Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#7 - JRL 7266
St. Petersburg Times
July 25, 2003
Culture Is Working on the Fine Art of Business
By Galina Stolyarova

Not so long ago, the suggestion that Russian museums should sell coffee mugs bearing images of paintings from their collections would have been treated by many of the museums' directors as something just short of blasphemy.

But the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic upheavals that followed had the effect of convincing even the most conservative members of the group that a degree of business sense was vital to the maintenance of any cultural institution.

The question for many of these museum directors was where to find the expertise and advice they would need in generating the necessary funds to revitalize their institutions. Enter the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF).

"Russia's culture and arts world were the subject of intense international interest. They were already competitive in attracting global attention," says Susan Casey, the IBLF program manager for Russia. "But we knew that the new economic philosophies meant that they were inevitably threatened by cuts in state funding."

The growing importance of cultural sites and tourism to the city's economy as a strong industrial sector shrank rapidly was recognized early in the 1990's by then St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who approached the IBLF looking for cooperation with an NGO that he had himself founded, the St. Petersburg Renaissance Foundation.

Although the idea was not directly in line with the programs the IBLF had set up in other countries, the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles supported the proposal enthusiastically, becoming personally involved in a number of projects and coming to St. Petersburg last week to mark the tenth anniversary of his forum's work here.

"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has a strong affinity with Russian culture - he packed a huge amount of activity into his brief three days in Russia," Casey said of last week's visit. "But he was visibly thriving on the stimulus, energy and visual excitement he received from being in your wonderful city!"

Robert Davies, the CEO of IBLF, also reports glowingly on forum's decade of activity here, saying that the museums and creative industries program, which works with Russian partners in over 100 museums in St. Petersburg and the Northwest, has surpassed all initial expectations.

"The program has contributed, through building management skills from the bottom up, towards regenerating many smaller museums, cultural sites and related artistic industries - the employment backbone for culture and tourism," Davies told Russian Investment Review last month. "It has had a far greater multiplier effect than mobilizing philanthropic donations, which rarely have the same impact on pride and sense of ownership of solutions."

Elena Korf, an IBLF Representative in Russia, says that the forum - which operates in a number of countries with transition economies - develops tailor-made programs for each case.

"We thoroughly research country's needs and conditions before we develop a strategy," she said.

Korf described the IBLF's own fund raising strategy as a mosaic.

"We receive grants from the European Union as well as donations from international banks and foreign businesses operating in Russia," she said.

The program has filled a particular void in helping smaller institutions work out funding difficulties. While high-profile institutions like the State Hermitage Museum or the Mariinsky Theater found it easier to reorganize their activities to deal with new realities, many smaller institutions had fewer resources to use to develop their audiences and, by extension, their ability to attract funding and create income.

Galina Pavlovich, the director of the Theater on Liteiny, tells the story of some actors being paid in eggs after the financial crisis of 1998. Pavlovich says that sponsorship donations in 1998 and 1999 were only covering five percent of total costs, so, in 1998, some of the younger actors would receive 100 eggs instead of 100 rubles they were owed.

According to Yelena Kolovskaya, the director of St. Petersburg Pro Arte Institute, now even lesser known venues - she cites the example of the St. Petersburg Artillery Museum - have so-called "friends' societies."

Kolovskaya says, however, that some negative Soviet characteristics have survived the shift to new ideas for marketing and fundraising.

"One of the major problems is communication - both internal and external," she said. "Hierarchies are very strict and communication very formal in most cultural organizations here. Sometimes very good and productive ideas either don't reach the top management level or can not be presented properly."

Casey says that another difficulty the IBLF program faces is that of the slow pace of change in local bureaucratic structures and behavior, which makes the adoption of more entrepreneurial approaches difficult.

"Sustaining relationships between organizations representing specific skills and professional talent is difficult. Misunderstandings may occur if both sides are not properly briefed and provided with information about local background and developments," Casey says.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, a senior official in the Hermitage's Development Department has taken part in a number of seminars and other events organized by IBLF, including a trip to Manchester, St. Petersburg's sister-city, to gain first-hand experience from organizations involved in creative industries in other situations.

"I was fascinated by the way they turned industrial sites into galleries and restaurants, how winningly they used the existing interiors," Fyodorov said. "Art was blending with business so naturally."

Vadim Kasparov, the director of Cannon Dance Studio, which focuses on modern and jazz dance and organizes several annual contemporary-dance events in St. Petersburg, stresses that the administrative help is the biggest contribution from the IBLF program.

"The cooperation has been very fruitful. We have learned to present and market ourselves and have even improved relations with the St. Petersburg city administration and business partners," he says. "We also very much appreciate the opportunity to reach out to our Western counterparts through IBLF."

Casey says that the potential for growth remains and that the opportunity to work with similar foreign institutions has more to offer.

"There is a big appetite for creativity and innovation in all areas in the West. St. Petersburg's cultural world presents a fascinating area for exchanges and joint developments in areas such a design, music and fashion," she said.

Top   Next