29 april 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives in Penza and holds a videoconference on the construction and renovation of cultural facilities

Vladimir Putin

At a a videoconference on the construction and renovation of cultural facilities

“No doubt, it is necessary to channel significant federal funding into the construction and renovation of cultural facilities, but each investment must be justified and effective.<…> What we need are not ambitious mega- projects but theatres that would be in demand and would serve the people by promoting the educational and cultural development of the entire nation.”

Vladimir Putin’s introductory remarks:

Good afternoon,

The Russian Culture Federal Targeted Programme that was launched in 2006 comes to an end this year. The programme prioritised the construction and renovation of theatres, concert halls and cinemas.

Today, we will discuss all aspects of this programme, possible additional measures that can and should be implemented, and we will also try and assess future prospects to some extent. I wanted all of us to gather not in Moscow or St Petersburg but in the Russian regions where genuinely positive work is going on. To be honest, work is progressing well in Penza, one such region.

In the past six years, the state financed work at 154 such facilities. Federal allocations for these purposes exceeded 128 billion roubles. Theatres received over 50% of this amount, or more than 60 billion roubles.

Naturally, much has been accomplished in these years. Today’s videoconference will enable us to assess the details of what is going on in some Russian regions. Of course, we have to accomplish even more. At present, 30% of theatre buildings need to be renovated. And 20% of theatre companies lack their own buildings.

Recently I reported to the State Duma on the government’s work in 2010. And we discussed some priority cultural objectives.

Starting on July 1, 2011, the salaries of museum workers and librarians will be raised to the average levels for their careers, rather than by 6.5% as for the entire public sector. Frankly speaking, this is not a very impressive amount. Nonetheless, I think that some basic social justice must prevail.

We plan to increase allocations for supporting the entire sector, no matter what. We will take this into account while drafting the next year budget and the budget for the following two years. It is our intention to draft and approve the Russian Culture State Programme. I hope the regions, municipalities, public organisations and, of course, the national business community will join in.

Of course, this sphere will also continue to receive funding on a selective basis. Yesterday, I signed a resolution on channeling budgetary funds into the construction, renovation and technical equipment of the Pushkin Theatre in St Petersburg. Including other allocations, the theatre will get over 1.5 billion roubles of state support.

No doubt, it is necessary to channel significant federal funding into the construction and renovation of cultural facilities, but each investment must be justified and effective.

Far from all of the allocations intended for the implementation of ambitious projects initiated by the regions are used effectively. They start changing approved plans all of a sudden and demand additional funding. The commissioning of facilities is delayed. In some cases, regions find it too expensive to maintain new buildings and ask the government to finance them through the federal budget.

For example, the construction of the Saratov Youth Theatre has been delayed by 30 years. They are promising us that this long-running construction project will be completed in December 2011. Mr Alexander Zhukov, I’m also asking you to oversee this issue. This construction project must, at long last, be completed.

Another example of an unfinished project is the construction of the Astrakhan Musical Theatre. Mr Alexander Zhilkin, governor of the Astrakhan Region, is attending this conference and hears us. Just like Konstantin Stanislavsky, he is sitting against the backdrop of a magnificent interior. Today, he will tell us how work is proceeding. I remember we had planned to celebrate the city’s 450th anniversary in this theatre. Work began four years ago. Although the anniversary was celebrated long ago, the theatre is still not ready. Today, we will find out why. Incidentally, I have a small secret to tell my colleagues who have gathered here. Mr Zhilkin and I had agreed that his region would host today’s event, yet we are still unable to gather there.

Mr Zhilkin, what are you tapping on? Don’t be nervous. You’d better tackle the construction project!

Obviously, we cannot ensure a high level of culture in this country without due attention to and support for its cultural environment. To achieve this, it is imperative that we have a strong material-technical base that meets modern demands, although this is not the only factor in the development of the arts.

In making a decision on the construction or renovation of cultural facilities, it is necessary to determine the concept behind a given theatre’s development, choose a competitive repertoire, and hire a decent company so that it can live a fully-fledged life and fulfill its noble mission rather than lie idle or simply get leased out, as it happens sometimes, regrettably.

