Interview in the magazine Expert NW
27 September 2004 . No. 36
- You have headed the Hermitage since 1992, when market reforms were
just beginning. Did it take you very long to part with the illusion that
a state museum should exist solely on state budgetary allocations?
- That is no illusion. It is actually a firm conviction which we hope
to put into practice: a state museum should live entirely on state financial
support and open its doors to the public free of charge. When the state
collects taxes from the population, it assumes the obligation to provide
three basic services: to ensure protection against foreign and domestic
threats to security, and to protect the cultural heritage of the population.
The last of these functions involves safeguarding the normal functioning
of museums. It is fine if museums can earn money but this is not their
duty; it is an act of good will, a sort of assistance to the state. Unlike
commercial enterprises, a museum does not earn money for the sake of profit
and we always should be aware that there are bounds which should not be
crossed. If we are going to properly carry out our mission, we should
be reducing our dependence on admission charges. Today about one-third,
and sometimes half of our visitors enter the Hermitage free of charge.
These are school children, university students and Russian retirees. We
also have one day a month when no admission is charged. At the same time
we are constantly lobbying the government to raise the state’s share in
covering the museum’s financial needs.
- There are rumors that starting next year the Hermitage will no longer
figure as a separate entry in the state budget, and that will make it
all the more difficult to defend allocations to the museum…
- In the state budget for 2005 the Hermitage keeps its separate entry,
though a restriction has appeared: now we will be doing our planning via
the Ministry of Culture rather than directly with the Ministry of Finance.
However, it is true that there is a movement afoot to eliminate our status
as a separate budgetary item and we will continue to oppose this. The
Hermitage is in a category of its own and I say this even if some people
consider it cheeky. We are the only universal museum in Russia having
worldwide importance, while at the same time we are a symbol of Russian
statehood. Thanks to this status and to Presidential patronage, the Hermitage
has great prospects for further development and can receive respectable
amounts of financial assistance. Almost any project we initiate has a
minimal cost of one million dollars! If we are not treated as a separate
line in the state budget but instead lumped together with other items,
then our future financing will become less clear as funds are constantly
re-allocated. We have known instances when half the amounts assigned to
the Hermitage by decrees signed by the President were then taken away
by bureaucrats and spent on other things.
- What are the respective shares of the Hermitage’s budget covered
by state and non-state sources?
- Approximately 60% is paid by the state and 40% by the Hermitage
from its own earnings. I think this is an almost optimal correlation,
although perhaps I might prefer it to be 70:30. In past years the share
covered by the Hermitage was 50, 60, and even 70%, but these bad proportions
arose because the state withheld funds. Over time the sums transferred
to us by the state grew and over the past 5 years everything promised
to us has been delivered in a stable manner. There are, of course, limits
to what we can earn on our own. There are certain things we simply cannot
do to raise money. The Hermitage’s own ability to raise funds amounts
to about 10 million dollars. This comes from sales of admission tickets,
licensing, exhibitions abroad and the contributions of sponsors. We have
great need of the funds which we earn because this protects our freedom
and autonomy. If this money were taken away from us it would be a huge
- Do you mean the consequences of budgetary reform and subordination
of museums to the Treasury?
- Yes. This danger threatens all museums and we have been discussing
it in the Union of Museums of Russia. Even today all of our non-state
revenues are considered to be part of the state funding and are paid to
us through the Treasury. But for the time being they are shown in our
separate account. However, we can see clearly that there is a move to
put an end to this sort of autonomy and to turn the revenues of museums
into an expense item of the state. That is to say the state will pay us
from the money we earn or use these earnings to replace state financing
(though this was forbidden by prior laws and statutes on museums). This
will be fatal to museums. Sponsors will not give us money if they know
that they are merely replacing state funds; our contracts these days specifically
mention this. Museum staff will be deprived of incentives to work better
and more creatively. It’s one thing to think up ways of increasing revenues
of your own museum for construction, restoration and repairs. It is quite
a different matter if you know the state is taking over the proceeds.
