Productivity of Culture

Gleb Firsov

representative of the Network of Volga Region

presentation: "Culture for Change And Impact of Culture On the Region of Volga" together with
Anna Gor and Julia Goncharenko
categories: Network of Networks


The Role of cultural networks in political districts of the Volga region
1. The Volga Capital of Culture Program as a stimulant of network communications
Experience of the European Capital of Culture Program was used in Russia only once, but intensively and successfully. The Volga Capital of Culture Program had been carried out on the territory of the Volga Region in 2001-2006. During these years seven cities: Ulyanovsk, Kirov, Nizhnekamsk, Cheboksary, Izhevsk, Dimitrovgrad and Perm received the honorary status and realized extensive cultural programs aimed at innovations and strategic reforming of cultural sphere.
The principle of network interaction was one of the main principles on which our program was oriented. We built three levels of networks: territorial, vertical - with different branches of authority, and horizontal - with partner institutions of different activities. Each of these levels has its own specificity.

As a territory the network of cultural capitals in the Volga Region is limited by size of the Volga Region. Many cities, which are located on this territory, are really and historically mutually integrated. But first of all, these bonds are economic and social. Along with our program, cultural connections were made appreciably active. Sometimes they even promoted geographical self-identification of a city. So, Perm and Izhevsk, strictly speaking, always were considered as cities of Ural, and only 2 large rivers Izh and Kama, near which these cities are located, relate to the Volga basin. After joining Izhevsk and Perm to the Volga Region the population opposed very much to these formal political changes. However, in the Volga Capitals of Culture network, where Perm and Izhevsk appeared, plural cultural connections emerged from real cultural interaction and began working. We actively carried out joint exhibition programs, circus and literary festivals, extensive musical exchanges, etc. Entering the cultural network practically removed public stress. Their Ural self-identification was not cancelled, but rich cultural resource of the Volga Region cities was added. And at the moment mutual relations inside the network continue on the informal basis. So, the government of Izhevsk city has submitted papers with our help to the Council of Europe competition INTERCULTURE CITIES to enter a new cultural network and to enrich cultural space of the city through new opportunities.

Speaking about vertical interaction, we mean federal, regional and municipal levels of management. In the Volga Capital of Culture Program it was arranged an interaction of absolutely new type between them. Anyway, for the Russian practice it was a precedent. Certainly, there are a lot of examples when this or that project in any of cities is financed from Budgets of different levels, however we were solving the other task. The task which could be solved only by the network system. We managed to lead joined grant competition when city budgets of seven cities, in some cases with participation of regional authorities and with direct participation of the federal Ministry of Culture, have formed the fund for support of joint cultural projects. One of the main criteria of these projects was an opportunity of their reproduction in several cities of the network. It is possible to confirm safely, that it was a unique experiment in the cultural policy of our country: unity of criteria, which were used by experts (one person from each city + the Ministry of culture of the Russian Federation representative). That allowed approaching directly to a problem of quality "alignment", artistic merit and organizational distinctness of the cultural projects offered by various regions. Unfortunately, in Russian practice projects of the same type (museum exhibitions, performances, festivals, etc.), carried out in different territories, are very different by quality. The larger a city is and close to the capital, the higher are criteria of quality. Up to tiresome provincial cultural products are often featureless, have an indistinctness plan, formal and trite by the approach. We wished to oppose to this languid mass stream the creative ideas, revealed as a result of competition, without making allowance for, whether they are created in large and developed Perm or small Dimitrovgrad.

