A readership survey we issued back in January 2018 showed that alumnae wish to read more about the lives and achievements of fellow alumnae in Europe. Below is our third feature interview, focusing on Florica Kyriacopoulos Class of ’76.
Please get in touch if you feel your story would be of interest, or would like to recommend a fellow alum.
Spotlight on… Florica Kyriacopoulos Class of ’76
Florica Kyriacopoulos ’76: Artist, Collector & Social Entrepreneur Sponsor of Arts & Culture
“For I was and remain convinced that creativity can transform lives, making happier people.”
Name: Florica Kyriacopoulos
Class Year: 1976
Major: Political Science
Dorms you lived in while on campus: Ham Hall, 1837, Brigham Hall
1) How did you hear about Mount Holyoke?
My mother is an alumna. She always talked about Mount Holyoke and on our first visit to the States, when I was 16, we visited the campus together. I fell in love with its beauty.
2) Tell us about yourself and how Mount Holyoke has impacted your life?
I think of Mount Holyoke as a place that lit up my life and changed it forever.
I was a city girl who had always lived in the noisy center of Athens and attended a well-known Greek-American high school, during the 7 years of military dictatorship. I had lost the largest part of my intellectual drive during those years, finding no inspiration in either the curriculum or the archaic and stale learning process consisting mostly of reciting by heart textbook chapters. The only enjoyable courses for me in high school were those of English literature, taught by American teachers…
When I came to Mount Holyoke I entered a different world. I had never been in such an intellectually stimulating environment before, nor one of such beauty. Everything was so different that it was at first intimidating.
The tranquility and beauty of nature and all the campus, the caliber and intelligence of everyone, the respect and concern shown to students by both faculty and administration. The honors system! Liberal Arts education and the Humanities…
The countless possibilities of exploring so many avenues of learning!
Inspiring, dedicated and approachable professors and a multinational, highly stimulating student body. The 5-College area… I fell in love with learning again at Mount Holyoke, as I fell in love with nature.
Discipline, the drive for excellence, perseverance, intellectual rigor, and a solid foundation in the Humanities that enhanced my sense of civic duty and the will to serve. Mount Holyoke offered me these gifts. Along with these, a sense of personal empowerment that has driven and sustained so many of my challenging life choices.
3) What is the biggest challenge (or challenges) you have faced since Mount Holyoke?
There have been many challenges since MHC. I will mention some.
In my early twenties I had to fight some debilitating depressions which forced me to abandon my graduate studies in Political Philosophy at Brandeis University and return to Greece. Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis became part of my life since, and helped me deal with these cyclical depressions that were finally overcome many years later.
When I was 34, working as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian, I became involved in the launching and management of one of Greece’s first private radio stations. I was very passionate about this project as I felt it had the potential to transform and upgrade the quality of radio broadcasting in Athens. The whole experience turned into a nightmare when my main partner started conspiring against me and finally went into a self-destruct mode bringing down with his actions all that I had worked extremely hard to build and causing the loss of great sums of money. I was so shaken and traumatized by this experience that I had to take time off work to heal.
My marriage was also falling apart at the time and I found solace in art therapy.
With the encouragement of artist friends, I did pastels and watercolors at first, then tried acrylics on canvas. I started making bead jewelry at the same time. Within two years I realized that making art was what I loved most, that working with color enthralled me and that I had a large untapped reservoir of artistic sensibilities within me!
It was a life-altering realization. I had to redefine myself, my life course, everything. It was a great challenge, and it has yet to be fully resolved…
Yet the biggest challenge of all, has been simply managing my life in the past 15 years. Becoming a single mother at age 50, raising my son and providing all the necessary nurturing for him while working to complete, launch and then manage FOUGARO in Nafplion… These years have required tremendous energy, discipline and organization, an ability to multitask constantly, while managing, coordinating and leading people (a total of 60) across 3 offices…
All this while driving back and forth from Athens where we settled in 2007, so George could go to school there…
4) Art seems to be a pillar of your life – as an artist, collector and creator of the cultural space with Fougaro. Would you mind sharing where and how your passion for art became a part of your life?
