Following her UCLA graduation, Katerina Papanikolopoulos ʼ17 bought a one-way ticket to Greece and, within a year, had created what Salvatore Peluso of Domus Magazine calls “a new way of looking at the Greek capital.” The art history major set out to develop a cultural startup, one, she says, “that could inspire rapid change in the international recognition of Athens as a new ‘hub.’”

Art and design has been a part of Papanikolopoulos’ life from the start, coming from a family of architects, artists and engineers. In addition to her academic credentials, she’s worked for contemporary art galleries, museums, fairs and creative agencies such as Blum & Poe, Hammer Museum, Frieze and Assortment. “I was intertwined from an early age in the diversity of the field,” she says, “focusing my archival research on design as a social tool that is interwoven with heritage and migration patterns in the Mediterranean.”

In September 2020, having just arrived in Athens in the midst of a lockdown, Papanikolopoulos arranged intimate dinners and attended small-scale events with members of the local arts community to familiarize herself with the artistic climate of her new home. She created a close circle of friends who helped inspire what would become the Athens Design Forum (ADF), a nonprofit working to re-establish the Mediterranean capital as an epicenter of creative production. ADF uses an experiential approach to: highlight the region’s craft and design industries; bring together an international audience and market and; spark economic and creative resilience. 

“From the vast geography, the diverse communities and the centrality of Greece, I [wanted] to create a contemporary destination—opening artists’ houses, introducing dialogues around design that are social-centric, and ultimately launching ADF into a global platform with satellite events,” Papanikolopoulos says. 

ADF’s inaugural series ran Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 with events that brought visitors from over 57 countries to seven different areas of the city and its suburbs, including abandoned furniture factories, culturally significant homes and studios, and private architectural storage areas of museums. “These locations were all approached as cold pitches. I had no direct contacts in Athens when I moved,” Papanikolopoulous says. She sent a LinkedIn message to the City of Athens asking for financial support of ADF, which was granted. “To my surprise, ours is one of the only events funded directly by them.”

With the support of the City of Athens and the Behrakis Foundation, Papanikolopoulos was  able to host international media guests (for many, their first time visiting the capital) resulting in 21 leading international and regional publications, including Architectural Digest, DOMUS, Wallpaper*, ELLE Decor Italia and Kathimerini. “Their direct presence under my guidance helped share the ADF vision with a greater audience,” she says.

Plans for next year’s series are underway. Papanikolopoulos says ADF 2022 will include more intercultural collaborations, with Athens remaining the host base. “With the support of more funding,” she says, “I aim to host at least two to three designer residencies in Greece, while activating and helping rejuvenate Greek heritage brands that withered after the recent economic crisis.” 

Papanikolopoulos on Blake’s influence:

“Blake has been with me throughout this journey—teachers and mentors such as Ms. Landis, Mr. Hollander, Mr. Sago and Mr. Colburn (and more!) all guided me in the years that were the most formative. I still see their direct impact through my trained discipline and in the power of an interrogative question. I am also grateful for the mentorship of Dion Crushshon whose course Global Issues, Local Realities taught me the instrumental steps needed to prepare exhibitions, gather funding, and forge strong partnerships with the community.”

Planning a visit to Athens? Papanikolopoulos recommends:

Favorite hotels                                                                                                                                           Esperinos by Stamos Michael. It is only one room, so book quickly! It is located in my favorite part of Athens near Filopappou hill. The interior and intimate courtyard harken back to the vernacular architecture of the region, while the re-integration of contemporary [design] elements bridge the past and present. 

Favorite bars, cafes, restaurants
Favorite restaurants include To Auyo tou Kokkora in Metaxouryeio and Margaro in Piraeus for shrimp. For a nightcap, Heteroclito. My daily spot is To Kati Allo for a family-run restaurant serving traditional dishes across from the Acropolis Museum. 

Favorite museums, galleries, monuments, cultural places
The Benaki Islamic Museum, the Centre for Popular Craft and Tradition, and the Yiannis Pappas Studio 

Must-sees for first-time visitors or tourists
The Athenian Agora. It is endless.