Greek entrepreneur and art collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos is a man on a mission. He has been instrumental in redefining the Greek contemporary art scene, where private money often serves to revive public venues. His modus operandi is to take a derelict space, refurbish it, and turn it over to its owners to program artistic activities and implement their long-term vision. His latest undertaking is the overhaul of the abandoned portion of Athens’s former Public Tobacco Factory, today run by the Hellenic Parliament and housing its library and printing house. A rectilinear Neoclassical building constructed in 1930, it was once a symbol of Greece’s industrialization and progress. The last cigarette was rolled there, by now-defunct Greek tobacco giant Sante, in 1995. Since then, the facility has served as a military prison, a refugee shelter, and then as the offices of the Court of Auditors, the Presidency of the Government, and the Ministry of Finance.
Now, after undergoing a renovation costing €1.4 million ($1.7 million), this gargantuan space has opened its doors 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 his 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 outfit organizes exhibitions and installations in 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 a range of cultural institutions and backs the programs of public and private organizations, all in the name of increasing access to contemporary art among people from all walks of life—consequently, all its programming is free.