What we need are not ambitious mega-projects, but theatres that would be in demand and serve the people by promoting the educational and cultural development of the entire nation.

Making decision on a new construction project is impossible without a detailed elaboration of the organisational, economic, and creative plan for the development of any future theatre. Its founders and backers must feel responsible for its destiny.

It is no less important to make sure that the design of a planned construction or renovation project corresponds to the demands of the public in a given region. It is necessary to drastically revise the Soviet practice of theatre construction. We have government-approved minimal social standards for the provision of cultural services, but even they are not observed in some regions.

We need to make a thorough revision of these practices in order to decide which buildings we should simply restore and which regions need entirely new theatres and concert halls for their performers. 

In some cases, the best solution will be to construct so-called free performance venues for both permanent theatre companies and independent associations that do not yet have their own facilities. I have discussed this with Mr Mironov (People’s Artist of Russia and Art Director of the State Theatre of Nations Yevgeny Mironov). Experimental projects and guest performances can also take place at such sites. We must actively use the method of private-public partnership in building these facilities. We have experience in building such centres, and it has already produced good artistic, organisational, and economic results. In my opinion, the Meyerhold Centre in Moscow is the best example in this respect.

In conclusion, I’d like to say a few words about the development of cinema infrastructure. In early February, we met with cinematographers and thoroughly debated this subject.

Today, the bulk of cinemas are located in cities with a population of one million people or more, primarily because showing films in cities with less than 100,000 people is a losing proposition. You will agree that this is unfair because it excludes the interests of almost half of our people.

In general, people in small cities are very sensitive to such issues. Penza is not a small city, but when I talked to people in the streets, a man told me directly that they feel offended that small cities and even such cities as Penza are not accorded the attention they deserve, above all in the economic and social spheres. I think that his complaint is justified. We must create equal conditions and provide equal opportunities for all people, regardless of where they live. Support for culture and the arts is a case in point, and we are now discussing options for supporting a project to build 250 modern multi-media cinema, arts and educational venues, 200 of which will be located in medium-sized and small cities.

We will learn more details about this project, which was launched in Maikop, during today’s videoconference.

We will also talk today with St Petersburg, Ulan-Ude, Yaroslavl, Moscow and Astrakhan, as I’ve already mentioned.

I’d like to give the floor to Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev. After that, we will conduct a videoconference with our colleagues in the regions I’ve mentioned and see how they are doing. Please, Mr Avdeyev, go ahead.

Alexander Avdeyev: Good afternoon,

Yesterday our ministry held a panel discussion on museum development in which museum workers from almost all regions participated. They were grateful to the government for a decision to increase their salaries this year. This is a big event for the cultural community and museum workers, and they appreciate it.

The government’s decision to allocate an additional 3.7 billion roubles for the capital repairs and restoration of museums, theatres, and libraries is also a major event. This decision is of particular importance this year, and we hasten to express our gratitude.

There are extensive public debates on the destiny of Russian culture. The future of Russia's arts and culture is now a subject of heated public debates. One common conclusion is that (the government's) support for culture should be tangible and that it should involve ample funding, solid infrastructure, and programmes to foster fresh talent. This will also help us in addressing other issues of national importance.

Things like economic modernisation and nanotechnology are hugely important, of course, but most important of all is work aimed at cultivating people's hearts and minds. Only culture addresses this highly delicate and complicated task.

Vladimir Putin: Education does, too.

Alexander Avdeyev: Culture and education go hand in hand. Both shape the intellect. A nation's intellectual level is defined by the quality of its cultural endeavours and the infrastructure upon which they rely. This is why our current debate about the construction of new theatres is part of wider discussions on the fate of the Russian arts and culture.

We've already come a long way this year. (Among other things) we've drafted a new concept for the advancement of theatre in Russia. We repeatedly discussed the draft with respected theatre professionals before submitting it to the government for consideration. I hope it is adopted before long.