This will leave no incentive to reach higher and further, to work more.
Any petty shift subordinating us to the Treasury will seriously put us
back. Under the Soviet regime the main problem was not strict control
as such, but that control of a great and large museum like the Hermitage
was exercised at the level of a an instructor in ideology from the district
party committee of the CPSU. And today Treasury officials who cannot take
any decisions will only get in the way at institutions which have grown
used to operating independently. This pertains not only to the Hermitage
but also to all other museums. There can be no doubt that our museums
have managed not only to survive but even to flourish and grow (to the
envy of Western museums) mainly due to the large degree of financial and
ideological autonomy they enjoy today.
- In this situation the economy simply reflects modern-day politics,
wouldn’t you say?
- I think it is precisely so. Nonetheless, we should try to ensure
that politics do not get in the way of the economy or do not go off in
an unhealthy direction.
-Let’s return to the question of the Hermitage’s budget. When you
are dealing with potential sponsors among businessmen what criteria do
you apply as you agree on implementing one or another project? Where is
the boundary between what is permitted in earning money and what is not?
- The limits are determined by each museum itself and this is both
an obligation and a responsibility. We conduct very detailed, sometimes
even very tough negotiations and we precisely set down in our contracts
everything that the sponsor may do, and what he may not do. Western sponsors
have been well brought up and do not ask too much: they are satisfied
to be associated with the name or brand of the Hermitage, to have their
logotype in catalogues, to participate in organizing exhibitions.
For example, no one can rent rooms in the Hermitage to hold celebrations
or receptions, although almost all museums in Russia and in the world
at large do this. We only allow receptions that are organized by the Hermitage
itself on the occasion of the opening of an exhibition or to mark the
completion of joint projects with our sponsors. But no one is permitted
to rent a hall in the Hermitage to celebrate a birthday.
We try to avoid open advertising. We do not allow the positioning of an
auto in front of the museum for advertising purposes. But we can exhibit
a BMW inside the museum when it has been painted by Andy Warhol, knowing
that this will please the German automobile manufacturer. And we plan
to continue such an approach to painted BMW’s in the future as well. One
company we successfully cooperate with offered us large sums of money
to place their outdoor advertising on the scaffolding which was put up
on our building. But we decided that this is inappropriate since it would
mean someone in a boat on the Neva could photograph an enormous advertisement
against the backdrop of the Hermitage.
What we are talking about is an inner sensation determined by a sense
of snobbism. There are no hard rules in these matters and we will never
condemn another museum for doing what we will not ourselves do. Everyone
has his own situation, his own traditions and his own taboos.
- Nonetheless, wouldn’t you say that the Hermitage does essentially
trade on its brand image when it allows its symbols to appear on cans
- The Hermitage’s symbols appear on bottles of red wine that we order
specially in Italy, in Tuscany. We cannot use the name "Hermitage",
because it is a registered trade mark, and that is why we have labeled
the wine as "Pecelli for the Hermitage." (Pecelli is the town
where it is produced.) We treat our guests to this wine and it is served
in the Hermitage restaurant. By the way, someone can market candies bearing
the name "Hermitage", assuming, of course, that they pay us
for the license and that we approve of their quality!
As regards Coca-Cola, they are our long-time sponsor. They are very proper
and never do anything that is not permitted. The series of Coca-Cola cans
bearing the images of the Hermitage and texts devoted to the protection
of landmarks are so good we could have paid for them ourselves! In general
this was not so much an advertisement for the Hermitage as it was a promotion
of our mission of safeguarding the cultural heritage. And it is very good
that these cans have had such a great success across Russia and are now
being " issued" for a third time.
One other successful example is linked to IBM, who spent at least 5 million
dollars developing the Hermitage’s web site (the world’s best!), our on-line
store, and the Virtual Academy. What can we do to pay them back? Once
a year IBM takes its major clients to the Hermitage. The guests are shown
around the halls, and the site is demonstrated together with all sorts
of technical innovations. With the Hermitage as a point of reference,
representatives from IBM show what can be achieved in other situations
and to satisfy the various needs of clients.
