In the history of the Modern Greek visual arts, the Macedonian Centre of Contemporary Art and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art represent a remarkable achievement of individual initiative.
It all started in 1978: In a conversation between Maro Lagia and Alexandros Iolas, after the latter had shown a keen interest in the damages inflicted on the monuments of Thessaloniki by the 1978 catastrophic earthquake, Maro proposed the creation of a contemporary art centre in Thessaloniki. Iola’s response was immediate –“Oh yes, no more hospitals and orphanages; a centre of contemporary art; that’s exactly what Thessaloniki needs.”
In the meantime, a group of friends, almost all lovers of art, gathered at the Dambassinas family farm outside Thessaloniki to avoid the aftermaths of the earthquake, discussing the problem of the damaged monuments, referred to the prospect of creating a contemporary arts centre, missing from the city. A member of the group, Argyris Maltsidis, city councellor at the time, mentioned the relevant case of the Skopje Museum which was founded after the 1963 earthquake and for which there had been an international appeal to artists for support and donations of works of art.
However, the defining factor to the positive outcome of the idea was Maro Lagia’s persistent and friendly communication with Iolas which led to a major donation on the part of this charismatic and internationally famous collector. The news of the donation encouraged both those who first had the idea as well as all those who had adopted it. From the beginning, Petros Kamaras, a well-known local tobacco merchant, man of letters and lover of arts, firmly supported the whole project, taking an active part in the setting up of the association. That’s how the “Macedonian Centre for Contemporary Art” came into being on 30.01.1979, with a provisional board of directors under the chairmanship of Petros Kamaras. A written text entitled “thoughts for the founding of a contemporary Art museum in Thessaloniki” was then sent out to the various civic, social and cultural institutions. Among the founding members, in addition to those mentioned above, were some other prominent citizens of Thessaloniki: Manolis Andronikos, Antonis Anezinis, Alexandra Boutari, Yannis Boutaris, Petros Dimitrakopoulos, Doris Economou, Dimitris Evrigenis, Dimitris Fatouros, Katerina Kamara, Sophia Kazazi, Panagiotis Kokkas, Giorgos Kontaxakis, Kleitos Kyrou, Vasilis Ladenis, Eleni Lazaridou, Giorgos Lazongas, Konstantinos Lefakis, Petros Makridis, Yiota Kravaritou Manitaki, Ioanna Manoledaki, Enny Mihailidou, Roula Pateraki, Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel, Nora Skouteri, Alexandros Tsamis, Panos Tzonos, Nikos Vasilakakis and Pavlos Zannas.
One of the primary concerns of the newly founded association was to find a place to house Iola’s donation of the forty seven works of art. Both Petros Kamaras, the chairman, and Eleni Lazaridou, special secretary of the centre (also public relations and promotion manager of the International Fair of Thessaloniki) did their best towards this effort but up to 1982 response was rather poor. Meanwhile, during that period, the MCCA held a series of remarkable art exhibitions at various places in the city. The cost of the exhibitions as well as of the other parallel activities was covered by Yannis Boutaris, a founding member and ardent supporter of the centre. Boutaris, not only worked as a treasurer of the board but he also became its exclusive sponsor for fifteen years through I. Boutaris & Son Company. He has been the first benefactor of the centre with a prominent role in its history and a defining contribution to its success ever since.
However, the problem of housing Iola’s donation still remained unresolved for want of a proper exhibition space. The solution came when Giorgos Philippou, a well Known industrialist, offered 850 sqm of the grounds of his unit thanks to the mediation of art critic Sophia Kazazi. Philippou’s remarkable donation secured the life of the centre the board of which would later honor him as one of its benefactors. Once an exhibition place was found, Iolas was convinced of the sincerity of the members of the Association and their commitment to the idea of developing the center into a Foundation of a Museum. So; Iolas himself with Maro Lagia-the member whose persistent reassurances and persuasive power made Iolas donate the forty seven works of art-supervised the conversion of the place into an exhibition space offering one million drachmas in addition to the 700 (seven hundred) drachmas already granted by Yannis Boutaris. He also curated in person the whole exhibition.