In 2005 all our work was concentrated around of strengthening the Network of cultural capitals of the Volga Region. The form of a Network Marathon of cultural events occurred then: a bright festival spilling over one city to another, each event of it was connected with the cultural innovation. After termination of our program this network system remained to live. For example, in Chuvash Republic the Network Marathon based on our model (simultaneously in a network of Chuvash Republic cities) since then is held annually. And the grant support is realized directly by Nikolai Fedorov, the president of this Republic.
The Volga Capital of Culture became a basis for new partnership, new horizontal relations in cultural space of the Volga Region. It concerns to cities - "capitals" in general, to the organizations, and to people. It happened, that, having come "from the outside" (as the headquarters is in Nizhni Novgorod), the Program acquainted the organization from different areas of culture (or "not-culture") inside the city. These organizations then were united for a long time. So, on a wave of Capital of Culture creative partnership appeared: the Center for Contemporary Arts and the ophthalmologic Center in Samara, the Exhibition hall and a network of RIAN-PHOTO shops in Cheboksary, coffee houses «Valida» and journalistic club in Perm. Examples can be multiplied. The Capital of Culture helped society to realize, on the one hand, a direct social role of culture, and on another hand its incomparable role in person formation. The atmosphere of openness entered into culture of cities together with the Program. Many hundreds people from seven cities of the Volga Region, which had been united by Program during years of its existence, till now make a special brotherhood. It often happens to hear from them, that the year of the Capital of Culture (different for all) was a year of the highest creative exertion, learning, strengthening of belief in own forces.

Establishing of such interdisciplinary, unexpected, unusual partnership became a basis for our general interaction and after the moment when the Volga Capital of Culture Program finished its activity.

II. Formation of the networks connected with contemporary art
In 2006 the city of Perm became the last capital of culture in the Volga Region. The Program was not able to continue the development because a lot of political and financial reasons. However, the rich resource, which had been turned out during five years of the Program realization, could not remain unused. In view of that there was an idea to unite Network relations of the Volga Region cities, founded by the Volga Capital of Culture Program (VCCP), with another major cultural network existing in Russia since 1992, a Network of the National Centers for Contemporary Arts. This Network appeared during the romantic period of the national democratic structure, has headquarters in Moscow and branches in St.-Petersburg, Kaliningrad (Königsberg), Nizhni Novgorod and Ekaterinburg. At the moment arrangement of new branches with full infrastructure is a task rather difficult: only 0,8 % of the Russian federal budget is spent for culture. Therefore, to complete and expand this network another way is needed. Not so expensive and more effective as it seems to us. That is why our Nizhni Novgorod branch was renamed in Volga branch and we have managed to open the departments in cities of the Volga Region. Nowadays there operates two of them - in Samara and Izhevsk, establishment of the same “network cells” in Perm and Cheboksary is discussed. The principle of establishment of smaller (but not “closed”, not local) networks on the basis of larger, when the resource center is not the capital headquarters, but a regional branch is a new model not only for us, but also as a whole for the Russian National cultural institutions.

Essentially important, that contemporary art is the contents of this network. First of all, it is the area of obviously innovative, experimental cultural action. Secondly, there is no in our country old, traditional institutions in this sphere as during the Soviet period contemporary art was “persona non grata” in culture. Therefore such network is created not through reforming, but through forming, that is much easier and more effective. And at the same time it is established not from the beginning, not from nothing, but on the basis of those principles and with those people who have experience of participation in the Volga Capital of Culture Program. In practice it means the following: they are disciples of modern, effective management in culture (what is a great rarity in Russia), people of liberal outlook and open views, they have numerous international contacts and included into diversified cultural networks both inside and outside of Russia. Our colleagues in Samara have for today ten years' experience of carrying out the bienniale in Shiriaevo village on the Volga River. It is the oldest Russian bienniale of contemporary art with participation of artists from Germany, France, Estonia, Kazakhstan, India, etc. Its name, Between Europe and Asia, is not casual. And the situation in Izhevsk is characterized by the developed school of experimental electronic music, which adapts to contemporaneity authentic Udmurt folklore.

This new Volga Region Network is a network of the Volga Region cities departments of the Volga branch of the National Center for Contemporary Arts. It is in process of establishment, and it demands time. We hope, that in three years when the remarkable building of the Arsenal (large multifunctional exhibition and informational center, which will be able to represent results of the whole Network functioning) will be put into operation, the Network will work actively and will unite all bright initiatives from the sphere of contemporary art.


Born on 10th of June, 1973 in the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Russian Federation

Current job: director of the Cultural Programmes Agency "FGK", coordinator of the cultural programmes of the Russian Federal Agency of Nuclear Energy


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