The Hermitage Director on bureaucracy, nepotism and the future
On the Hermitage’s birthday, its Director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, made several announcements and answered questions from Gorod 812.
– At the general meeting of the Union of Museums of Russia you discussed the “problem of nepotism” in cultural institutions. There are plans to impose a ban on relatives working in the same place on museums.
– It’s a long and serious story. Under the guise of a fight against corruption a crazy amount of different restrictive rules are being adopted. Things even go so far that personnel departments are being called “departments for fighting corruption”.
The government has decided to heavily restrict the possibility of relatives working in the same institution, in organizations subordinated to the same superior and so on. In principle, things have always been that way. I myself, for example, was not able to work in the Hermitage. [Boris Piotrovsky was the director of the museum from 1964 to 1990.]
The Ministry of Culture has begun to interpret this as meaning that relatives cannot work in one museum.
– What’s wrong with that? Let them work in different museums.
– Ordinary people work in museums; they marry each other; their children work there; dynasties appear. While in the two capitals the issue can be solved one way or another, in small museums in small towns it’s only families that do work. Without people employing family, they would close down. Let’s remember the Tolstoys, the Lermontovs, the Polenovs. At the meeting of the Union of Museums of Russia, we voted for a call to exempt the entire cultural sphere from the government regulation. The ministry listened to us and has sent a request to the government.
But that wasn’t the main issue at the meeting.
– So what was?
– We need the kind of bureaucracy that keeps records and monitors things, but doesn’t try to impose rules on us that don’t work.
– Such as?
– We are supposed to obtain permission from the Ministry of Culture to provide items from our porcelain collection to be copied at the Imperial Porcelain Factory. The application is turned down because there ought to be commercial insurance. But the original and the copies are in adjoining rooms. And, most importantly, there is a contract between the museum and the factory that covers all liabilities. They work more effectively than any insurance.
– One more issue that was discussed is the constant demands from populists to make museums free for children right across the country.
– That’s part of the same kettle of fish. Ministry officials are constantly demanding increased profitability from cultural institutions, year after year. That 1) is impossible; 2) turns museums into commercial enterprises; and 3) produces a desire to reduce subsidies to museums, although it’s against the law.
Free entry for children is a decision for the museum itself. The Hermitage weighed up the possibilities and long ago made entry for children free of charge, earning money from other things. Incidentally, only the Hermitage and Peterhof do not receive compensation from the state for visits by children. Because in our cases they run into the millions.
In small museums, child tickets are the main source of income. If the state does away with them, then it should compensate the loss of income, otherwise the museums will perish.
There used to be a programme that brought children to St Petersburg and they visited our museums. And all the excursions were paid for by the Ministry of Education, in advance moreover. That’s a civilized approach to introducing children to culture.
– Now a state programme for the development of museums up to the year 2030 is being drawn up. Is it necessary?
– Relations between the state and culture should be based on a social contract. If the authorities consider culture a priority, then they are obliged to provide it with conditions that allow it to live. In return culture performs tasks for the authorities, which change with time. Today the requirement is nurturing patriotism, tomorrow internationalism will be wanted, and so on.
– Is Fabre really not going to present anything to the Hermitage?
– It’s not works of art that are meant, we’ll sort that out. What’s meant is documents connected with the history of the Hermitage in recent decades.
– What will be most important in the Hermitage in 2017?
– Our museum programme has the title “The Storming of the Winter Palace” It includes an exhibition about Sergei Eisenstein, an exhibition (if we manage it) by Anselm Kiefer about Velimir Khlebnikov, who predicted the revolution, an exhibition “The Romanovs and the Revolution”. That last project is being made to be shown in Amsterdam and St Petersburg and covers various episodes: the military hospital in the Winter Palace, the Provisional Government, the myth of the storming of the palace as a piece of performance art that was invented so as to look like the French Revolution. That ended with the guillotine.