I always loved art and was very sensitive to beauty from a young age.
At Mount Holyoke I took 2 courses in Contemporary Art and when I visited NYC (I did so often, on weekends and holidays) I always spent time in museums, the MOMA of course, and galleries. I started collecting in my twenties and by the time I was 30, art collection had become a passion. Soon collecting extended to tribal and African Art, art and craft objects, vintage furniture, ceramics, textiles… All this constitutes now the FKPCollection which has only recently started becoming public, by appearing first in FOUGARO’s spaces.
When I finally discovered my own artistic inclination and potential, I was, as I told you, already 35. It was the greatest self-discovery, it transformed my life, blew away my depressions and shifted my thinking on some issues…
I did painting, installation, collages and photography. I worked non-stop, took some private studio art courses and continued painting at night when I had to do other work in the daytime, like running for 10 years my father’s citrus exporting business in Nafplion!
I felt so fulfilled when working on my art projects, so much stronger and more confident in myself. My art was progressing rapidly and soon I started exhibiting in both private and group shows.
I was amazed that I had lived for so long without any awareness of my artist self. That got me thinking about the process of self-awareness. Using my personal experience as a case study, I concluded that many people lived their lives without ever fully exploring or discovering their own potentials.
I decided to make it my life’s mission: I would create a place that would offer young and old the possibility to discover and develop their own creative potential. For I was and remain convinced that creativity can transform lives, making happier people.
Thus, the idea of FOUGARO was born.
5) FOUGARO is a centre for crafts, arts and culture. It seems to hold the unique mission of being rooted in its history of place and focusing on local artists as well as a more global reach. Can you share a little bit more about how you created FOUGARO and your vision for its future?
In the early ‘90s I moved back to Greece after 10 years of living in London. I wanted to get away from noisy Athens, settle somewhere in the countryside and paint.
I finally settled in Nafplion, a beautiful seaside historic town in the Peloponnese, famous also for its orange groves. I took charge of my father’s citrus exporting business there: for 10 years I run the business in the daytime, travelled across Eastern Europe to meet clients and painted… at night!
I was in my 40s then, and overflowing with energy. I found myself a house with some land and olive trees, moved there with my dogs and cats, planted some citrus trees and vegetables, got some chicken too, and a goat. I loved living on the land, surrounded by so much beauty, ancient and recent history… and I was tireless. I decided I was going to settle in Nafplion for good and started organizing the future.
I went looking for a space I could transform into an Art Center. There were so many abandoned industrial buildings in the area. They were all melancholic, deserted and falling apart. One of them, just outside the town, was a striking old tomato-canning factory with a towering smokestack… I bought it at an auction set up by the National Bank of Greece in 1997 and named it FOUGARO – meaning “smokestack” in Greek. It took 5 years for me to get full ownership of the place, so I started the works of transformation in 2002.
When it opened its doors to the public, 10 years later, FOUGARO had turned into an Interactive Work of Art, offering workshops for all ages, art exhibits, book browsing and multiple other cultural activities.
In the past 7 years it has grown and expanded still and contains today 2 Libraries of Arts and the Humanities (see photo below), 4 indoor Workshop Spaces, a Café Bistrot, a Gallery, a Store, beautiful gardens with water features and games… as well as multiple other spaces that house movie nights, performances, concerts, seminars, private and corporate events.
FOUGARO is a Social Enterprise working closely with Greek and International Schools, hosting a variety of educational activities, book events, mind and art workshops for young and old. The image at left shows children running to their next workshop.
It’s mission is to defend and promote Humanist Values, Art and the Creative Life.
I consider FOUGARO my major work of art, and plan to present it as such in 2021, when I think it will have reached a kind of completion in both form, content and spirit…
6) You are also described as a journalist and businesswoman. What attracted you about those industries and how did you get started?