So, in 1984, the exhibition “Contemporary Painting and Sculpture”-Iolas’ donation- marks the official entrance of the centre into its first period of life. The same as important is another donation that of Franz Geirehaas excellent engravings, thanks to the mediating efforts of Ioanna Manoledaki, member of the board.
Until the mid eighties, the first two boards of directors were trying to mark the MMCA known to the public through various other exhibitions and parallel events that used to take place either in a rather small room at the installation of Filkeram Johnson or in any other exhibition hall in the city. The 1986-1987 board of Directors, with the six new members from among the founders, continued the centre’s exhibition policy in the same spirit. One of the new members of this board was architect Dr Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel who was elected president to the next Board of Directors after Petros Kamaras well documented recommendation.
Despite the work done by the active members, the centre suffered from a low number of visitors and consequently from poor publicity: the public would attend the opening of an exhibition but that was all! The problem had to be faced. The members of the board got engaged in endless discussions and it was finally cleared out that a combination of reasons were to blame: a. the negative reception of the message of contemporary art, b. the difficult accessibility to the exhibition site which was a long way from the city centre and c. the bad weather of that winter. Early in 1988, a policy of co-operation with foreign missions, Goethe Institute primarily, but also with the town authorities was firmly adopted.
For the following four years the MMCA experienced a cultural odyssey, organizing a series of ambitious exhibitions at every possible exhibition place of Thessaloniki: the Old Archaeological Museum, the new Archaeological Museum, the White tower, Alatza Imaret, the buildings at the Port of Thessaloniki, as well as those of the Thessaloniki International Fair.
The need for permanent exhibitions premises became the item on top of the agenda of every Board of Directors meeting. Out of the various proposals submitted for the case, agreement was reached on two: either the one that preferred the buildings of the Thessaloniki International Fair (president’s proposal) or the one that preferred the Port (proposal of the vice president Maro Lagia). The Pavilion of the Public Power Corporation (D.E.I.) on the grounds of T.I.F. was found the most appropriate choice and thus the next step would be to pursue a loan-for-use of the chosen premises. The chairwoman Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel, duly authorized by the Board of Directors, tried hard in negotiating the usage of the site with the President of the I.F.T. Mr Rigas Tselepoglou as well as with the director of the Public Power Corporation (D.E.I.) Professor Themistocles Xanthopoulos.
On May 15, 1991, the pavilion of D.E.I. was granted with a loan-for-use, except for the months of July, August and September, during which D.E.I. would need it for its participation in the annual International Fair of September. The immediate concern was to find the money for the conversion of the pavilion into a proper exhibition space. With the help of the Prefect, Prof. Dimitrios Vlahos who showed a sincere interest in the activities of the centre, a factual study was carried out stressing the centre’s pioneering role in contemporary art for the whole country. As a result, the conversion of the pavilion into a cultural exhibition place was approved and a sum of sixty (60.000.000) million drachmas was granted from the operational program “Culture” of the second community support framework. The additional sum of money came from a loan of ten (10.000.000) million drachmas from I. Boutaris & Son Company and the whole project would be finally completed with the donations of Petros Makridis’ architectural plans, Argyris Maltsidis’ static, financial and technical study and Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel’s together with Argyris Maltsidis’ supervision of the work in process and the final arrangements.
In 1992 the pavilion was inaugurated by Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture, with the exhibition “Automates et Robots” jointly organized with the French Institute. The same year, the Centre organized two parallel exhibitions at the Zappeion in Athens: one with sculpture works of its own collection and another entitled “Artists from Northern Greece: From the two dimensions onto the space”.
