Transcript: Interview with Despina Kreatsoulas of the Politismos Museum of Greek History

despinakreatsoulasThe transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with Despina Kreatsoulas, the co-founder of the Politismos Museum of Greek History. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of March 31-April 6, 2016. Find the podcast of this interview here.

MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is Despina Kreatsoulas, co-founder of the Politismos Museum, a recently-launched online museum of Greek history and culture. Despina will speak to us about the museum, the idea behind it, its mission and its exhibits. Despina, thank you for joining us today.

DK: Thank you so much for this opportunity, we’re happy to be here with you today.

MN: Share with us some words about how the idea for an online museum of Greek history and culture came about, and how the Politismos Museum was founded.

DK: Our hope is to one day have a physical museum in Sacramento, California, and as we were looking at how we do this—I was actually doing some research for another project, at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. It’s a phenomenal museum, and I think what’s most impressive was not the thousands of people who walk through their doors on a daily presence, but the millions of people who they reach with their online exhibits. We thought that this could potentially be a really great way to get the information out there, to build an audience, and to start sharing stories, and to start building a profile for ourselves. And so, we thought this would be the ideal way to get started, to build a presence, and move forward.

MN: Besides the obvious difference of not having a physical presence, at the moment at least, how does an online museum differ from a conventional museum?

DK: I think, actually, that we have a few more opportunities available to us in being creative, in that if we were a physical museum, the challenge is always having a wide variety of artifacts. By being online, we can have images that reflect the stories, the history, and that type of thing. For instance, exhibits that have to do with antiquities, it would be a little difficult getting some antiquities into the [United] States, of course, so we’re able to use images. It also allows us to get a little creative and to explore some greater things: literature, contemporary art, so we’re able to expand what we’re doing.

MN: To expand on that, do the exhibits of the Politismos Museum focus exclusively on historical material and artifacts, or is there also a place for exhibits on contemporary Greece?

DK: We’re actually doing a little bit of everything. It’s history, culture, we’re trying to look at the various aspects of Greece, and that would be, as I said, history, culture, music, and so we’re able to do a little bit of everything.

MN: Tell us about some of the exhibits that are currently featured online as part of the Politismos Museum.

DK: We launched on October 28th, and of course we would have to do something for the 75th commemoration of “Oxi Day,” so we have an exhibit that looks at the early days of the Greco-Italian War, then we have another exhibit which looks at the Greek-American response, and that was the organization of the Greek War Relief Association, which raised tens of millions of dollars and sent relief to Greece. We have another exhibit called “Crisis is a Greek Word,” which was done here in Athens. It was shown in Athens, I think it was somewhere in Bulgaria, and also somewhere in Turkey, and it was a group of graphic designers who came together to show the creativity that comes out of crisis. We have another exhibit called “Lupimaris – Wolves of the Sea,” which was done by a gentleman in Austria who came and saw the fishermen of Paros, and was fascinated by their story, and wanted to do something to document their lives and what they do because that tradition is slowly dying out. We have a special exhibit that opened on March 25th in recognition of Greek independence.  And, we also have an exhibition by Dr. George Kordis, who is an iconographer and an artist, and he painted his images as influenced by the works of Nikos Engonopoulos, the contemporary poet.

MN: And from what I understand, there is a special section for children as well in the Politismos Museum…

DK: Yes. What we’re doing is, we’re creating short stories and short exhibits for children. It’s a great tool for children who are learning a second language, be it Greek-American children learning Greek, or students here [in Greece] that are learning English. We’re working with some Greek schools to use it as a tool in the home and in their classes.

MN: In addition to the online exhibits, the Politismos Museum features an e-magazine as well…share with us a few words about this magazine.

DK: So, the magazine is really an opportunity for young professionals here in Greece to share the secrets of Greece, really. We have a great team here who write on places to visit, museums, exhibits, theater productions, gastronomy, movements in health and that type of thing. It’s really an insider’s look into Greece. And so, we want to take it a little bit beyond just history and culture, we want to expose people to what’s happening here as well.

