Greek billionaire defends contemporary art at home and abroad
Greek billionaire, entrepreneur and art collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos is a man on a mission. He was instrumental in redefining the contemporary Greek art scene, where private money is often used to revive public places. Its modus operandi is to take an abandoned space, renovate it and hand it over to its owners to plan artistic activities and implement their long-term vision. His latest undertaking is the overhaul of the abandoned part of the old public tobacco factory in Athens, now run by the Hellenic Parliament and housing its library and printing press. A rectilinear neoclassical building built in 1930, it was once a symbol of the industrialization and progress of Greece. The last cigarette was rolled there, by the late Greek tobacco giant Sante, in 1995. Since then, the facility has served as a military prison, a refuge for refugees, then offices of the Court of Auditors, the presidency of the government and the Ministry of Finance.
Today, after undergoing a renovation costing 1.2 million euros ($ 1.4 million), this gargantuan space opened to the public for the first time as a new cultural center. For Daskalopoulos, the complex is a gift to the Greek state marking 200 years of Greek independence; it will be operated by its foundation, NEON, until the end of 2022, when the Hellenic Parliament will decide on future programming. Founded in 2013, the semi-nomadic Athens-based arts and culture structure organizes exhibitions and installations at venues across Greece, from the National Observatory of Athens to the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos, and offers grants and scholarships. to artists. NEON works in association with various cultural institutions and supports the programs of public and private organizations, all in the name of increased access to contemporary art for people of all backgrounds. Therefore, all of its programming is free.