29 april 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with theatre and cinema workers in Penza

During the meeting, Prime Minister Putin noted that the development strategy for Russian theatres was nearing its completion and that the day's discussion had been highly constructive. “We’ll analyse all the ideas expressed here today,” Mr Putin said in summation of the meeting.

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

We will now continue the discussion we were just having with your colleagues in the building across the street from here.

I’m very pleased that we can gather in a new cultural institution that was built in just a year and a half. We have already discussed what is being done for the construction and renovation of such facilities. I’d like to say once again that, despite the crisis, we have not suspended a single construction or renovation project. We are carrying out all projects on schedule, allocating substantial funds for this purpose and even moving ahead of schedule in some cases. We have discussed what has been done in many but far from all regions where this work is taking place.

The number of cultural institutions, including theatres, increased by 40% from 1993 to 2009. At face value, this looks like progress, but, regrettably, we have theatres in only one fifth of Russian cities. We talked about this today as well. Only one fifth of Russian cities have theatres. They are attended by about 30 million people per year, and 47% of people visit theatres very rarely, while almost 30% (29%) have never been to a theatre at all. This problem stems from many causes, and I suggest that we discuss it today. In the past – and this is also the case today, if perhaps not as frequently – people queued up for entire nights to see a show's first performance. Such enthusiasm occurs today more and more rarely.

The same is true of the cinema, and we have also discussed this today. Quite recently, I met with filmmakers in Moscow. There are problems in this industry as well. Have they made one billion?

Remark: 1.08 billion roubles.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we topped one billion roubles for the first time, but its share of Russian content is sadly meager, and this is a pity. I suggest that we address this and other issues that you consider important so that we can promptly react to your concerns and try to get things moving together.

* * *

Vladimir Putin’s final remarks:

I don’t think we should reproach ourselves for assuming modern attitudes.

As we mentioned earlier, many theatres suffer from a decline in attendance these days. Well, our concern with such things is only natural; it's a matter of survival. Which is not to say that theatres should concentrate on the bottom line. But they should produce modern shows that are comprehensible to modern people.

Well, let’s stop here. We can always take up this issue later on; we can discuss it at length over tea sometime.

We had no agenda for today’s discussions and no high objectives to attain; our meeting was not linked to any political, budgetary, or other circumstance.

We’re just in the process of reforming things, and we’ve reached a certain point in the implementation of our programme.

We considered the material aspect of theatre life, notably the construction of playhouses across the country. Things are happening out there, many of which are positive.

Let me emphasise once again that despite the economic crisis, we haven’t made any serious spending cuts lately. In 2009 and 2010, we continued to finance all renovations and new construction projects. We allocated 20 billion roubles to current maintenance last year and a bit less so far this year. On the other hand, we’ve now increased allocations for refurbishing our theatres.

I very much appreciate your participation in this conversation. We’ll analyse all the comments you made. The [culture ] minister, myself, and my deputy have taken note of all of them. A whole range of issues were raised today, including improvements to the regulatory system. We’ll by all means examine the problem brought up by Mark Zakharov, [Artistic Director of the Lenin Komsomol Theatre], who spoke about the powers of the theatre’s top management. We’ll consider legislation related to the regulatory and financial capacities of theatres with regard to their transition to institutional autonomy.  I fully agree that if we propose this kind of format, we should make sure it’s sufficiently attractive and doesn’t carry any economic restraints.

We’ll also consider constraints that arise from minimum outlays that disregard competitively awarded contracts. It’s time to move on. One reason is inflation, which, hopefully, we’ll be able to curb in the future. But the broader needs and potential of cultural institutions also call for more prompt decision-making and change.

[We set the budget at] around 400,000 roubles. I would agree that every theatre is an institution that needs money to sustain creative activity. But it's a very special kind of institution, so it’s only natural to set theatres apart. I see nothing wrong with that.

As you know, [the government’s] work on a development strategy for the advancement of theatre is nearing its completion. The [culture] minister said today that the blueprints have already been drawn and discussed with all major art guilds and companies. I suppose the draft will be sent on to the cabinet in a short while, and I’ll sign off on it then.

This strategy will serve as a reference point toward which we should orient our work. As I promised, we’ll look into the specific issues that currently draw controversy. I’m sure [Moscow Mayor Sergei] Sobyanin will address them. If  federal help is needed, we’ll be happy to contribute.

I think today’s get-together was a constructive one, and I hope we’ll gather again soon.

Thank you very much, indeed.