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New Hellenic Museum Sheds Light on Greektown community

As fire engulfed Costa’s restaurant on Halsted Street, the Greektown community lost a piece of its vibrant atmosphere. In a matter of minutes jobs were lost and regulars were left searching for a new place to dine and relax. Part of a community was looking for a new place to call home.

A new home for Greektown and its visitors will open less than 100 feet from where this fire took place: the National Hellenic Museum.

After nearly a decade of preparation, the Greektown community plans to see the doors open to the state-of-the art museum in fall 2011.

“Our goal is connecting generations through Greek history, culture and art,” said the director of education and programs for the museum, Vivian Haritos. “The experience people will get here is a very in-depth view into the Greek culture.”

The announcement for the museum’s completion comes during a troubling year for the Greektown community. In February, a fire destroyed Costa’s Greek Dining along with Greektown Gift and Music Shop, Athens Grocery and the Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop — one of which was in the neighborhood for over 30 years.

“I live right outside of Greektown and a lot of people were really upset about the fire earlier this year,” said University of Illinois-Chicago student Marcus Marshall. “I think the museum is definitely something Greektown can be positive about and look forward to.”

Marshall, 25, believed the new museum would attract both locals and visitors to the area. He also said the added publicity of the museum could bring more life to the neighborhood.

“Greektown is already a fun place to visit with plenty of great restaurants and shops,” said Marshall. “Adding a new museum should only make it an even greater tourist attraction.”

Curator of the National Hellenic Museum, Bethany Fleming, believes the project will not only interest those of Greek descent but the entire community as well.

“This isn’t a history museum or an arts museum but rather a cultural museum,” said Fleming. “We want people to feel like it’s a museum for everyone.”

The $15 million building, located at 333 S. Halsted St, will contain thousands of artifacts ranging from 1400 B.C. to the present. The new space occupies 40,000 square feet, compared to 7,000 at its current location on the fourth floor of 801 W. Adams Street.

Exhibits will rotate throughout the year with the exception of one mainstay: Homer’s Odyssey. This exhibit hopes to document Homer’s art of storytelling and its influence on different cultures.

“Our goal with Homer’s exhibit is to tell how one element of Greek culture has influenced western civilization,” said Fleming. “It will explore how The Odyssey has influenced modern storytelling from [The Coen Brothers] O’ Brother Where Art Thou to Tupac Shakur.”

The project was established with both private and public funding. The city of Chicago committed $3.5 million in tax increment financing money for the museum.

Free street and valet parking will be available for visits to the museum. Those wishing to stay for the day can park in public lots for $6.

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