Armenia Fund, Inc. opens Varaz Samuelian Cultural Center in Artik
Posted on September 07, 2010
With a jubilant ribbon-cutting ceremony held on September 7 in Artik, a city in northern Armenia’s Shirak Region, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund marked the opening of the highly anticipated Varaz Samuelian Cultural Center.

The construction of the center, at a cost of approximately 155 million AMD (U.S. $425,000), was funded by the Armenia Fund U.S. Western Region, through the bequest of the renowned Armenian-American painter and sculptor Varaz Samuelian (1917-1995).

Fully furnished and computerized, the two-story, 550-meter-square center features a distinct architecture and is designed to function as both an arts establishment and a hub for community leisure. The structure’s first floor includes an art gallery, an events hall, and a computer room. The second floor comprises rooms for fine arts, music, and chess instruction. A hallmark of the center is its permanent exhibition of works by Varaz Samuelian, which is expected to become a major attraction for local residents and tourists alike. The donation of the artist’s collection of paintings was also stipulated in his will.

The many dignitaries and guests attending the opening of the center included Tigran Sargsyan, prime minister of Armenia; Seyran Petrosyan, deputy governor of Shirak; Khachatur Varagyan, mayor of Artik; Ara Vardanyan, executive director of the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund; Ara Aghishian, chairman of the Armenia Fund U.S. Western Region; Bishop Mikayel Ajapahyan, primate of the Shirak Diocese; and pastors representing the Artik congregation.

In their respective remarks, the reverend fathers conveyed their gratitude and blessings to all those who have made the Varaz Samuelian Cultural Center possible.

As he addressed the attendees, Ara Aghishian spoke briefly of the project’s backdrop. “After years of putting money aside from his modest income, Varaz Samuelian dedicated his savings to the cultural development of his homeland,” Aghishian said. “Thanks to the hard work of two attorneys, Raffi Ourfalian (former chairman of the Armenia Fund, Inc.) of Los Angeles and Levon Sagatelyan of San Francisco, recently the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund was able to transfer Samuelian’s legacy, including his financial bequest and donated artworks, to Armenia.”

“Today we stand here marveling at this beautiful structure,” said Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan in his speech. “And we’re in awe of the unique ambience which Samuelian’s paintings create inside the building. We are grateful to the artist for his wonderful legacy. Generations of Artik residents will enjoy Samuelian’s works at this cultural center, which has secured his permanent presence in the homeland.”

“Samuelian wished that the future gallery bearing his name be located in this area, what has come to be known as the Earthquake Zone following the 1988 Spitak quake,” said Ara Vardanyan of the fund. “After consulting with the authorities of Shirak, we decided to build the Varaz Samuelian Cultural Center right here in Artik. I am delighted to announce that the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund plans to construct similar centers — intended as community hubs for art, education, and leisure — in other Armenian cities as well.”

Varaz Samuelian was born in Yerevan to a family of Genocide survivors. After moving to the United States in 1946, he went on to become an acclaimed painter, sculptor, and author. His David of Sassoon, a two-and-half-ton copper statue representing justice and freedom, is a beloved historic landmark in Fresno, California, his hometown, as well as an extraordinary symbol of Armenian identity. Images of Armenian cultural history are carved in granite at the base of the statue. With the opening of the Varaz Samuelian Cultural Center in Atik, the artist’s dream of making his life’s work a vibrant part of Armenia’s culture has become a reality.