BOSTON, MA – The Greek-American Community of Boston and of all New England has been enriched culturally by the valuable presence and activities of The Maliotis Cultural Center, located on the campus of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Next year, the Center will celebrate its 35th anniversary. Philip Serafim, Sc.D., Professor of electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University, who is President of the Friends of the Maliotis Cultural Center, in an exclusive interview with TNH spoke about the Center’s history, the programs and the contribution to Greek-American Community.
TNH: Let’s start with the history of the Maliotis Cultural Center. When, by whom and for what purpose was it founded?
PS: The Maliotis Cultural Center was founded by Costas Maliotis in 1981. The son of a Cretan shepherd, he immigrated in 1915 and became a wealthy and prominent industrialist and philanthropist. His dream was to start a cultural center for all people of Greek descent. He seized the opportunity and built his Center on an existing foundation abandoned by Spyros Skouras on the campus of the HCHC. He donated the building to HCHC with several conditions, one being that the Archdiocese contribute $50,000 annually to support the Center.
The mission of the Center is to promote the study and preservation of Hellenic culture and heritage in its broadest sense, through performing arts, exhibitions and educational programs. In addition, the Center seeks, through its activities and resources, to foster and participate in the development of HCHC.
TNH: How would you characterize the Center’s presence and role in the cultural life of the Hellenic-American community of Boston, but also its presence in this city of culture and intellect?
PS: The Center’s presence and role is essential to the cultural life of the Greek-American community. It is the only institution in New England with a mission dedicated to the understanding and display of Hellenism in its entirety. As part of its mission, the Center offers its facilities in support of the educational and cultural activities of our community and serves as a general forum for the open discussion of issues of importance to Greece and the diaspora. Based on its cultural activities, the Center fits seamlessly into Boston’s cultural and academic environment.
TNH: Can you mention some of the cultural activities that have stood out over the 35 years of the Maliotis Center’s existence?
PS: A wide variety of memorable events have been held at the Center over the years. Let me just note a few recent ones. We held performances of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” under the direction of Michael Cacoyannis, and “Smyrne,” a dramatic and musical event written especially for us by Yannis Simonides, who also directed and narrated the performance. We presented concerts featuring the poetry of Cavafy and Gatsos by the “Ano Syros” group.
We celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the 100th anniversary of the liberation of the Northern Aegean islands (Mytilene, Chios, Samos, etc.) We held two about the financial crisis in Greece. The first, in 2010, was by Richard Parker, a senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government and consultant to then Prime Minister George Papandreou. The second was a presentation by Gikas Hardouvelis, who now is Greece’s Minister of Finance. Art exhibits include those of two well-known Greek artists: Pavlos Samios and Alekos Fassianos. Also of note was an exhibit by the very talented Greek-American artist Philip Tsiaras. One of our current exhibits is of the contemporary photographs of the Parthenon by Peter Yalanis. The opening was accompanied by a presentation by Michael Reppas, president of the American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. Mr. Yalanis donated his exhibit to the Center.
TNH: Does the Greek-American community use the Center to conduct programs above and beyond your own?
PS: Absolutely. We offered a permanent office to the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of New England (FHASNE). They hold its Ochi Day and Greek Independence Day celebrations as well as other special events at the Center. The Federation’s meetings for the Greek parade take place at the Maliotis Center. The local chapter of the PanCretan Association holds its meetings, youth dance group practices and special events at the Center. The Circle of the Hellenic Academics in Boston uses the Center for its meetings. The Metropolis of Boston uses the Center for its Greek Letters Day celebration, Greek school graduation and, occasionally, its clergy-laity conference as well as other special events. The Metropolis’ youth dance group practices at the Center twice a week and holds its year-end recital at the Center. Music groups, like the Rebetica Compania, practice and perform at the Center.
TNH: Does the Center collaborate with FHASNE, with other organizations, the Metropolis of Boston, and the Consulate General of Greece?
PS: Yes. Many of the events of FHASNE, the PanCretans and Metropolis are, to varying degrees, collaborative. We work closely with the Consulate General of Greece. We offer Greek diplomats the use of our theater and other spaces for the needs of the consulate and their staff always helps us with the promotion of our events. We held, most often with the Metropolis of Boston, receptions for Greek government officials. We collaborated with the consulate on A Tribute to Maria Callas, a photographic exhibition by the Hellenic Parliament Foundation and Mediterranean Olive Oil, a forum about the pure virgin olive oil of Greece, Israel and Italy.
TNH: How do you think the Hellenic-American communities of Boston and the Hellenic Diaspora at large would fare without the presence of the Maliotis Center?
PS: We are in a period in which immigration from Greece is decreasing and at the same time the assimilation of the youth of Greek descent into American culture is increasing. Attendance by young people in Greek Orthodox churches is on the decline, as is enrollment in afternoon Greek language schools. The Maliotis Center remains one of the few institutions well prepared to unite the Greek-American community and reverse these trends.
TNH: How is the Center managed and how is it supported financially?
PS: The Center is governed by the board of directors of the Friends of the Maliotis Cultural Center, a nonprofit corporation founded on June 27, 1980. Zenon Zannetos served as president until 1987 and after him Arthur Dukakis until 2009. They both served the Center with great dedication and passion. Now, in addition to myself, the board includes: V. Salapatas, PhD, Treasurer, Former owner and CEO, Helliniki Halyvourgia; G. Stephanopoulos, PhD, Clerk, W. H. Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, MIT; Maria Koulmanda, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School; D. Philippides, PhD, Research Professor of Classics, Boston College; L.Tamis, PhD, Executive Director of the Center; and E. Velivasakis, PE, F.ASCE, Consultant and Former Managing Principal, Thornton Tomasetti. Dr. Tamis receives a salary for his services as executive director. The other directors never received any compensation or sought to be reimbursed for travel or other expenses. The Center has three sources of income: The Costas and Mary Maliotis Charitable Foundation which was organized in 1981 to provide grants to the Center and other important Hellenic causes. The president of its board of trustees is Peter Tamis and the trustees are different from the directors of the Friends. HCHC accepted in 1981 the obligation of an annual payment of $50,000 to the Center as a condition for the donation of the building to the College. The Center is financed through individual donations from the Hellenic-American community, a small endowment of its own and rental revenue.
TNH: What is the Maliotis Center’s relationship with Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology?
PS: A legal agreement was adopted in 1981 by the Friends and Hellenic College that sets forth the rights and responsibilities of each with respect to the operation of the Maliotis Center. We meet our obligations and provide our facilities for the College’s use.
TNH: What are some of your future programs?
PS: In February 2015, we are organizing a concert with the Pancretan Association featuring George Xylaris, a famous lute player and John White, a drummer from Australia. Later in the month, the producers of Stin Ygia Mas, Xenitia are bringing a group to the Center. In March, we will hold the 4th Annual Maliotis Greek Dance Workshop. In the early spring, Gene Rossides will present his book, Kissinger and Cyprus. We will also host an exhibition with the Pancretan Association on El Greco commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death which will then be donated to the Center. And in June, we will hold a gala celebration of the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Friends of the Maliotis Cultural Center.