Palace Square is asking for a breather
One of the signs of the oncoming Petersburg summer is the incessant concerts, festivals and mass festivities on Palace Square. Over the course of several years, the leadership of the State Hermitage has been expressing its clear dissatisfaction with this state of affairs and is trying to persuade the Petersburg Administration that it is essential to put in place a Government edict or city law that sets out the rules for "cultural use" of Palace Square, that is to say Regulations. Director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky explains the position of the museum in a chat with the correspondent of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
- Mikhail Borisovich, why do we need these Regulations?
- The Regulations are an attempt to properly frame the life of Palace Square. After all these days people are persistently trying to turn it into a city stadium, linking it with events that should only take place in stadiums. But then again, one stadium, the Kirov Stadium to be exact, has been destroyed. Another stadium, the Petrovsky, has very expensive grass and therefore nothing can be held there. And so it turns out that Palace Square is the only free place where you don't have to lay on expensive transportation solutions. That is why everyone is ready to set up their "songs and dances” here. Right now yet another project is being prepared: the simultaneous launch of 5-7 hot air balloons. And it has to be on Palace Square. Surely there is not much sense in crying out that Palace Square should finally be left in peace...
- Why not shout?
- Hypothetically, you can spread out the "cultural” burden over several city squares. There is the Kirov Square near the Narva Gates district. But there is a problem with lack of mass transport there. Generally speaking, it is understandable why everything is drawn to one place. There is truth in saying that for the burden to be distributed you have to put in order the other areas and squares. And to do that costs money and effort, whereas Palace Square is right there, ready to be used. For every reason it is senseless to shout about it. We do not shout. However, we do request that comprehensible, logical and civilized rules be put in place.
Understanding of the need for such rules emerged when the chariot of the arch within the General Staff complex caught fire and burned. At that time the Governor issued orders containing certain mandatory rules when holding mass events on Palace Square But since that time long ago, no documents were issued in this regard. And we consider it to be advisable for Regulations on the use of the square to be formulated as a ruling of the City Government or, perhaps, a city law. To be sure, the Legislative Assembly already once refused to adopt such a law, arguing that there was no reason for singling out Palace Square when we have quite a few squares in the city. Around a year has gone by since then. A draft text of Regulations has been prepared again by Hermitage lawyers. It has already been agreed in several committees of the City Administration. And yet...work has again come to a standstill as we pass through some zigzags. Moreover, it seems to us that our main request is logical: that no event should be held on Palace Square without the agreement of the Hermitage. I think the Hermitage has the right to determine what is possible and what cannot be arranged on the Square, and it should be guided in this decision by what is in the interests of the museum and historic traditions.
- Mikhail Borisovich, why do you believe that the special ways the Square is used should depend on the Hermitage? After all, this is city territory....
- Firstly, Palace Square is the entrance to the Hermitage. And we bear obligations to our visitors with regard to the convenience of this entrance and its stately appearance. The Hermitage ‘embraces' the Square from two sides. As it happens, to a large degree the Square has become part of the museum. We are the guardians of treasures which can suffer from excess vibration, from excess activity by an excited crowd: the explosions of detonators, firecrackers...And, alas, we have already suffered. I think these are sufficient grounds for saying that the interests of the Hermitage should not be ignored. Furthermore, Palace Square is a memorial square, a monument to victory in the War of 1812. It deserves the historic ceremonial treatment that is inherent to it. But unfortunately today not everyone thinks this way. Society is divided into those who respect the rights of the Hermitage and those who do not respect them.
- What, in your view, can the Square tolerate, and what not?
- It's entirely acceptable to set up a stage there for one day. However, to arrange the Square into film screening pavilions for a month, or retail booths and restaurants under tents, as the organizers of a film festival wanted to do last year is absolutely unacceptable. I am certain that you must not fill the Square to bursting with buses or kiosks selling cool drinks. Now we have to negotiate separately with each government office for the Square to remain a square and not be turned into a parking lot or a bazaar. In order that we not have to address all the different government bodies with concrete demands, what is needed is a coherent set of Regulations. In the Regulations we have drafted there is an exhaustive list of requirements. It is not big. The questions of principle come down to four points.
Firstly, nothing should hinder the work of the State Hermitage. We have a protected zone that runs out to 3 meters from the periphery markers. This is ours by law and that is iron tight. Secondly, we have demanded that there be acoustical rules - with a limit of 85 decibels. As is known, we have had several concerts there and the sound level was measured. Moreover, the measurements were done not only by us but also by organizers of the concert. And I have to say that the norms we established suit both us and the performers. Thirdly, it is necessary to restrict the height of any temporary constructions erected for performances to 4-5 meters.
Furthermore, we ask that if the Square is being used commercially, then the Hermitage should get material compensation. It's not we who thought this up. It is part of the law on culture. And we demand that there be mandatory insurance of the participants and spectators of the events. I want to emphasize that the insurance is not for the benefit of the Hermitage but to cover third parties. Although the city authorities are stubbornly opposed, this is a civilized way of protecting people and historic buildings.
- So it appears, Mikhail Borisovich, that today, while there is still no Regulations and no law, people can do what they like on Palace Square?
- We are doing everything possible to ensure that this does not happen. Gradually we are teach civilized behavior to the organizers of mass events, taking into account, of course, the realities and the interests of the city. For example, the concerts of the honorable Rolling Stones - if they are not accompanied by loud orgies of youths and the crowd behavior is controlled - are entirely acceptable - a couple of times a year. But the whole issue is that during the summer events on the Square are going on nonstop. Now we are managing to agree with the organizers of concerts on the need to consider the interests of the Hermitage. And many organizers even have come to consider it their duty to hear out our conditions beforehand and set them down in legal fashion. In my view this is a civilized approach. Thus, before the appearance of Elton John we concluded a long agreement in which everything that I said about the draft Regulations was set down in writing. If there is no set of city Regulations, we will implement the rules de facto. And we introduce into our contracts with performers those demands which we have put into our draft law.