Interview by Nikos Manolopoulos, Managing Director, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, to BHMagazino for a special issue dedicated to SNFCC to mark the third anniversary of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center’s delivery to the Greek State:
February 2020 marks the third anniversary of SNFCC’s delivery to the Greek society. What is your evaluation of its operation?
Let’s start with the facts and figures. The Operational Plan drafted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) before delivery of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) to the Greek State set as a goal to achieve 700,000 visits per year. The number of visits from March 2017 to date has exceeded 13 million.
Regarding our finances, this Plan estimated a 4,500€ surplus in 2017 and a 330,000€ deficit in 2018. In fact, a 2.4 million Euro surplus was achieved in 2017 and a 3.1 million Euro surplus in 2018.
As to our environmental sustainability, the SNFCC’s Energy Canopy, which converts solar energy into electric power, operates at 100 per cent of its rated capacity. Regarding our energy savings, our annual electricity consumption was projected to be 13 million KW; actual consumption in 2018 was 9.2 million, that is, an energy saving of approximately 40 per cent was achieved.
As far as our public event programming is concerned, we have organized more than 9,000 events and activities – cultural, educational, environmental, sports, entertainment – in their vast majority with free admission.
Finally, regarding the SNFCC’s public image, based on research conducted by one of the sector's largest companies in late 2018, 93 per cent of the inhabitants of Attica and 99 per cent of our visitors had a positive view of SNFCC. Among Attica inhabitants, 91 per cent believe that SNFCC is an open, accessible space, which has improved the quality of life in the area, as well as cultural life in the city, changed the image of Athens and offered a large public green space.
Upon assignment of the SNFCC’s management, in March 2017, the major challenge ahead was to remain true to the vision of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, so masterfully realized by the architect Renzo Piano: a public Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, providing everyone with access and engagement in a wide range of events and activities. A Center, moreover, that is a model for environmental sustainability and protection.
With expertise, planning and hard work, we successfully addressed the challenge, using the robust SNFCC’s construction and infrastructure to the fullest.
In this endeavor, we extend our profound gratitude to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, its Board, personnel, and especially to the President, Andreas Drakopoulos, not only for the gift of this unique project to the Greek State, but also for the SNF's ongoing multifaceted support of the SNFCC: from the grant of 10 million Euro per year for the Center’s operation and the organization of free-admission events to building the Dome in Stavros Niarchos Park and creating the Dancing Fountains, all of which significantly augmented the SNFCC’s capabilities.
We extend our thanks to our companions on the SNFCC premises – the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera – for their substantial contribution to SNFCC’s appeal through their high performance.
Of course, we owe sincere thanks to the SNFCC’s executives and staff for their dedication and tireless contribution to the realization of this great vision.
Do you believe that the SNFCC has introduced a new model for public space? If so, how?
The main qualities that characterize the SNFCC as public space is its compelling design and high aesthetic value, free and unimpeded access to all, care for both the venue and visitors, and the offering of a wide range of diverse activities and events.
The public appreciates this combination of elements, returning the respect that it feels it is given by the venue and its operation. Improper conduct on the premises (littering, acts of vandalism) is rare.
Our constant vigilance also plays a large part in this, of course. Characteristically, based on the public research I mentioned above, 99 per cent of our visitors have a positive view of the cleanliness level, 90 per cent have a positive view of the quality of services provided and 87 per cent believe that SNFCC maintains the appropriate security level.
Could you provide some facts about visitor numbers and profiles? Which activities are the most popular?
One of the most impressive facts to emerge from public research is that almost half of the inhabitants of Attica visited SNFCC in 2018, an average of five times per person.
As far as visitor segmentation, there is, naturally, much higher participation from inhabitants of southern Athens suburbs. The most remarkable visitor characteristic is that the SNFCC attracts people of all age groups, education levels and social backgrounds. Young people and more highly educated segments somewhat stand out.
The public has embraced the SNFCC. The inhabitants of Attica pay return visits because this is a venue that brings people together, overcoming division or exclusion. People of different ages, different backgrounds, different interests, with or without disabilities, permanent or temporary inhabitants of the city – everyone is and feels welcome here. The main attractions are the SNFCC’s cultural events and the Stavros Niarchos Park.
How did the SNFCC become such a popular destination for Athenians to celebrate each year’s major holidays?
Clean Monday, Mayday, Christmas, New Year’s Eve are holidays traditionally spent by Athenians together. Already in 2017, the SNFCC was a top destination for the inhabitants of Attica and beyond for the special days of the year – a trend that solidified in 2018 and 2019, thanks to our specially designed events.
During the Christmas holidays, in particular, the SNFCC morphs into a magical Christmas World, featuring the Ice Rink on the Canal, decorated trees and impressive light installations in the Park, which in 2018/19 received more than 900,000 visits.
The other big Attica-wide celebration at the SNFCC is the Summer Nostos Festival, organized by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation every year in late June. In 2019 almost 300,000 visitors participated in the rich week-long festival program.
Please tell us a few words about the SNFCC’s educational events and activities, as well as about school visits and programs.
One of the main factors contributing to the SNFCC’s success is, I believe, the diversity of its events, which cater to different audience segments – from Mozart’s Requiem at Stavros Niarchos Hall to rock concerts at the Great Lawn and sports events in the Park. Our programming constantly grows, in collaboration with Greek and international artists, exhibitions, co-productions, performances and lectures, as well as a wealth of educational activities and workshops, always selected for their quality and originality.
In their overwhelming majority, these activities are provided to the public free of charge thanks to the large SNF grant.
We extend sincere thanks to the artists, scientists, educators and all those who have contributed to the SNFCC’s events and operations.
I would especially like to thank our ongoing partner in our ever-popular sports events, Regeneration & Progress NGO.
We are particularly proud of our school programs, focusing on sustainability, public space, art, sports and wellness.
To date, the SNFCC has received more than 320,000 school children.
What are your future goals?
For some months now, we have been working on what the SNFCC's outlook must be as it gradually enters its “mature” phase. Very soon, we will be able to present this plan and its objectives to the public.