To the Museum for Innovations
As we live out the present year, we have to think about the following one. It seems to me that we can expect many events related to one of the major issues in the life of Saint Petersburg: the problem of how to live with our architectural heritage.
Why is our city referred to as the cultural capital? What distinguishes it from other cities? What does it have that can't be found anywhere else?
Saint Petersburg has a remarkable historical center that has been preserved as an ensemble. There is nothing of the sort anywhere else in the world. We have unique museums that occupy that city's palace complexes. One other trait that distinguishes this city as a cultural capital is our constant striving to be on the cutting edge of cultural initiatives.
We must always remember that, especially now, as a new set of authorities has emerged in the city. It is important for a surge of progress towards the resolution of St. Petersburg's vital problems to take place this year.
A round table meeting of the Worldwide Club of Petersburgers and the Guild of Managers and Developers, the largest association of Russian construction, investment, development, and management companies in the country was held the other day. This meeting was organized on the initiative of Vyacheslav Semenenko, Chairman of the Construction Committee and Vice President of the Guild. We talked about what has to be done to preserve the city. The Guild includes companies that are concerned about the possibility that Saint Petersburg could be developed in an unsound way. Those who value their brand and their good name more than short-term profits understand the dangerous consequences of poorly planned development. This is based on the principle of doing business in a cultured way. It was a truly interesting conversation. Several new initiatives were developed over the course of the meeting.
People have been talking about the need to establish a moratorium on
construction in the center of Petersburg for a long time. It might be
enacted for, let's say, five years, but not just for its own sake, but
in order to allow time for our mutual efforts to lead to a solution to
the problems of new construction. The General Work Plan doesn't include
anything like that. We must satisfy UNESCO's requirements for the protection
of Petersburg's historical center. I'm certainly grateful to the people
who prepared the document for that organization, but it doesn't include
a specific description of what is to be protected. Protecting everything
is the same as protecting nothing at all. Clear definition need to be
worked out in cooperation with construction specialists, architects and
urban preservation advocates. We will continue our joint work on proposing
a moratorium, and on proposing what should be accomplished while it is
in effect. It must be accomplished by the joint efforts of specialists,
the general public, and civil society.
City dwellers are a category unto themselves. After the war, when many country people settled in the cities, people forgot that. Now, thanks to the demonstrations, they remember. People who go to demonstrations need something more than money. The idea of granting the status of a museum city to Petersburg arose from civil society, and not from a government committee. I'll try to explain how the principles that a museum's work is based on could be helpful for the city.
I have said more than once that museums give people a sense of optimism, a real desire to live and work. Throughout the world, more people go to museums during crises than during times of prosperity. The most fundamental economic concern for museums is maintaining their good name, and not striving for profit at any price. Museum economics are based on exclusive rights for exhibition (just like oil) and providing a different sort of services. And so, at the Hermitage, a large portion of our income, which is growing noticeably, comes from special museum programs, including musical ones, some of which take place outside regular working hours. People pay more for these events. More and more of them are happy to pay for something special, something more than an ordinary visitor receives.
The municipal authorities have recently announced that children will be admitted to museums for free during the New Year's holidays. It is impossible to provide a discount without compensating for it in some way. In Moscow, these expenses are made up from the municipal budget. The financial life of the world's major museums is connected with their social programs. Where does the money needed to provide discounts to those less fortunate come from? From the people who can pay more. The governmental system of social services is built on the same concept, on taxes and customs duties. Taxes and customs duties, however, are coercion. Where museums are concerned, everything is built on people's voluntary actions. A person who buys a ticket at full price or receives a paid service knows that he is financing the museum's programs for those who visit it for free. Children, pensioners, and students have been coming to the Hermitage free of charge for quite a long time now.
Museums count money every day, just as they count their total number of visitors. They have learned to be held responsible for every penny, not only by the mysterious government, but also by the people who give them their money. Our financial activities are far more transparent than those of many companies.
If a city is to live by the same rules that a museum follows in regards
to its collection, it will find it easier to decide what to build and
what not to build. There is one inviolable principle: nothing from the
collection may ever be sold. When it comes to making purchases, a museum
selects only those things that it needs, that fit into its broader context,
that fill in the gaps in its collection. This is also the basis of how
prices are determined. In order to buy a watercolor of the fire in the
Winter Palace, we can collect money from all over the world, although,
irrespective of the Hermitage, it might even have cost less. On the other
hand, we would never buy something we didn't need.
The museums of the world are endlessly working to enlighten people, offering courses and holding tours. They fill in a gap in education, which makes everything equal. People receive supplementary knowledge that is essential for a contemporary person. The universal museum cultivates an appreciation of the fact that there are different cultures in the world, and of the interactions between them. In short, they cultivate what has come to be known as tolerance. In the Hermitage, different cultures are equal, but they live in the halls of the Russian Emperors. This is precisely what the recipe for relationships between nations ought to be: everyone is equal, but there are rules that no one may violate while they are within these walls.
The flow of people, accessibility, carrying capacity- all of these things are part of the museum experience. Museum skills are always innovative. We are open to the world, the past and the future, and select items that have been tested by tradition. All of this comes together to make a museum a kind of filter, which tests innovations for their economic viability, or even simply their price. The Hermitage developed its system for labeling exhibition pieces in cooperation with the military. It is significantly cheaper than what we were being offered, and will work impeccably.
It is precisely a museum that can show people that there are things in life that are worth more than money, that have no price, and will never be on the market. They have been withdrawn from there, once and forever. They are our cultural heritage. A painting by Rembrandt is more important than tens of thousands of factories, and, in certain situations, more important than human lives.
Many aspects of museum life can be successfully applied to a city. This approach must be used if other methods do not work. If anything, we want to make this problem more urgent. It would be wrong to assume that one can take everything into account. To make decisions one needs intuition, and intuition is developed by culture.
Our city fosters an aesthetic taste that affects people's relationships with one another. Agrippina Vaganova was once asked why she didn't move her ballet school to Moscow. She said that, on the way to their classes, her girls walked by buildings that fostered taste. Petersburg is a city of views and moods. That is what has to be preserved, so that the quality of our lives will, at a bare minimum, not be reduced.