By VICKI YIANNIAS
Mr. Stelio A. Papadimitriou, President of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Association in Greece and also of its auxiliary, the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Association USA, is a warm and enthusiastic presence at the Onassis Cultural Center’s important events, showing his grasp of artistic concepts in interviews and many times interjecting his affable sense of humor, such as at the recent exhibit “Aphrodite to Ishtar: 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism”, when he spontaneously pointed to the marble torso, Aphrodite Anadyomene (Aphrodite Emerging from the Sea), the highlight of the exhibit and joked, “We are all in love with her!”
Mr. Papadimitriou, as well as being President of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Association USA since its inception in 1998, can also be said to be its most passionate advocate.
In a correspondence interview with the Greek News, Mr. Papadimitriou spoke of the success attained by the Onassis Cultural Center in New York since its inauguration on October 2, 2000. “Looking at the numbers of our guests and of the students and the attendees of our activities, as well as at the comments of the American press generally, one can say that we made progress, and that our activities, our scientists, our performers and our exhibitions are well received in the U.S.A.”
And the numbers of people attending have been high. Between its inauguration three years ago – at which the Olympic Towers Atrium Parthenon Marbles Cast Collection debuted together with the “Classical Memories in Modern Greek Art” exhibition – and now, 43,000 people have attended exhibits and events at the Center, with attendance of exhibits ranging from 6,0000 to 13,000, according to Executive Director of the Center, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas.
Also corroborating Mr. Papadimitriou’s statement, the attention of
the American press has been drawn to the high-quality exhibits, performances, and lectures at the Center. Articles in the New York Times, Art News magazine, and American Architecture reveal an expanding interest in the Center’s activities, as does the focused attention of the Greek-American media.
Although his own role may have been important, says Papadimitriou,
but after the Center was conceived, its success “depended largely on
the performance of a local Executive Director and of dedicated staff,
both of which we were fortunate to find in the person of Executive Director Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Ms. Amalia Cosmetatou, Director of Cultural Affairs and Mr. Dimitris Katsarelias, Director of Educational Affairs, and their colleagues. “They all form a splendid team and perform miraculously well. We were fortunate in finding such a talented and energetic Executive Director and such associates to assist him.”
As well as being pleased with what has been accomplished so far, Mr. Papadimitriou also predicts an exciting future for the Center. “The Center’s influence and activities grow by the day, and I suspect that the time will come that it will have to expand to Canada and South America (Argentine, Chile, and Mexico, initially), where we have been testing the ground as to our welcome, and the feasibility of our programs.”
Asked how the Onassis Foundation is structured, Mr. Papadimitriou explained that it is headed by a President and not by a Chairman, “the difference being, inter alia, that the President is the Chief Executive Officer of all the activities, branches and companies of the Foundation, including the Onassis Affiliated Foundation in New York.”
It is required, noted Mr. Papadimitriou, that the President lead the Foundation activities “strategically” in all respects within the guidelines, and subject to the policies of a Board of Directors, comprised of 15 Directors and “the highest authority of the Foundation”.
He went on to say that “the creation of the Center, its locality and its basic activities and operation were conceived by the undersigned as a result of the huge financial burdens assumed by the Foundation in the past in order to establish university chairs with modest, if not meager, results as to their usefulness.”
The Board, stated Mr. Papadimitriou, “approved the concept, proceeded with the establishment of the Olympic Cultural Center at the Olympic Tower, and determined the cultural activities which would take place at this location.”
The Board also established a program of visiting professors, with seminars and lectures in various universities in the U.S.A., said Papadimitriou, “multiplying the radiation of Greek culture and reaching out to thousands rather than tens of students in various parts of the U.S.A.”
According to Ambassador Tsilas, more than 20,000 students have profited from the knowledge shared by scholars in 125 institutions in Canada and the U.S.A.
Coming up at the Onassis Cultural Center from January 21 until April 15, 2004, “Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past”, the first major exhibition to explore every phase of the lives of ancient Greek girls and boys.