- One point of pride at the Hermitage is the group of powerful companies
which have become its strategic partners. How is this group formed? How
is it that among the friends of the Hermitage we find well-known Russian
- The principle is that we don’t make any invitations. People come
to us and ask to join. Of course, companies wishing to cooperate with
the Hermitage don’t descend from Heaven. We often enter into lengthy negotiations
and just as everywhere in the museum world this is considered one of the
most important tasks of the director. The Hermitage is active and shows
itself off in many venues. As a result people constantly come to us with
proposals. Usually this begins with small suggestions which then expand,
as does the scope of our cooperation.
For example, the PR Department of Interros wanted to help the Hermitage
with its publishing program. They started by financing the publication
of books. This went well and persons at a higher level became interested.
After a number of meetings were held with Vladimir Potanin, we agreed
that Interros will become our partner in the Great Hermitage project,
taking care of part of the funding and acting as a consultant. Along the
way we found a number of side projects such as the purchase of Malevich’s
Oleg Deripaska came to us of his own initiative starting with a tour of
the Hermitage. When we got to the question of what he might do for the
museum, we suggested a number of different items from our "menu":
restoration work, exhibitions abroad and in Russia, where they are especially
appreciated. As a result the brilliant project of The Hermitage in Siberia
was born. The company Bazovy Element provided the funds for arranging
exhibitions in cities where it has economic interests. Two of our exhibitions
were staged successfully in six Siberian cities and this experience pleased
everyone. Now we are in negotiations over a series of exhibition projects
for the South of Russia.
- How significant is revenue from visitors to the museum in the overall
structure of the Hermitage’s budget?
- This is a very important share of our revenue. Ticket sales account
for about one-third of all non-state funds, that is about 3 million dollars
per year. We include in this figure revenue from overseas exhibitions.
- Representatives of the tour business do not understand why the Hermitage
does not want to earn more from tourist groups, why it limits access to
- I think that the 2.5 million visitors who now come to the museum
(mostly in the summer season, I might add) are the outer limit. I see
crowds walking with flags in the Hermitage and I know that they are bringing
the money that pays for us. But I also know that someone who has especially
come to us to see a Rembrandt will not see it if the halls are thronged
by endless crowds of visitors. Here you have to observe a delicate balance…Most
likely we will get additional capacity when we fully open the General
The tourist agencies are being rather sly. We love to earn money and we
use all appropriate methods to do this. If the tourist agencies need to
bring groups of visitors during morning or evening hours, they can do
this, but they should be prepared to pay more for the service. Instead
they just suggest we extend our opening hours and admit people at all
hours without extra compensation. We cannot agree to this. One more thing.
I am certain that we should not be chasing after quantity but going for
quality and value of the services we offer. This naturally will also enable
the tourist companies to earn more. Petersburg can easily turn into a
second Prague, which in the last few years was nearly swept away by a
tide of cheap tourism
- Has your creation of a virtual store turned out to be profitable?
And what about the trade in souvenir products as a whole?
- This is not something we run. Rather it is operated by companies
who are our partners. The virtual store was created and IBM helped us
to develop the technology. There are companies which respond very efficiently
to orders that come in. In the course of two or three days they deliver
the goods. The store does not bring in much profit, but it does not lose
money, and that is already an achievement.
At the same time we created a so-called internet store as a show-case.
The fact is that for many years the shops in the Hermitage could not take
root. Whatever we tried ended badly. The Winter Palace just drove away
all commerce! Then I suggested to a company having an internet store to
take up the sale of goods directly in the Hermitage. As a result a fine
shop appeared and it now occupies almost the entire Jordan Gallery. The
Hermitage’s electronic store is essentially a display case for the internet
shop where ordinary commerce is done with the help of computer technologies.
