SNFCC is “the largest donation made to the Greek state in recent years”, and that this donation is important because it is happening now, during the crisis. He went on to state that “Greece, despite whatever crisis, radiates and will radiate intellect and culture, because Greece is the intellect and culture which founded Western civilization”.
SNF Co-President and Director Andreas Dracopoulos started his speech with a brief history of the actual land that the centre now occupies: “According to archaeologists, this was one of the most important necropolises of Attica during the archaic period, next to the first port of ancient Athens, before 492 BC.” He also referred to the fact that the SNF is in the process of discussing with the Ministry of Culture for the creation of a museum on the site (to be funded entirely by the SNF), to house the ancient findings that were revealed during the centre’s construction. Dracopoulos went on to explain how later on, in the 19th century the site was grazing ground (and was called ‘Voidolivado’), and in the 20th century from 1925 until 2003 it was a horse race track. In 2007 the agreement was signed between the SNF and the Greek state, for the creation of the cultural centre. In 2012, construction started. And now, ten years later, it has been completed and is being handed over to the Greek state and to the Greek people.
Dracopoulos went on to say that the SNFCC will benefit from financial support from the SNF (50 million euros per year), for the next five years, if it is being ‘run properly’.
Dracopoulos also stated that the SNF is close to announcing its donation to EKAB (the state’s ambulance fleet) supplying it with 143 new ambulances, which amounts to a 22% increase in the total number of state ambulances. They will be given to all regions of Greece, including the islands. Their running and maintenance costs for 8 years will also be covered by the SNF.
Dracopoulos went on to read some of the text messages he had received on the subject of the SNFCC’s handover; Messages of angst even from a 15-year old boy, or sarcastic comments such as “Have you been to Greece before?”, and “I will take a ‘before’ and ‘after’ pic”. But his answer was that yes, they had been to Greece before, and that they still believed in this country.
“Today I would say that a large ten year cycle has been completed and a new one begins” claimed Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his speech, who went on to explain how the cultural worth of the SNFCC is even greater than its monetary worth; because of what it can offer not only in terms of hosting international productions, but also of how it can help the local arts scene flourish. Tsipras emphasized that the SNF ‘gave’ to Greece, at a time when everyone else wanted to ‘take’ from Greece. He did also mention however that “the fears are real”, of the Greek people (as expressed in the aforementioned text messages). And that is because we have previous examples to consider, such as what has happened to the many now derelict and rundown buildings of the 2014 Olympic Games. He did however emphasize that the Greek state will do its uttermost to maintain the centre, also stressing that it is not only for the elite, but for everyone.
And so, this wonderful cultural gem has been handed over to the Greek state, at a ceremony which also included a rich and varied cultural programme that followed the signing procedure. From hip hop to ballet to opera, to Tsitsanis’ ‘Arhontissa’, and even a children’s choir and bicyclers passed from the grand new stage of the GNO. The performance was a well-synchronised mix of live performances on stage with also video projections of other performances that had happened on the grounds for the ceremony. The 1,200 (free) tickets for the event that were available online had all been grabbed up. Past prime ministers Kostas Karamanlis, George Papandreou, and Antonis Samaras were also present, among other dignitaries, politicians and even the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece Ieronymos.
The fate of this wonderful cultural gem, remains to be seen, but what is certain, is that we can all help by supporting it. After the fireworks show, I got into a taxi and came down to reality with a bump. All Greek taxi drivers have a story to tell. This one told me of how the crisis had destroyed his lucrative business and that now he had to drive a cab for a living. For him, cultural centres are of no interest. But then again, he did get a few clients from the centre last night. Looking at it from a more positive light, the SNFCC will help Athens become an even brighter cultural beacon of Europe, and we can all benefit in one way or another from that, whether it be from the increase in cultural tourists, to the increase in profit for local businesses. So let us not look a gift horse in the mouth, but instead make the best of it.
- Free events continue at the SNFCC throughout March, including concerts, children’s workshops and sports activities.