The same year, 1992, was a turning point for the centre’s relations with the ministry of culture: it was the first time that members of the board-namely Katerina Kamara, Alexandra Boutari and the president Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel, visited the Ministry of Culture general secretary Panagioti Photea with a petition for financial support. Panagiotis Photeas, a politician who appreciated the importance of volunteer work, responded with a supportive report to the Ministry of Culture Mrs Psarouda-Benaki who granted a sum of ten million (10.000.000) drachmas, the first money coming from the Greek state. It was a token of approval and reward for all the work done towards the creation of the first Contemporary art centre in Greece.
During the two following years, board member, Katerina Kamara made herself responsible for the Museum to acquire its legal status as a foundation. In 1994, with the assistance of Giorgos Papadimitriou, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Athens, whose legal office undertook all legal procedures necessary, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art was founded as an institution of private law under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. The fact was celebrated with an exhibition at the Zappeion in Athens under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Affairs Minister Theodoros Pangalos).
The three years, 1994, 1995 and 1996 were marked on the one hand by twenty-two successful exhibitions, most of which were accompanied by relevant catalogues, educational programmes and parallel events and on the other by contributing efforts for a permanent exhibition place since Giorgos Philippou had officially requested the removal of Iolas’ collection out of the Filkeram Johnson that was needed in the extension plan of the industrial unit.
The Museum needed more space and the Board focused its attention on efforts to extend the site by adding in 250 sqm adjacent to the existing D.E.I. pavilion. Repeated and persistent applications on the part of the president Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel to T.I.F. president Alekos Bakatselos led to positive results when the latter was at length persuaded that this building could be T.I.F.’s contribution to “Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe”. The plans for this three storey building were all free offers (donations): The architectural plans by Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel of “Tzonos, Heupel, Heupel”, the static plans by Penny Antoniadi of “BASIS/SYSTEM” and the electromechanical ones by Saropoulos-Lagos. The project was managed by ARCHITEX-ATE and, after a call for tenders the construction contract was awarder to “Andreadis – Zisiadis ATE”. Architectural and static supervision were also donations by Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel and Penny Antoniadi respectively.
Difficulties due to the discovery of ancient remains of archaeological interest were overcome by preserving part of the road that led to a tomb. So, the building was inaugurated on schelduted time as the first one of the “Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe” projects.
At the same time three major exhibitions were under way: Two of them in co-operation with I.Ph. Kostopoulos foundation “Pavlos Retrospective” curated by Katerina Koskina and Maria Kotzamani. Respectively- and one “Kessanlis Retrospective” with the participation of “Thessaloniki Cultural Capital Of Europe” curated by Giorgios Tzitzilakis. Iolas’ collection was also removed from Filkeram-Jonhnson and under the supervision of Katerina Kamara, Maro Lagia and Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel it was exhibited in the Museum new galleries named after this first donor, Alexander Iolas.
For the landscape architectural arrangement of the surrounding grounds Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel and Maro Lagia turned for advice to Philolaos, a sculptor famous for his work in public spaces in Paris, Valence and Toulouse, awarded with the Académie Française Knight’s Cross for Fine Arts.
Philolaos’ drafts, worked out in detail by the president, were approved by the members of the board who, once more, set out to look for funds. For the purpose, Xanthi Skarpia-Huepel and Alexandra Boutari payed a visit to the Minister of Public works Kostas Laliotis who approved of the required sum of (100.000.000) a hundred million drachmas.
After all the burocratic procedures were successfully carried out by the president and approved by the members of the board, Philolaos was commissioned to create this monumental sculptural work. The supervision of the financial –technical study and the management of the budget were assigned to a Regional administration architect. Philolaos’ work, a creation of high aesthetic value and importance, was inaugurated by the Public Works Minister Kostas Laliotis with the presence of Evangelos Venizelos, Akis Tsohatzopoulos and Yannis Magriotis.