We're currently working on a concept for the advancement of the circus arts. Let me point out, Mr Putin, that the construction of circuses is as important as the construction of theatres. This includes the regions we may contact during our videoconference today. It's particularly important for parents out there, who need cultural venues for their children.

We've managed to preserve Russia's time-tested system of arts education in our newly drafted education bill. Thanks to efforts by museums and civil society, this system has been saved and reinstated in legislation.

Federal Law No. 94 has been amended for the second time, notably in the provisions related to theatre. Thanks to those new amendments, directors will no longer have to live with the unreasonable constraints they have faced until now.

This law is in for a thorough revision. We want it to take into account all the needs of professional artists, including restorers.

Overall regional development is crucial to stimulating cultural life (around the country). It's only natural that governors' care for culture and the arts should become a criterion of their performance. Cultural spending statistics give us a good idea of how things stand in general.

Everything is going well in the regions where cultural spending accounts for more than 2% of the regional budget. Whereas a share below 2% indicates that the conditions for culture are not favourable.

Now we're rediscovering the significance of culture and education as something that shapes our mindsets and worldviews.

I'd now like to say a few words about new cultural sites. About forty Culture Ministry projects are currently under construction. One common problem here is the absence of a comprehensive programme with fixed funding.

Every year, when budget blueprints are drawn up, the [federal] Culture Ministry and cultural agencies in the regions feel jittery. They never know for sure if the amounts pledged will be disbursed in full or whether the money will be released in small batches, making it impossible to complete projects according to schedule.

It can be quite exhausting for art institutions to obtain government funds because there are too many formalities to deal with. A regular flow of funding can only be ensured through a programme with fixed financing – the idea you, Mr Putin, voiced at a recent State Duma session.

You were then absolutely right in pointing out that we should not concentrate on large-scale projects at the expense of smaller ones. Governor Vasily Bochkarev's efforts in the Penza Region offer a very positive example. The experience of Ulan-Ude, with its multifunctional theatre compounds, is also quite positive, in my view.

I'm sure that today's conference – the first one of its kind in years – will make society more confident that culture is becoming a major priority for the Russian government. Thank you.

* * *

Vladimir Putin’s closing remarks:

I won’t make a lengthy speech in conclusion. I’d like to thank all those who are working in the regions. Far from discussing all of our cultural facilities, we have touched only on the major ones. There’s no need to speak of the importance of what we are doing. There has always been a common view that culture in Russia is last in the queue to receive financing. However, even in the most difficult years of the crisis – 2009 and 2010 – we consistently continued to fund all major cultural projects, and we intend to do so into the future.

I must say that although something has been accomplished – and it really is an accomplishment – it is still not enough. Only one fifth of all regions, not even a quarter, have theatres. That is a serious problem. We have discussed cinemas, and we know that small towns have almost nothing left. Therefore, we have a great deal of work ahead of us. We have a lot to do.

But I’d like to draw your attention to the words of Mr Fokin (People’s Artist of Russia and art director of the Alexandrinsky Theatre). I’d like to address all those present and even those who are not here but are directly linked to the arts and have devoted their lives to this cause: we need modern, domestic content. What Mr Fokin said about the need to create an appropriate environment for that work – in this case in theatre arts – is very important. If we don’t do so, foreign producers will just squeeze us out as is the case in many European countries. If so, we will have to introduce non-market forms of regulation, which means that we will restrict our audiences and deprive them of choice. That is a very dark road to travel. We must create our own content, and it must be able to succeed in a competitive cultural environment.

Thank you very much.

* * *

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the Penza Drama Theatre and talks with local residents, who gathered on a nearby square to greet him

As soon as Vladimir Putin arrived at the theatre, he approached the citizens who had gathered on the square to greet him. During their conservation with the prime minister, Penza residents touched upon various social issues. In response, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that he would discuss their concerns with the region’s governor.

One of the citizens asked Vladimir Putin about the support of agriculture, and the prime minister briefly described the measures being taken by the government in the field.

Vladimir Putin then examined the Penza Drama Theatre, which was recently restored following a fire. Visiting the theatre’s auditorium, he caught a sneak peek at the rehearsal taking place.