Journalism was a natural course to follow for a political scientist who had always enjoyed writing and travelling…
For many years I wrote about Third World affairs for the Greek press. I travelled to Africa and Asia during that period and I did a lot of photography too. Through the ‘80s I lived with my English husband, who was a teacher and travel writer, sharing time between Athens and London. During that time I also became The Guardian correspondent for Greece, writing about all Greek matters. I enjoyed this work, and only gave up journalism after discovering what I felt was my true call, to become an artist.
My relationship with business is much more complex. My family has a long tradition in business and unusually for Greece, my mother herself was a dominant figure of the Greek business world, running successfully 2 inherited large mining concerns for 20 years.
Growing up in such an environment and being an heiress of family wealth myself, I always felt that it was my duty to partake and contribute to the management of family business concerns.
So I’ve spent many years of my life also involved in family businesses – but with one ten-year long exception, it was in secondary or advisory roles, or as a member of the companies’ Boards. In truth, I never found the business world inspiring or intellectually stimulating and never saw business as a defining career path.
If I were to introduce myself today I would say I am an Artist, a Collector, a Social Entrepreneur and a sponsor of Arts & Culture. I was also, in the past, a dedicated journalist.
7) What are you most proud of? What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
I am proud of my personal journey, the individuality of the road I’ve travelled, which led me to the discovery of my artist self and helped me overcome the depressions of youth. I am also proud that I have found the ability and strength to balance both family duties and heritage within a self-defined path that led to the creation of FOUGARO.
I would say that FOUGARO itself is my biggest accomplishment… Yet raising a child alone at such an advanced age and seeing him today as a happy, healthy, confident and popular 14-year old, may well be the biggest accomplishment.
8) What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up around 6am, get ready for the day, wake up my son, have breakfast with him, then drive him to his school, fortunately only a 15 min drive. On the way back I get coffee and go to my gym where I try to exercise for at least 35 minutes, while checking my emails. Then I dress for the day and start multitasking…
Frequently I have to supervise works carried out on FOUGARO grounds or in our new office and exhibition spaces in Athens. Most of the time I also have to oversee works carried out in our various properties: houses, studios, storages and guesthouses, in Athens and Nafplion, for I seem to be always building, designing and transforming spaces and gardens…
I have 3 offices in the Athens area – a personal office and a FOUGARO office in the northern suburb of Kifissia, where we live, and a family office in the center of the city. If my day is spent in Athens, I normally visit 2 of the 3 offices, to work with colleagues there.
Then there is FOUGARO, in Nafplion, a 1 ½hr drive south. Often I drive for the day, trying to be back in time to have dinner with George or at least to say goodnight before he goes to bed.
Sometimes I have to spend the night in Nafplion. This happened more often in the first 4 years of FOUGARO’s life… on the whole I try to come to Nafplion towards the end of the week, so George can join me there for the weekend. Luckily for me he loves both FOUGARO and Nafplion!
I generally work 12 to 15 hour days, but not 7-day-weeks anymore. In the past year I’ve managed to salvage 1 ½ day nearly every week for myself. I spend that time working on my homes and gardens, attending to the needs of my collection, clearing and organizing files and archives of my personal artwork. It is impossible for me to do painting these days, but I still do a lot of photography.
For many years, after becoming a mom, there was no time for anything other than mothering and work. As George grows more independent and FOUGARO matures, I begin to find a little bit of time again to spend on favorite activities: going to the movies, theatre or concerts, visiting art shows, meeting with friends.
I miss travelling for pleasure, but will start again as soon as George is off to College!
9) What are you curious about right now?
Will I ever find the time, tranquility and mental space to paint again?
How much will life change when George takes off for college? And if I do paint again, how far will my art take me?
10) Favorite advice you’ve ever received?
“Be true to yourself”, work hard, and … NEVER GIVE UP!
Interview conducted by Anne Boucher ’13, 3rd April 2019