No Lobby for Museum. Mikhail Piotrovsky Against
Full Commercialization of Museums
Today it is clear for many people that there is a need for "culture-friendly" laws. What should these laws be like? How are they applied in Russia and abroad? Director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky shares his views on this issue in an interview to the RG.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Mikhail Borisovich, the Hermitage is put on a special account. And even on a separate budget item. But in the New Year it has faced a choice between a governmental and an autonomous institution, as well as all other museums. Which do you prefer?
Mikhail Piotrovsky: In the course of disputes emerged the third
As regards the law on autonomous and other institutions (Federal Law No. 83), it is actually intended to destroy the competitive advantage of state cultural institutions. What is its purpose? On the one hand, privileges of state cultural institutions are abolished. On the other hand, the state relieves itself from the burden of maintenance of these institutions. Meaning, come learn how to swim on your own. This will lead only to the commercialization of culture.
Let’s assume we become an autonomous institution. Thinking logically, from the commercial point of view, we must abolish all the privileges that the museum offers for visitors who come from socially unprotected classes. We subsidize these privileges from our salary funds which could be used for restoration. If we are not a budgetary institution, the first thing to do in order to survive is to abolish any and all privileges. Just because the criterion for the museum success will be the profit it makes. Profit should be made indeed but the success criteria are different. The museum has its own mission in the society.
RG: The main concern regarding this law is the commercialization of cultural institutions, right?
Piotrovsky: Not only this. There emerges the possibility of potential bankruptcy and destruction of these museums, loss of part of their assets. Or the possibility of their transfer to another entity, i.e. privatization. Nobody will take away collections yet but buildings occupied by cultural institutions can be easily taken away in case of bankruptcy. Therefore, there are many risks involved.
RG: Is the creation of the endowment capital of the Hermitage a sort of insurance against unfavorable market conditions?
Piotrovsky: It can be put so as well. But it is rather a growth
point. The law on endowment is one of few Russian laws which are
RG: Has it been decided which foundation will be established for the formation of the endowment capital and which management company will you choose?
Piotrovsky: As regards the management company, there are plenty of those who wish to perform this function for us. Among them are also those who have never dealt with an endowment capital. While we have an elaborate plan, we have not formed the endowment capital yet. In June Vladimir Potanin made a proposal to create the endowment capital of the Hermitage and made the first contribution worth USD 5 mln. It accounts for approx. 10 per cent of the endowment capital. We need a large capital.
RG: It is believed that the size of the endowment capital should exceed the budget by approx. 7 times. The budget of the Hermitage in 2010 was…
Piotrovsky: ... two billion rubles. It is clear that construction
expenses vary. This year we had substantial
RG: Regarding the pitfalls of the museum life… During the ceremony of awarding of grants of the Potanin Foundation the Hermitage staff were shown a film where a young jurist spoke about the state insurance of museum exhibitions which she examined in England. Is it possible to apply these practices if no state insurance of exhibitions is currently in place in Russia?
Piotrovsky: I hope it is. The system of state guarantees is very important and we are struggling for it now. It is in place in the majority of countries. It is very comprehensive. And not that burdensome as it seems.
RG: What is this system about?
Piotrovsky: When a museum receives an exhibition, it should pay to insure works delivered from another country. In many countries the state guarantees payments in case if something goes wrong. Insurance funds are put on a special account and frozen. If something goes wrong, the state pays funds to a collector or a museum. This system guarantees the safety of museum items. For example, when the Hermitage received the Picasso exhibition, insurance fees only were worth one million dollars. In February within the framework of the year of Spain in Russia we are planning to host an exhibition from the Prado. Naturally, we pay for the insurance policy worth one million dollars. The Ministry of Finance understands it and has started discussions on this issue but the conversation never ends. They argue: "An exhibition is a commercial enterprise? Commercial. So you must have a commercial insurance policy. Include it in the estimate". I ask: "How will you give us as the institution the money as per the estimate for insurance?". They reply: "No, we won’t give it". So another round of talks can be started.
RG: Maybe, you should charge money for attending exhibitions brought to the Hermitage?
Piotrovsky: We, as well as the Metropolitan Museum, never charge
fees for attending an exhibition. It is sufficient that a person paid
for entrance into the museum. In England they do not charge for entrance
into museums but sell tickets for exhibitions, at a pretty high price.
We believe that the system when people pay for entrance tickets to museum
and have an opportunity to attend any and all exhibitions in it is a better