The assortment of books on art is the best in the city. The Hermitage
receives a decent income from the sales turnover. By the way, we also
have several other partners who run a number of small stores, the cafe
and restaurant, all of which pay us rent for their premises and also for
the use of the Hermitage brand, in a manner of speaking.
- Who produces the souvenir goods bearing the label"The State
Hermitage" and under what conditions?
- Mainly this is done by the electronic store on the basis of a license
they received from us. But we are also prepared to license other companies
which may wish to use the name of the Hermitage on certain replicas of
our exhibits. The Metropolitan Museum of Art does this. So far we receive
1,520,000 dollars a year from such licensing. In Holland there is a company
which we have authorized to grant licenses for production of goods bearing
the Hermitage label. This business continues to grow, although so far
we have not succeeded in setting up our own stores.
- Does the Hermitage sell off any items to help pay for acquisitions
the way collectors and some other museums do?
- The answer is a categorical "no", although I hasten to
add that in some places, such as America, this is considered perfectly
normal. I am convinced that such things should never be done, that this
is amoral and criminal. We have had the tragic experience when the Soviet
government sold off art works from the Hermitage and other museums on
the grounds that they were second-rate items. And once you let the market
enter the temple, you cannot stop it: it exerts its sway and in the pursuit
of money people start urging the sale of real masterpieces. There are
arguments against this practice on what I would call the philosophical
plane. No one has full property rights over a cultural heritage. We have
received it from previous generations and we should preserve it and develop
it to hand on to future generations.
- Is the Hermitage’s creation of branches in Western Europe and America
a sort of international PR or is there some interesting business in it
- The main thing is to be honest with yourself in the moral sense.
Our policy is built on making the Hermitage collection as accessible as
possible. We organize exhibitions around the whole world. In principle
it is not a complicated matter to arrange an exhibition in some Japanese
province and you can earn rather decent fees easily. However, we find
the creation of branch museums far more attractive. A permanent place
for shows is created. You know with whom you are dealing and you can form
a long-term program of exhibitions which we can prepare aesthetically
and ideologically. Of course, it is also important that the Hermitage
be honorably represented when exhibitions are held and the very fact of
having a permanent presence in the cultural life of London or Amsterdam
is a weighty factor.
With respect to the business side of things, there are various available
solutions. Usually we receive a certain compensation for organizing exhibitions
and for our labor inputs in its creation, without regard to the number
of visitors. The branches of the Hermitage operate on other principles.
In Las Vegas we share the branch museum with the Guggenheim and all the
net income is shared between us evenly. (This is just about the only exhibition
center in the world where shows are held without assistance from sponsors!)
In London we get one pound sterling from each admission ticket sold; in
Amsterdam, one Euro.
- It is costing about 40 million Euros to pay for the resettlement
of the home for the elderly formerly in the Amstelhof in Amerstdam and
for its complete reconstruction to suit museum use. What is the financial
participation of the Hermitage in this and how successful are you in attracting
funds from local businessmen?
- The share of the Hermitage in projects like this is roughly zero!
The funds are provided by organizations which are members of the Friends
of the Hermitage Foundations. In Holland we spread the word for a number
of years that it would be fine to open a Hermitage exhibition center in
Amsterdam. The idea pleased everyone, because it makes real economic sense.
The appearance of the Hermitage in Amsterdam immediately created an entire
complex of places for tourists to visit on their "second day"
in the city. Visiting the Hermitage branch gives tourists a reason to
stay on in the city a second day. It also provides a reason for day-trippers
who come in to the city to see unique exhibitions which have been prepared
just for Amsterdam and will not travel across all of Europe. It should
come as no surprise that our project received the active support of the
municipal authorities who provided funding. A large part of the money
came from the Sponsor Loterij, organizers of the well-known lottery. They
reckoned that this is a good cultural project that will pay for itself.
Various foundations and sponsors also showed an interest…
-Were the risks and expenses associated with staging the exhibition
Ten Masterpieces from the Treasury of the State Hermitage Museum worth
it in terms of receipts from the charitable reception arranged by Sotheby’s?