MN: What are some of the future plans of the Politismos Museum in terms of exhibits that will be featured

DK: So, we have a special exhibit that will open on March 25th, of course in recognition of Greek independence. We’re working with a historian here in Greece and we’re producing an exhibit on the original Olympic Games, Dr. Elizabeth Whalen-Barber, who is an expert on textiles. We’re doing another one on the ancient dancers of Crete, and we also have a very special exhibit that’s going to be opening in just a couple of weeks, on the Greeks who came to the United States in the early 1900s and who returned to Greece to fight for Greece during the Balkan Wars. And we have a few more that are coming, but we’ll have you come visit our site and surprise you with those.

MN: We are on the air with Despina Kreatsoulas, co-founder of the Politismos Museum, an online museum of Greek history and culture, here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series. You mentioned a few moments ago that in addition to the continued development of the online version of the Politismos Museum, there are plans in the works to develop a physical museum site as well, in Sacramento, California. Tell us about these plans.

DK: Well, it’s very preliminary. We just started organizing this about a year and a half ago, but we hope that we can have a small space where we can have physical exhibits, where we can bring children in, schoolchildren, to expose them to both ancient and modern Greek history. We had done a number of exhibits with California State University-Sacramento. Those were very well received by the community, so we’d like to carry on that tradition and share our history and our culture.

MN: How did Sacramento end up being selected? Tell us about this choice and about the Greek community there.

So, Sacramento would be my hometown, and I thought it would be a really great place. We do have a large Greek-American community in Sacramento. We also have a community that is very supportive of the Greek culture. The Greek festival in Sacramento is probably one of the largest cultural events, attended by thousands over a three-day weekend. There’s a blossoming international flavor in Sacramento as well, and so we think it’s a great place for it to be.

MN: Following the development of the museum in Sacramento, are there any plans or any future thoughts to also locate a physical museum site in Greece?

DK: That would be great, but there are so many phenomenal museums in Greece already, that we’d like to just be able to collaborate with all of them. I think the most important thing is that we do want to collaborate and we want to expose people to the amazing things that are already happening here in Greece and the places they should be going.

MN: There is a lot of pessimism in Greece today, about the country and its place in the world. How can an initiative such as the Politismos Museum contribute to a more positive image of Greece and a more positive outlook for the Greek people?

DK: So, Greece, and the Greek people, have had many challenges for thousands of years. There is an incredibly enduring spirit in this country, and no matter what they face, they always come through it. I think what’s important is that we want to show that, despite what you hear on the news, despite the crisis and all of this, there’s talent, there’s creativity, there’s ingenuity, and there’s hope, and we want to expose that.

MN: Have you had the opportunity to collaborate with any organizations or institutions, either in the United States or in Greece?

DK: We’ve worked with the California State University Department of Hellenic Studies, who has offered information for some of the exhibits we’ve created. The Department of Public History has offered students to help us, to work as interns and docents to help us for programs we’re creating. The Rockland Academy family of schools is working with us as we’re creating a Living History program to take into the classrooms. We’ve been very fortunate to have institutions like the [Hellenic] War Museum, the Hellenic Army Archives share photographs with us for exhibits. We are here in Greece now speaking with historians, institutions, and academics who are graciously offering us content. I think one of the ones that we’re most grateful for is, before we had even opened our online doors, Alpha Bank shared their “Athenian Owls” exhibit with us, and it was a phenomenal opportunity for us to be able to share that as we launched.

MN: How can young artists, creative individuals, and members of the public contribute their materials to the Politismos Museum?

DK: They can visit our website, www.politismosmuseum.org, they can send an e-mail to politismos [at] politismosmuseum [dot] org, get in touch with us. I think that technology has really allowed people to share their family treasures as well as to share them with future generations. We would love to grow our photo archives, oral histories, that type of thing. Young people who are interested in getting involved, either writing for the magazine, sharing ideas for future stories or exhibits. We have an amazing team here in Greece and we call them our “ears and our eyes” here in town. We welcome ideas, we welcome thoughts, and we want to be a community effort.

MN: Wonderful…well Despina, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and best of luck with your continued efforts with the museum.

DK: Thank you so much, we appreciate the opportunity, and we hope that you’ll all come and visit us online.

Please excuse any typos or errors which may exist within this transcript.

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