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Culture

The National Hellenic Museum in Chicago Reopens

September 1, 2022

CHICAGO – It started with a dowry cedar chest in 1993 and grew to include other artifacts that reveal some of the rich history of the Greek-American community – families, diner owners, business and church leaders, artists, athletes – including gripping grainy photos of the past, and oral histories, with Greek eyes staring into a camera, telling their story.

That’s chronicled in The National Hellenic Museum (NHM) in Chicago that will reopen on September 16 after shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic, returning with a featured photo exhibit after an annual Gala celebrating the museum’s comeback.

Originally founded in 1983 and located in Chicago’s historic Greektown neighborhood since 2011, the NHM provides lifelong learning for the community and sparks inquiry and discussion about the broader issues in our lives and society.

The NHM’s collections have become the largest of their kind in the nation: more than 10,000 physical artifacts, more than 100 archival collections, more than 450 oral history interviews, and an extensive reference library with a significant holding of Greek-American newspapers.

The NHM displays and celebrates the cultural contributions of Greeks and Greek-Americans. Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

The grand public reopening of the museum will take place with the world premiere of a major photography exhibition, Resilience by HRH Prince Nikolaos, starting September 16 through December 30, 2022.

Prior to this will be the annual Gala taking place on September 10 at 6 PM at the Hilton Chicago. The 2022 NHM Gala is part of the museum’s grand reopening celebration.

Executive Director Marianne Kountoures and Trustee John S. Koudounis spoke to The National Herald regarding the pandemic’s effects on the operation of the museum, the Gala night, upcoming opening, as well as future events and exhibitions that will take place.

“Like all cultural institutions, the museum is navigating its way out of the pandemic. But with support from our generous Board of Trustees, donors, and patrons, our work never stopped. We remained active creating new online content to engage, connect and inspire audiences across the country, sharing our Hellenic heritage through vibrant educational resources and building upon our work to preserve Greek-American stories through our vast collections and archives,” Kountoures stated.

Besides the chaos the pandemic triggered, the NHM kept their institution active by creating three new virtual exhibitions, the NHM Dialogues podcast series, and their monthly book club. This fall, audiences will be welcomed back in person, with three new spectacular exhibitions worth viewing.

Besides its opening, there will be an ongoing effort to engage and build the museum’s online community for Greeks all over the nation as well as abroad, because the main aim is for everyone to participate, no matter where they are. With generous support from the Hellenic Foundation, the NHM is now offering free online adult enrichment classes, lively discussions about topics including Ancient Greek philosophy, Modern Greek Literature, and the impact of the Crusades in the Byzantine Empire.

To kickstart the museum’s in-person offerings is the highly anticipated NHM Gala that will take place on September 10, giving the opportunity to hundreds of Greek-Americans and philhellenes from across the country to gather together for a night of philanthropy celebrating and supporting the lasting and enriching Hellenic legacy. The festive evening is black tie optional.

The fundraising Gala of the NHM has become an exciting and beloved community event which will return this year after a brief hiatus due to the pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of National Hellenic Museum

“This year’s NHM Gala is part of the museum’s reopening celebration and our signature fundraising event of the year. We expect to welcome hundreds of Greek-Americans and philhellenes from across the country for an evening of fine dining, music, dancing, a spectacular auction and special live performance from singer Thanos Petrelis, one of Greece’s most entertaining and popular performers. The festivities will continue late into the night at the Hilton Chicago with our Gala After Dark party,” said John S. Koudounis, National Hellenic Museum Trustee and Gala Chairman.

Individual tickets are $375 and tables of ten are $3,400, with additional sponsorship opportunities available.

HRH Prince Nikolaos. Photo: Courtesy of National Hellenic Museum

The NHM Chairman is John P. Calamos, Sr. who is the Global CIO of Calamos Investments, a firm he founded in 1977. He has established research and investment processes centered around a team-based approach designed to deliver superior risk-adjusted performance over full market cycles. With 46 years of industry experience, Calamos is often quoted as an authority on risk-managed investment strategies, markets and the economy, and he has authored two books on convertible securities.

