Scholars' Association News
Issue 36
November 2015


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The Onassis Cultural Center NY inaugurates its new season

The Onassis Cultural Center NY celebrates 15 years of life in New York City. During its first years, the OCC focused on promoting the Greek cultural tradition. Today it opens its wings to embrace the present and the even more dynamic future of hellenic creativity.

New distinguished personalities from the arts and humanities sectors have been included in the Onassis Foundation USA Board of Directors: Simon Critchley Professor of Philosophy at New York University, Karen Brooks Hopkins, chair for 16 years of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Alan Shapiro, Professor of Archaeology at John Hopkins University, Angelos Haniotis, Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, as well as other new partners. The Foundation builds new bridges by widening the specter of its content and the public it is addressing. New creative partnerships with acclaimed institutions, such as BAM and New York Public Library, have been inaugurated. The contemporary Greek artistic production is promoted equally along with the rich cultural tradition in one of the most important global cities.

The Onassis Cultural Center NY launched its inaugural fall season with the Onassis Festival NY 2015. Narcissus Now: The Myth Reimagined, the first annual festival of arts and ideas, took place in the newly renovated space in the Olympic Tower in New York City, in October 8-11. It featured a kaleidoscopic view of the myth of Narcissus through music, visual art, film, science, literature, choreography, culinary arts, fashion and digital media, with over 40 events for audiences of all ages.

The myth of Narcissus has fascinated human imagination through time and cultures. With roots lost in antiquity, it first appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, where narcissus is the flower that virginal Persephone plucks when abducted by Hades, the God of the Underworld. The better known telling of the myth comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A beautiful Greek youth falls in love with his own reflection and wastes away pining for himself; in his place a flower grows, a narcissus, or daffodil which is our signal for spring. This version of the myth is the defining allegory of the post-modern age. From psychoanalysis to selfies, the Narcissus myth serves as an emblematic example of the unparalleled influence of Classical antiquity on our culture.

“Through this new initiative, an annual festival of arts and ideas, we take a fresh look into the classical tradition and the complex ways it forms part of our own vocabulary. We invite the community to join us as we explore how ideas and ancient models, such as Narcissus, are interpreted today and what we can learn from them,” says Amalia Cosmetatou, executive and cultural director of the Onassis Foundation (USA). “We will offer opportunities for Greek and American artists to work side by side on specially commissioned works and to explore how Hellenic culture inspires the creative arts and informs our lives.”

Through exclusive commissions and by drawing unexpected connections, the Narcissus Now program showcased the impact of the Narcissus myth across a broad and diverse spectrum of artistic disciplines, including new collaborations between Greek and American artists. The Festival’s online presence made the program available globally. Violaine Huisman was guest curator for the first festival and Ellen Dennis its producer. Narcissus Now was funded exclusively by the Onassis Foundation (USA).

“The story of Narcissus is everywhere, from selfies to the excesses of social media. It’s so timely that it feels prescient. Yet the myth has an enigmatic quality, too, exposing the perils of self-regard, of solitude, of beauty. The Festival presents all these aspects of Narcissus, reimagined across the arts. Our intention is to explore the intellectual depth of the myth with rigor and whimsy and a sense of fun,” says Violaine Huisman.

Narcissus Now selected highlights included the performance Triple Echo by world renown choreographer Jonah Bokaer in collaboration with Stavros Gasparatos, preeminent composer of the new Greek generation; the lecture Narcissus & Art: In the Woods on the myth of Narcissus in the art world today by The Bruce High Quality Foundation; the site-specific installation I AMness by Angelo Plessas, inspired by a book of the same title, which speaks about existential psychology, narcissism, and addiction; and a discussion between Jennifer Homans, author of national bestseller Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet and Heléne Alexopoulos, principal dancer with New York City Ballet for 24 years.

The Festival also featured off-site events such as: Narcissus & Architecture, a walking tour exploring human self-glorification in the architecture of midtown Manhattan; POEMobile, a hand-painted truck that projected poems onto buildings with music and live performance; and a concert by Eleanor Friedberger at BAM.

The Inaugural Season continued with the World Citizens symposium on October 23 followed by music programs in November and December. With a nod to the symposia of ancient Greece, the Onassis Cultural Center NY has organized a contemporary conversation entitled World Citizens (October 23). Starting with the concept of cosmopolitanism as proposed by Greek philosopher Diogenes, an internationally distinguished panel of thinkers discussed cultural understanding between people and nations and the long-lasting values that unite us. The World Citizens participants included: K. Anthony Appiah, professor of Philosophy, Law, New York University, Elizabeth Diller, founding partner, Diller Scofidio + Renfrew, Pico Iyer, novelist and essayist, Yorgos Loukos, director, Lyon Opera Ballet, and President, Athens & Epidaurus Festival, Susan Meiselas, photographer, Magnum Photos and Orhan Pamuk, Nobel-laureate writer. The conversation will be moderated by Paul Holdengräber, director, LIVE from the NYPL.

OCCNY will also present two musical highlights this season: an in-depth retrospective on the long tradition of Rebetika: The Blues of Greece (November 10 and November 12) and the world premiere of Petros Klampanis’s new jazz composition Chroma (December 9).

A full schedule of Festival events and a complete list of participants is available at

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