The taxi driver who took us to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in the southern Athenian suburb of Kallithea a few nights ago described it in a way that many people think about it, but cannot find the exact words to express it: “What this man built,” he said, “is so wonderful that you no longer think you are in Greece.”
It is true that this work does not resemble anything in Greece. It may not, however, find a peer either in Europe or even America.
It’s a unique project. It is a masterpiece of architecture that combines with respect and harmony the dominant elements of its environs: the Acropolis on the one hand and the sea on the other. It is a unique undertaking that enhances the city of Athens, a magnetic force that draws Athenians of all generations and backgrounds, as well as tourists, to the city’s southern shore, a diamond similar to architectural projects of the Golden Age of Pericles some 2,500 years ago.
Nearly 280,000 people visited the Center last week when it hosted its annual multi-dimensional Summer Nostos Festival, which was organized and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
In order to give an idea of the size and complexity of the Festival, I note that 700 artists performed throughout the week – both from Greece and abroad.
Eleven million people have visited the Center since it was completed in 2016.
On Sunday evening, at the ceremony marking the end of the Festival, Andreas Dracopoulos, the Co-President of the Foundation, spoke to the thousands of visitors and thanked them for their participation.
Above all, however, he emphasized the essence of the event and the venue: “The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center,” he said, “belongs to you.”
This message, which Mr. Dracopoulos has repeated many times, is, by now, felt by everyone.
If they did not see it as their own, they would not treat it with such care and respect. They would litter – carelessly tossing a piece of paper here, a bottle there, a cigarette a little further down, etc.
But they do not throw the slightest piece of garbage anywhere on the grounds of the Center because they respect it. They appreciate it.
They see the exemplary way it is maintained, the amazing way the spaces have been created to be beautiful and useful for the whole family, and they have noted the unprecedented high level of the programs that offers another spiritual, cultural, artistic, and educational dimension to the inhabitants of Athens and its visitors from the Greek provinces and around the whole world.
It is wrong, however, to attribute all this merely to the fact that the SNF has money, however essential those resources may be.
With the same amount of money someone else might have created a monstrosity, which by now would have been in a state of disintegration.
That it did not happen. Instead, the Center remains in its original pristine condition thanks to the care and efforts of Foundation’s leader – he does not like to talk about it, but that’s the truth.
He is a person of unusual abilities, with lofty visions and broad horizons, with the ability to inspire and elevate everyone he interacts with. He is a man who first demands excellence of himself before asking it others, in all he does, no matter how big or how small.
He is a proud Hellene, who makes us Greek-Americans proud, because this man, Andreas Dracopoulos, is one of our own, a member of our Community.
He is a Greek of the Diaspora, who has absolutely no business interests in Greece. A Greek from abroad who, while being in the mold of the great benefactors of the nation of the past – all were emigrants – has brought a new, broader and more cosmopolitan dimension to his philanthropic endeavors.
He is the patriot who, with the dozens of works he has undertaken, promotes the mindset of excellence, which this country sorely needs.