As part of the grand reopening this fall, the NHM is honored to host Prince Nikolaos’ North American exhibition debut, Resilience, a series of new images exploring Greece’s strong relationship with nature including the olive tree, grapevines, and the sea. He is an accomplished photographer who has exhibited his work internationally since 2015, including major global cities like Athens, London, Copenhagen, Doha, and Melbourne. Prince Nikolaos will present 19 new works as part of the NHM exhibition. The exhibition will also feature the North American premiere of Together, an immersive scene of life-size illuminated, embracing olive trees accompanied by sounds of Greek nature, which first premiered at the London Design Biennale in 2021.

Seaing Green by HRH Prince Nikolaos from the Resilience exhibition. Photo: Courtesy of National Hellenic Museum

Curator of Resilience, Marilena Koutsoukou said, “Greece’s past, present and future is intertwined and inextricably linked with nature. The recent pandemic has changed how we view the physical world and our space within it and has forced us to go back to our origins to find inspiration.”

She added, “as an artist, Prince Nikolaos is always drawn to open spaces, and nature has been an integral theme and presence in his work. With this exhibition, he turns his lens to the Greek earth.”

Along with Resilience, visitors of the museum will enjoy two other new exhibitions.

Together by HRH Prince Nikolaos, part of the world premiere Resilience exhibition. Photo: Courtesy of National Hellenic Museum

Beginning September 16, 2022, through the spring of 2023, the NHM will feature Gather Together: Chicago Street Photography by Diane Alexander White. The exhibition will showcase parades alongside other diverse communities and cultural festivals in Chicago beginning in the 1970s. Diane’s images explore the universal themes of how we come together to celebrate and show pride in our communities and identities.

On the third floor of the museum, Storytelling in Cloth and Light will be presented, a new exhibition of textiles and photographs displayed side by side. The meticulously woven textiles are from the NHM’s collection of more than 10,000 Greek-American artifacts, and the photographs are additional images from Diane Alexander White, which capture the people and landscapes of Greece in 1977, including her father’s village.

Greek Independence Day Parade 1980 from the Gather Together: Chicago Street Photography exhibition. Photo by Diane Alexander White

“We tell stories to connect us to the people, places, and events of the past, and physical artifacts like those preserved at the National Hellenic Museum can help us remember these stories,” Kountoures said.

As for lovers of the NHM trial series, NHM Kouzina, and the NHM annual golf outing, Marianne Kountoures noted the current priorities of the museum. “Our team is focused on the museum’s grand reopening celebration, including the world premiere of the Resilience exhibition by HRH Prince Nikolaos and the NHM Gala, our signature fundraising event of the year. We are still determining the timing of other museum events,” she mentioned.

The NHM values their partnerships with institutions that help the Hellenic community grow, therefore they invest in those relationships.

“We value our community and educational partners and will continue to forge these relationships, as we did for several in-person events in recent months. Our Homer-Athon, a two-day marathon reading of Homer’s Odyssey in its entirety, was presented in partnership with the Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago,” Kountoures told TNH.

“We brought our communities together to reflect on our ‘homecoming’ and the lasting relevance of this ancient text. We also partnered with the Mies van der Rohe Society at the Illinois Institute of Technology on an insightful program examining the blend of classical influences and constructivist form in Mies’ architecture. Such partnerships enable us to explore and share the relevance of the Hellenic legacy with new audiences,” she added.

For those interested in volunteering and being part of the community, the NHM has plenty of ways in which people can get involved. Whether that’s to meet new people or gain work experience, volunteers are welcome year-round to help with museum operations and special events. The NHM offers a rewarding and engaging experience that is both enjoyable and beneficial.

The new museum hours starting September 16 will be Friday to Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. Tickets to the museum are $10 and include admission to all exhibits. Discounts are available for seniors, students and children.

For more information, visit:

nationalhellenicmuseum.org.

Tickets for the NHM Gala on September 10 are available here: https://www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org/nhm-gala-2022/

Details and registration for the NHM’s free online programs are available here:

www.eventbrite.com

For more information on Resilience, visit:

www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org/resilience.

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