Philolaos’ sculpture is harmoniously combined with Zongolopoulos moving umbrellas – a joint donation by Prodromos Emphientzoglou and Board member Enny Michailidou’s “Barba Stathis” company – as well as with Koulentianos’ artworks- donated by “D. & A. Kallitsantsis, Hellenic Technodomiki, consultant engineers O.E., Steven Andonakos, Loukopoulos.
The third extension of the Museum (2450m²) involved many difficult levels of overlapping action. It began during the Presidenship of Antonis Kourtis, when TIF/helexpo decided the redevelopment of the pavilions and commissioned Architect Giorgos Kyrou, Professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and head of the Thessaloniki Master Plan organization, to prepare a study funded by a research program. The president submitted a well-documented proposal for the necessity the extension in which part of a secondary laneway that ran parallel to the existing building would be covered in the form of a gallery. This project became possible when Panos Tzonos, a founding member of the MMCA, professor of Architecture at the AUTh gave the information that the European Investment Bank program EFTA was granting funds for cultural buildings. The president immediately prepared an architectural preliminary study for the proposed extension in which the art historian and museologist, Professor at the AUTh, Matoula Skaltsa, member of the board drew up the Museum curriculum vitae.
All the above, along with the exhibitions catalogues and the time schedule for the following years, were presented by the president to the Bank headquarters in Athens. The directress of the program, Mrs Roula Eleftheriadou, who ignored the existence of a Greek Museum of Contemporary Art founded and supported mainly by volunteer citizens, was pleasantly surprised. “Unfortunately” she said, “there were no more funds in the program”. However, the president handed in her proposals in case there was a new chance. And, indeed, in a month’s time, the Bank announced the funding of one billion drachmas (1.000.000.000) of which eight hundred million (850.000.000) would come from the bank while the rest one hundred and fifty million (150.000.000) would have to come from the Ministry of National Economy.
There began a new round of efforts aiming, on the one hand, at persuading the ministry for the money and on the other, at obtaining a new loan-for-use from TIF/HELEXPO. Christos Pahtas, deputy minister, responded positively on hearing of the volunteer activity of the museum members while, after long negotiations between the chairwoman and Giorgos Sortikos, president of the TIF/HELEXPO, the latter was convinced of the righteousness of the decision and a new loan-for-use contract was drawn in which the above mentioned plot of land was included.
However, the European Bank claimed a guarantee that, the Ministry, in addition to its agreed participation in the construction expenses, submit a written commitment of its obligation to also cover part of the museum’s operational cost. So with the preliminary and final new architectural study by Xanthi Skarpia–Heupel, the static study by Nikolaos Asmeniadis and the electromechanical study by Ioulios Abbot, all free offers to the museum, the project was put to tender.
This time, according to the new plans, both levels of the road were covered, the gallery space included, thus the initial 1500m² were increased to 2450m². The cost remained the same by substituting some of the materials and by arranging that the supervision fees would be covered by donations.
The program was put to tender as study/construction and the contractor technical firm was ARCHITEX – ATE which decided for the application studies to be assigned as follows: The architectural study to the offices of K. Antoniou – E. Kastro & M. Rokkos and associates, the static study to the technical firm DELCO-E.P.E. N. Deligiannidis & Co and the electromechanical study to D. Bozi’s technical office. The Chairwoman Xanthi Skarpia–Heupel, the administration directress Maria Triandaphyllidou and Argyris Maltsidis offered charge–free supervisions of the architectural and general static engineering studies while the specific static study supervision and that of the electromechanical were done by Nikolaos Asmeniadis and Yannis Vakianis respectively. Skarpia-Heupel, Argyris Maltsidis and Maria Triandaphyllidou undertook the financial and technical completion of the project.
The supervision of the works met with enormous difficulties since a whole graveyard of 270 tombs came to light as soon as the excavations started. For fear of losing the grant of the Bank in case the absorbsion deadline was over due to the required time for the archaeological study necessary, Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Culture, through the general secretary Mrs Lina Mendoni, provided extra financial help so that additional archaeological teams work for the project to move faster.
