Will the Greek Bank Closure Imperil Athens’s New Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center?

The $800 million center is slated to open next year.

Renzo Piano, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (rendering). Photo: Renzo Piano.
Renzo Piano, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (rendering). Photo: Renzo Piano.

In light of the worsening financial crisis in Greece, it remains to be seen if progress on Athens’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), in the works since 2008, will be adversely impacted.

Greece has closed its banks and they are expected to stay shut until July 7, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras informed the country. The country’s decision to close it banks in an effort to stem financial chaos comes on the heels of the European Central Bank’s decision not to offer any new emergency loans to the country’s struggling banking system.

Tomorrow, Greece is expected to default on its €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, SNFCC continues to move forward with its plan to build a large scale cultural facility with a park, a building for the Greek National Opera, and a new National Library of Greece, among other features. The center is being built as a gift to the Greek people, and will be turned over to the state upon its completion, currently slated for 2016.

If the nation’s economic situation does not improve, however, Greece may soon have to withdraw from the European Union’s common currency system. On July 5, the people will vote in a referendum on Europe’s bailout proposal, a decision that economists and strategists believe will effectively decide whether Greece remains a part of the eurozone.

Construction at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. Photo: Yiorgis Yerolymbos.

Construction at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
Photo: Yiorgis Yerolymbos.

On Sunday night, Tsipras took to Twitter to quote FDR, writing, “In these critical hours, we must remember that the only thing to fear is fear itself.”

The SNFCC is a project from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, founded in 1996, after the death of the Greek shipping magnate, to which the foundation owes its name. Starchitect Renzo Piano is designing the center, which has a construction budget of $803 million or €566 million, according to the SNFCC website.

On June 25, the SNFCC ‘s board of directors voted to establish an additional €100 million ($112 million) grant to non-profit institutions in the country as part of its “Initiative Against the Greek Crisis.”

Since the 2010 financial collapse, private patrons have increasingly taken on the burden of Greek arts funding. (Niarchos’s eldest son, Philip, made artnet News’s list of the top 200 art collectors.)

A press conference last week focused on the “major construction milestones” achieved since construction began in 2012. The press release details plans to incorporate environmental sustainability features such an artificial water canal designed to provide flooding protection and a large-scale energy canopy perched above the opera house that will generate electricity.

Construction of the Greek National Opera house at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. Photo: Yiorgis Yerolymbos.

Construction of the Greek National Opera house at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
Photo: Yiorgis Yerolymbos.

“A few years ago, the SNFCC began as an idea containing the dreams, hopes and desires for a better tomorrow,” Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, stated in the release.

Unless Greece’s economy takes a dramatic turn for the better in short order, that bright future is in jeopardy.


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