- This year at the end of September there was the first Hermitage
Week in New York organized by our American friends. During the course
of this week we launched a major fundraising campaign to collect funds
for the reconstruction of the General Staff building. Ten remarkable works
of jewelry were taken to New York for a very brief period and they were
a sensation. They were shown in special exhibition rooms of the auction
house Sotheby’s, which is also where the main evening event of the Hermitage
Week was held. Those who contributed a certain sum to this charitable
cause were given "special access" to these items and they came
to the Hermitage dinner. The exhibition in Sotheby’s is no more unprecedented
a measure than the opening of our branch museum in Las Vegas was, and
it was also initially met with skepticism. Our answer was entirely socialist:
art exists for the masses, and the masses are the real Americans in Las
- In Russia one of the priorities for developing the Hermitage is
reconstruction of the General Staff building. However, we get the impression
that this project is going nowhere, at least until a loan is received
from the World Bank, which was talked about more than a year ago....
- The project is not veering off; rather it is developing normally
considering that things cannot be rushed. The government took its time
deciding whether to seek a World Bank loan and only recently gave its
approval. In parallel work was going on. Funds were allocated for pre-design
work which was finished by Studio 44. Moreover, we brought into the project
a number of consultants, Rem Koolhaas’s company AMO . and the Guggenheim
Museum. The final project will be ready towards the end of the year and
by that time the money should be forthcoming from the World Bank. I hope
we will receive $14 million from the Bank as planned, but we will need
to find a further $56 million to complete phase one, the reconstruction
of the building from the side of the Pevchesky bridge.
- How do you plan to reconcile the concepts of Studio 44 and Koolhaas?
- They are compatible in the same way that work by von Klenze and
Stasov are compatible in the New Hermitage. The main distinction in principle
is that Studio 44 is proposing a long line of enfilade whereas Koolhaas
has the vision of a certain center to the building from which everything
radiates. These projects are not so contradictory as they may seem. Now
a plan is being elaborated for several entrances to the General Staff
building, though the streams of visitors should come together in one place.
A lot has changed since the first concept of Studio 44. I hope that in
the end everything will be acceptable and show mixed qualities of originality
- The Hermitage fully prepared the museum part of the Konstantinovsky
Palace. Are you are trying to expand your own influence in this way or
were you obliged to undertake this work by political decisions at the
- We are not looking to take over other people’s territory, but we
do not say no when we can help display collections and make exhibitions
more attractive. When the palace was rebuilt our specialists took part
in the architectural and archeological research and thanks to this the
architectural part of the project was completed in a manner above all
reproach. The interiors have needed further work, to put it mildly. To
a certain extent political will from above played a role. First there
was the idea that all the museums would help the Konstantinovsky Palace
assemble exhibitions, however this somehow did not succeed. And then the
proposal was made directly to the Hermitage to use all the exhibition
areas free of charge. We are arranging the museum part in accordance with
the main idea of the Konstantinovsky Palace, which is the idea of Russian
statehood. That is why we have put there exhibitions of heraldry and state
awards which, by the way, lose out in the main Hermitage buildings. We
can also place some military paintings in the Palace of Congresses.
- The building of new storage facilities for the Hermitage has long
been linked with serious plans for the museum’s development. Why then
was it built in such a remote district, near the Komendantsky Air Field?
- The construction is not yet completed. In addition to the six-story
building that has been erected there are two more to come, and they are
quite technological, I might add. When were getting a parcel of land to
build on, it was assumed there would be a lot of construction going on
nearby. But then it turned out that we were in an empty space and we even
had to bring in water especially. However, we have tried to turn these
complications to our advantage. The district is a bedroom community which
has a great need for cultural life. Therefore we changed the concept and
made the storage facility open to the public. There is no asphalt put
down yet, but we are selling admission tickets and people come to see
the holdings in our storerooms. We are planning to organize clubs for
schoolchildren, lecture rooms, and various educational programs on the
basis of the storage facility. In general, a fine piece of the Hermitage
is now settled into what is a residential area.