So, in 2002, with the completion of the building (that received the bank’s favorable comments) on the TIF grounds in the Centre of Thessaloniki, the first museum of contemporary art in Greece came into being. It was officially inaugurated by the Minister of Culture Evangelos Venizelos, the deputy Minister Christos Pahtas and the representatives of the European Investment Bank. Its size mounted up to 4.450m², providing new exhibition rooms, library, educational workshops, offices, an art-shop, a café and storage space while during the preceding ten years it fascinated 160 artists and numerous collectors who donated works of art or entrusted their collections – among them Alexandros Xydis, Achileas Apergis, Dimitris Meimaroglou, Magda Kotzia et. al.
The museum, with dynamic Board of directors, which, with the exception of two new members, Petros Rasoglou, ophthalmologist and Loretta Konstantinidou, businesswoman, has nearly remained the same in composition since its founding days and with an equally dynamic artistic committee (members: Xanthi Skarpia-Heupel, architect, professor at the AUTh, Katerina Kamara, sociologist and owner of the ZITA-MI art gallery, Maro Lagia, co-owner of the ZITA-MI art gallery, Alexandra Boutari, businesswoman and interior decoratrice, Matoula Skaltsa, art historian and museologist, professor at the AUTh) is an important cultural institution of Thessaloniki, promoting and supporting contemporary artistic creation and initiative, bringing the public in contact with the Greek and international visual arts through exhibitions, parallel events and educational programmes.
Since 2006, art historian Dennis Zaharopoulos, well known among the Greek as well as the European visual arts community, has been appointed the museum’s art director, thus strengthening the museum’s artistic merit.
Substantial support to the museum has been offered by the administration board of the “Macedonian Centre of Contemporary Art, Architecture and Industrial Design” and its friends, which works in close collaboration with various intellectual, cultural and economic bodies of the city.
It is due to this unique history of interpersonal relations and volunteer activity that the museum receives state support for all its operational costs and programmes while the cost of the exhibitions and the parallel events is covered entirely by sponsorships and grants.
Thus, during the years 2002-2004 a project entitled “Improving the services offered by the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art” (upgrading infrastructures and procuring operating equipment) was approved and implemented through the 3d CSF “Culture” operational program.
Through this project:
- furnishings and audio-visual equipment were purchased for the multi-purpose amphitheatre and video room,
- the Museum Library and storage rooms were adequately furnished and equipped,
- audio-visual support systems, automatic guides and special lighting were purchased for the Museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, and
- the Museum was equipped with a fire detection and extinguishing system specially designed for use in museums and safe for both human beings and works of art,
- also, the new extension was prepared to accommodate a major exhibition of works from the Museum’s collection, while the works donated by Achilleas Apergis and Chryssa were given their own distinguished place
- the Roman burial monuments discovered during the excavation of the foundations for the Museum extensions, which the Archaeological Council on the recommendation of the 16th EPKA (Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) had ordered to be conserved, were restored and displayed in situ,
- the older parts of the Museum were duly conserved, the underground storage areas improved and the gift shop redesigned,
- the outdoor facilities were roofed over, the windows and skylights shaded, and safety shutters fitted the façade,
- the sound system was upgraded, and
- the educational workshops were equipped.
2005-2006: Two projects were approved and implemented through the 3rd CSF “Information Society” Operational Programme, namely:
- CREATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF A DIGITAL COLLECTION OF THE WORKS OF ART OF THE MACEDONIAN MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, CREATION AND PROJECTION OF ELECTRONIC BILINGUAL EDITIONS OF THE COLLECTION, AND CREATION OF A PUBLIC INFORMATION HUB, and
- DEVELOPMENT OF AN AUTOMATIC TICKETING AND VISITOR MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL SYSTEM AT THE MACEDONIAN MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART.
With these projects the Museum has:
- upgraded its computer system and digitally catalogued its collections and its archives,
- created a website, and
- set up a computerised visitor income system.