People who attended the events at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center recently described a particularly festive atmosphere reminiscent of the 2004 Athens Olympics. With so much misery and despair, there is a need for some positive developments and Greeks will embrace them just like they did with the metro and the airport in the past. Beyond Renzo Piano’s architectural genius, the Faliro project will provide the capital with an amazing venue for cultural gatherings and events. If ever combined with the rest of Piano’s plan for a unified coastal promenade stretching from the Peace and Friendship Stadium to Flisvos, Athens could very well become a new, larger Barcelona.
At the same time, however, there is still a prevalent feeling of fear combined with typical Greek cynicism. While half are worried about the future of the SNFCC, the other half appear certain that the center will be abandoned to its fate and allowed to fall into disrepair. When the foundation’s chief told a crowd of people at one of the events that they would hand the project to the state in the near future, some jeered. These are not people who despise the state but merely Greeks who do not wish to see the building covered in graffiti, in a state of neglect like the majority of Greek public spaces, where you see employees strolling around aimlessly.
In other words, they are afraid this could turn into a new excuse for yet another public company to eat away at funds and hire cronies. There are very few examples of good management of public spaces in Greece, whether on a state, regional or municipal level. I’m not sure why this is, but it tends to be the rule.
Is this something that could be avoided? Perhaps not, if we leave it up to our politicians. Beyond the much-anticipated inauguration, they are clearly looking forward to the day they will be able to appoint their own people to run it. It would be great if all parties agreed to leave this project outside the power-sharing process altogether. Such a move would signal that something is changing in this country. In partnership with the foundation, the appointment of a capable manager to run the project would guarantee certain operational rules as well as criteria when it comes to hirings. There should also be a way to avoid the project being managed by the ineffective straitjacket of public logistics.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appears to fully realize the project’s immense value but is this something he would even consider? If he did, surely New Democracy and all the other responsible parties would agree. The SNFCC could become a symbol of the kind of Greece we want for the future and consensus over its management is the way we want to see our politicians acting. It’s an opportunity to show what Greece is capable of.