May 31, 2012 — Stephanie Vlahakis Steps Down as President
May 31, 2012
Vlahakis steps down following unprecedented accomplishments at National Hellenic Museum
CHICAGO (May 31, 2012) — For Stephanie Vlahakis, switching roles at the National Hellenic Museum from Board Member to Executive Director, was only supposed to be a temporary step. Instead, what followed was over three years of unprecedented change and success at the National Hellenic Museum. On Tuesday, May 29, 2012, the Museum’s Executive Committee approved a transition in leadership with Stephanie stepping down from her senior staff position in order to return to the Museum’s Board of Trustees, and the appointment of Connie Mourtoupalas as the Museum’s new Executive Director.
In March 2009, the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center, as it was then known, faced a staffing challenge. The Executive Director position was vacant with the departure of Sophia Kintes to Milwaukee, her home town, for a position in that City’s cultural world. The Board of the Hellenic Museum intended to conduct a national search for a new director, but with many pressing issues at hand, such a search appeared to be a luxury that the Museum could not afford. Board Member Stephanie Vlahakis stepped up, offering to assume the position of Executive Director and resign from the Board of Directors, where she had served for seven years. Stephanie’s private business career included a lengthy stint in management at Kraft which, combined with her passion and dedication to the goals of the Museum, made her uniquely suited to assume this role. Three and a half years later, with a new 40,000 square foot building open, a highly professional staff of 15 employees in place, a string of successful annual fundraisers under her belt and the Museum achieving national prominence, Stephanie Vlahakis is retiring from the position of President of the National Hellenic Museum.
When she assumed the role, she immediately created a new identity for the institution. Then Board President Aris Halikias had expressed a vision that the museum be a “world class organization.” True to that vision, the museum was re-named the “National Hellenic Museum.” A bold logo, featuring a modern take on the traditional Greek key design and dark blue coloring, rounded out the new identity.
While the organization owned the property at 333 South Halsted, Chicago, when Stephanie became Executive Director, that property had been a vacant lot for a number of years with no improvement in sight. She ratcheted-up fundraising to create the financial springboard that would enable construction to begin. During her term as Executive Director, the Museum received 21 gifts of $100,000 or more.
Soon enough, the Board of Directors empanelled a Building Committee, including John Marks, Aris Halikias and B.J. Vranas, all long-time Directors, to proceed with the building process in earnest. After attempts to co-develop the building with a third party developer failed, the Museum decided to go it alone. A new design was commissioned from Demetrios Stavrianos from the architectural firm, RTKL. The project was bid with Centaur Construction, headed by Peter Alexopoulos, as the successful bidder. Ground was broken and construction was commemorated with a televised event that featured then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and hardhats for all of the participants.
With the long-time dream of a permanent home becoming a reality, Stephanie began to identify and recruit museum professionals of the highest caliber to make the world class institution live and breathe. She recruited Bethany Fleming from the Illinois Holocaust Museum to serve as the Museum’s curator. Bethany in turn created the template for the Museum’s permanent exhibit and oversaw the construction of the necessary features for a museum that would later be eligible for accreditation by the American Association of Museums (“AAM”) and would be a LEED certified building, complying with state-of-the-art environmental requirements.
In addition to Bethany, Stephanie hired Toula Georgakopoulos as Director of External Affairs; Hannah Imber as Event and Volunteer Coordinator; Kevin Miller as Director of Finance and Operations; Naomi Easley as Accounting Coordinator; Chris Helms as Collections Manager/Registrar; Michelle Diakatos as Guest Services Manager; Elise Freed-Brown as Museum Educator; Joe Annunzio as Facilities Manager; Kimberly Smith as Marketing and Development Assistant; John Anagnostopoulos as Librarian & Oral History Manager; Ashley & Lindsey Abboushi as part-time Museum Store Clerks and, most recently, Tula Gogolak as Director of Development and Amelia Dellos as Director of Marketing. This is the largest staff the organization has ever seen and they have delivered outstanding results. In 2011, the Chicago Tribune selected the Museum’s second floor exhibit, “In Search of Home,” a behind the scenes preview of the permanent exhibit, as one of the top 10 new museum exhibits in the City of Chicago.
Sustaining a non-profit organization is always a challenge, particularly in the harsh economic times this country has experienced in recent years. During the each of years that Stephanie has headed the Museum, it has held an annual fundraiser that regularly raised between $150,000 and $500,000 to support the Museum activities.
By the end of 2011, as the Museum was nearing completion, Stephanie oversaw a series of events that ended with the grand opening of the Museum in December of that year. Kouzina, the Museum’s signature foodie event, was expanded to three days and held in the new Museum. In November, the Museum hosted its Inaugural Ball, attended by over 800 supporters, in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Finally, during the first week of December, after several days of previews, the Museum opened with “Gods, Myths and Mortals,” an exhibition originated by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan that takes visitors on an interactive journey through the world of ancient Greece.
“It’s been a fabulous ride,” Stephanie said. “With the support of our outstanding Board, dedicated staff and selfless volunteers, we have brought our dream to reality. I want to thank Aris Halikias, John Calamos, Tom Skallas, Frank Kamberos and all of the other outstanding individuals with whom I have worked these last few years. I also wish Connie Mourtoupalas the best of luck and good fortune taking the helm of this exciting and unique institution that is dear to all of us.”
Stephanie will work with Connie during the next several months transitioning responsibilities and then will rejoin the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
The National Hellenic Museum’s mission is to preserve and explore Hellenism and to chronicle the Greek American journey through exhibitions, oral histories, archival collections and education programs. Its purpose is to inspire in people of all backgrounds a curiosity for their own story through a greater connection to Greek history, culture and the arts. Located at the corner of Halsted and Van Buren in the heart of Chicago’s famed Greektown, the Museum is open Tuesdays – Sundays. For more information, visit www.nationalhellenicmuseum.org or call 312-655-1234.