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#16 - JRL 7139
Kennan Institute
event summary
March 28, 2003
Capitals by Design: Architecture, the Arts, and Public Spectacle in St.
Petersburg & Washington, D.C. 1703-2003 

This two-day symposium was co-organized by the Center for Eurasian, Russian
and East European Studies (CERES); Department of Art, Music, and Theater at
Georgetown University; Hillwood Museum and Gardens; and the Kennan
Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center.

Keynote speaker, James Cracraft, Professor of History, University of
Illinois at Chicago, began the symposium by noting the significance of St.
Petersburg and Washington, D.C. as capital cities. He explained that St.
Petersburg has remained close to its architect, Peter the Great, and shares
many similar traits to the “purposefully built” Washington, D.C.

Following Cracraft’s remarks, Blair A. Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute,
chaired a panel with Howard Gillette, Professor of History, Rutgers
University and Ewa Berard, Research Scholar, National Center for Scientific
Research, Paris, which examined the designing and building process of the
two capitals. Gillette posited that “beyond the basic functions buildings
serve, they have at times in American history been looked to as a means to
enhance and shape desirable civic values.” Gillette described Washington’s
building process and how efforts have “sought to convey both at home and
abroad messages about America’s republican experiment.” Berard’s remarks
focused on the similarities between the remodeling of the each cities as
they, “were solicited to catch up with new urban models, to reshape their
monumental layout, and to beautify.” Berard explained how both the Senate
Park Commission’s plan for Washington and the “revitalist” project in St.
Petersburg turned to a “neoclassic imperial forms and symbols” in their
rebuilding project. She discussed the meaningfulness of this coincidence
and its impact in the further development of cities and architecture in the
United States and Russia.

The second panel of the symposium, which was chaired by Karen L. Kettering,
Associate Curator of Russian Art, Hillwood Museum and Gardens and included
panelist Richard Stites, Professor of History and School of Foreign
Service, Georgetown University. Stites described the role of various
Russian cultural institutions namely, the Academy of Fine Arts, the
Imperial Theater system, and Philharmonia. He explained the significance of
these three “centers of culture” and discussed the physical properties of
buildings, social relations within and the cultural styles and practices
associated with each.

The third panel of the symposium, “Defining New Cultures in the Modern Era”
was chaired by Alison Hilton, Professor of Art History, and Chair of the
Department of Art, Music, and Theater, Georgetown University and featured
presentations by James A. Miller, Professor of English and American
Studies, George Washington University and Alla Rosenfeld, Curator of
Russian and Soviet nonconformist art, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum,
Rutgers University. Miller briefly discussed the role of Washington, D.C.
in 19th century African-American literature, and noted the influence of
Washington, D.C. writers and intellectuals in “constructing Harlem as the
mythical center of African-American life.” Rosenfeld explained the numerous
alternative art movements in Leningrad from the 1920s through the 1980s.
Rosenfeld focused her presentation on the tensions that existed between the
Soviet official art establishment and the experimental institutions.

Following this, a lively roundtable discussion involving all participants
and chairs allowed participants to make their final points and chairs to
draw together common themes comparing and contrasting the capital cities of
St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C.. The conference concluded as
participants were invited to attend the photography exhibit, “Time Standing
Still: St. Petersburg Photography” organized by Nailya Alexander, Guest
Curator, Georgetown University.
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