Interview of Elly Andriopoulou, SNFCC Managing Director, in “K”: In the Culture of “We”
Maro Vassileiadou, 08/11/2020
In her professional life over the last eight years, she has been strongly involved with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). Before the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) began, Elly Andriopoulou was grant co-manager at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Athens Office; she soon became the exclusive manager of the SNFCC grant. During the construction of the project, her role was to prepare the operations – planning, staffing, coordinating all involved entities and the architects. Since mid-June 2020, she has been chairwoman of the seven-strong SNFCC’s board of directors, the only executive member, the new SNFCC managing director.
I wonder whether after all this she has developed an emotional attachment to the object of her work. She replies without a second thought, “Oh, yes! All of us who were involved in this project have been very lucky. And, being here from the very beginning, I feel that it’s partly my own creation, my own ‘baby.’ I saw its potential when it began; I then witnessed the overwhelming response from the public, and now I see the tremendous opportunity to forge ahead. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than this.”
Her favorite SNFCC spot is the Canal Café, but for this interview we met on the Lighthouse. Not even the earthquake on Samos was able to interrupt our talk, although it was felt in Athens. As a matter of fact, we barely felt it, even though we were some 30 meters above ground. “The building rests on seismic isolators, not on the ground,” she explains. The security officer informs her that the lifts work perfectly. Her associates seem to be very comfortable around her. She studied psychology in Athens and earned an MBA in Chicago. She is so thoroughly familiar with all things SNFCC that she responds to all my questions instantly – from the exact funds that she manages and their allocation to each department to the reasons why some of the Park’s trees fell ill.
She describes herself in previous years thusly: “I was the team’s technical expert who, in consultation with advisors, drafted the operational plan.” She visited several cultural organizations in other countries during that period.
She collaborated particularly closely with New York City’s Lincoln Center, as its structure, she explains, is similar to the SNFCC’s; she also visited the Barbican, Kew Gardens, Central Park. “Now, as Managing Director, my task is to implement that plan.”
The American spirit of “we” is never far from her lips. In fact, what she was most envious of in the USA was the voluntary contribution of the citizens to the common good, the communal spirit, and the heightened awareness of public space. “Respect for citizens begets respect,” she remarks, and this is something that she has seen happen at the SNFCC, as well.
“All together,” could be her motto – and it does not apply to the public only, but also to the other two organizations in operation at the Center: the Greek National Opera (GNO) and the National Library of Greece (NLG). “The sum of our three parts is bigger than the number 3. Collaboration exponentially increases our potential,” she says, and her pledge heralds a new era at the SNFCC. As does her other motto: “I like to start with a clean slate,” implying that she is perfectly willing to go over the calculations, re-evaluate the facts, re-examine the employee handbook and set the SNFCC’s priorities for the next three years. Her keywords: synergies and extroversion. What does this mean in practice?
Opportunities for synergies
“During the first three years of operation, the organization had to adapt to the new reality, the facilities, the mode of operation, and establish its identity,” she explains. “I believe that the SNFCC has by now entered the public consciousness as a landmark in modern-day Athens. We have indeed sought for it to become the symbol of the contemporary capital city of Greece from the very beginning, and this applies to all three entities as a whole. In other respects, our own organization treats the other two as internal clients – since we provide services to them – yet much more as very close associates. We discuss everything. I can see amazing opportunities for synergies, and this has been Andreas Drakopoulos’s vision from the very beginning: to create a ‘triple’ project, as it was dubbed at the time, that is, a Center to bring together under one roof the environment, education, and the arts,” she remarks.
“Now is the time to address collaborations. One of my priorities is extroversion, and this must begin from our own home – in other words, we must collaborate with our neighbors, the GNO and the NLG. Naturally, each of our organizations has their own programming, and that’s as it should be. We have different audiences, different goals. Yet, we will develop our common plans together.”
Have any steps been taken to this end? The main area on which the three entities have been working together is the commemorative events to mark the bicentenary of the Greek War of Independence, in 2021, in parallel to each organization’s individual programming.
Are things changing in terms of the other two organizations’ financial relations with the SNFCC? No, since service provision by SNFCC S.A. to these organizations is governed by the integrated service provision agreement, an appendix to the SNFCC agreement with the Greek State. Accordingly, the GNO pays approximately 5 million Euros per year (excl. VAT) and the NLG approximately 3 million Euros (excl. VAT) to cover the cost of services provided for security, cleaning, facility and equipment maintenance, and insurance.
The SNFCC countdown to Christmas is coming. And it won’t be stopped by the pandemic. Not because they are not concerned – in fact, the measures taken since the first day when the Park opened its gates to the public again were coordinated and efficient – but because they wish to remain a reference holiday destination in the city. So, on the 1st of December, the customary Christmas lights will come on, and the light installations will be placed in the Park. “Obviously, everything will be different this year,” Elly Andriopoulou acknowledges. “Yet, we made a conscious decision to go ahead with our programming. We will be live-streaming our events and, whenever conditions allow, our events will be held with an audience.”
Photograph: Nikos Kokkalias