CELEBRATING BENEATH THE ACROPOLIS

Work in progress. Crews working outside the New Acropolis Museum on Makriyianni Street. The much-awaited museum is scheduled to open its doors next month. (Photo: Nikos Bardopoulos)

The celebrations for the inauguration of the New Acropolis Museum are set to last four days. Though festive in spirit, they will be far from the extravaganzas envisioned by previous culture ministers. Essentially, the celebrations, which start on June 20, will act as a platform for a wide-ranging meeting on both a political and a scientific level.

In the meantime, Greek Culture Minister Antonis Samaras is working on the project on a daily basis.

To begin with, the official inaugural event will not be defined by its artistic qualities. It is slated to be a state dinner that will incorporate various artistic infusions. It will be a get-together of very high-ranking guests, including presidents, prime ministers, ministers and members of royal families.

Although actual details of the opening ceremony are a closely guarded secret, some reports have suggested that the guestlist is very long - Michelle Obama's name, among others, is rumored to be on it. Though the US first lady's invitation has not yet been confirmed, it is almost certain that officials from all 27 European Union member states are being invited.

A number of guests have already forwarded their RSVPs, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who visited the museum recently and was reportedly impressed by what he saw. Another guest is European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering, as well as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his wife, Susan.

Among other select guests are Charles, Prince of Wales, and Queen Sofia of Spain. Guests attending the June 20 inauguration are scheduled to participate in a guided tour of the museum, before attending the state dinner set to take place on the large terrace of the new museum's restaurant area, which offers a splendid view of the Acropolis.

Also on the guestlist are a number of scientists, museum directors and heads of other cultural organizations, as well as members of the media, all of whom are scheduled to visit the new exhibition space following the official inauguration.

Samaras's new plan steers clear from over-the-top artistic fiestas as well as commandeering an enormous amount of advertising space for the museum's publicity campaign - while some ads have already been scheduled, they are within a more general, cost-cutting framework.

From day one, Samaras has made it very clear that he does not want the museum's opening to be associated with any kind of financial waste. There might even be a surprise or two as far as the overall cost is concerned, as this might not exceed 2.5-3 million euros.

Meanwhile crews are working feverishly both inside and outside the museum area designed by Bernard Tschumi and Michalis Fotiadis, while the surrounding areas have also been transformed, sparking positive reactions, even from those who had previously expressed reservations. On Makriyianni Street, crews are placing paving stones and the pavement is growing in size to the great benefit of pedestrians.

Following the demolition of several more neoclassical houses, the museum seems to have acquired more space and appears less stuck between the residential buildings and the Weiler residence.

There are, however, a number of loose ends, beginning with the museum's organization. The positions of president and general manager have yet to be filled, while members of staff must also be hired. Some reports suggest that ministry officials are looking at Dimitris Pantermalis, president of the Organization for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum, to become the new museum's president. This and more will be announced by Samaras at a later date.