5 april 2012

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with museum workers during his working visit to Saratov

Vladimir Putin

At a meeting with museum workers during his working visit to Saratov

“Budget allocations for museum activities will almost quadruple within the next six years. I would like to call your attention to this fact: they will quadruple to exceed 67 billion roubles.”

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends. Today's meeting was initiated by Vladimir Tolstoy (head of the Yasnaya Polyana Museum). We saw each other on February 29, and he complained that meetings between country leaders and heads of leading Russian museums are few and far between. I must say, though, that we do have regular meetings. Is that correct, Ms Antonova (head of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts)?

Irina Antonova: That's true.

Vladimir Putin: This is the first time we are getting together in such a group. As they say in such cases, it's symbolic that our first expanded meeting is taking place in Russia's first museum. Frankly, and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I didn't realise that the first Russian museum was in Saratov, a building that was designed and built specifically as a museum in 1885. I suggest that we have an informal conversation about the problems faced by museums in Russia, just the way Mr Tolstoy recommended, and share opinions about your achievements and things that need to be done.

I would like to start out by saying that despite numerous problems faced by Russian museums, public interest in museums is on the rise in Russia. This is not just a cute phrase, it's statistics. There were 81 million museum visitors in Russia in 2010, up from 75.6 million in 2005. To compare, only 30 million people went to theatres in 2010. You may think that theatre tickets are more expensive, that's why, but libraries had 60 million visitors, and admission to libraries has never been costly. Regular museum visits are becoming good manners and even the fashionable thing to do, which is very pleasant to note. Museums have a lot to do with these positive trends, because they have significantly expanded their social functions over the course of the past 15 years.

Suffice it to say that nearly all Russian museums have special educational programmes, including for young people, regularly hold interesting events and conduct in-depth research, attracting both professionals and amateurs. This is very important, especially in the regions and in small towns where museums are a social highlight.

I would like to praise the responsible and comprehensive policy of our large federal museums, which are trying to ensure access to their collections to as many people as possible, opening branches in other cities, organising exhibitions in Russia and abroad, and using modern methods like online virtual tours. They are even creating entire virtual museums, like Mr Gusev (Vladimir Gusev, Director of the State Russian Museum) has done at the State Russian Museum.

Vladimir Gusev: A branch…

Vladimir Putin: Yes, a branch. But this really is a big, ambitious project. You know that in the past I visited the Russian Museum very frequently, and now I sometimes use the virtual tour to roam the galleries and halls of the Russian Museum.

The current popular mood is a result of many years of work by museum professionals, who have earned Russia a reputation as a reliable partner with huge potential for cooperation. This is what attracts foreign partners to our museums.

There are 2,578 museums in Russia, which is a lot. Taken together their collections comprise nearly 83 million items. But despite this wealth and all the achievements of our museum professionals, the situation in this sector is far from ideal. Considerable funds are being allocated for museum development, including 15 billion roubles allocated within the framework of the federal targeted programme Russian Culture 2006-2011, but this money does not include any funds for the maintenance of the museums. During our flight here, we exchanged information with Mr Avdeyev (Alexander Avdeyev, Minister of Culture). He told me that these 15 billion roubles are intended for construction and capital repairs and do not include spending for maintenance. In the next six years, from 2012 to 2018, budget allocations for museum activities will almost quadruple. I would like to call your attention to this fact: they will quadruple to exceed 67 billion roubles. The bulk of these funds will be invested in construction and renovation of museums and their storage facilities, which there is a real need for – I know this because I have discussed the issue of storage facilities many times with some, if not all of you.

Just imagine – Russian museums have 8,977 buildings at their disposal. But only one fifth of them are up to the standards required for museum storage and exhibiting, while 40% are in a state of disrepair and need renovating or have even been declared unfit for use.

We need at least 500,000 square metres of museum depositories. It is obvious that we have to do more than simply create comfortable and well-equipped facilities for museums. The problem should be addressed in a systematic and comprehensive manner, with a clear strategy designed with the future in mind and taking into account the specifics of the museum industry and the tasks of the cultural sector as a whole, as well as the socioeconomic development plans for the country. The Ministry of Culture and its colleagues should get together with the Union of Museums, experts and the general public to start drafting an action plan and outline a development concept and the very ideology of the museum sector in Russia.

I would like you to focus on the legal aspects of this programme. I know that there are problems with the application of Law No. 94 in the sphere of culture, as well as in several other areas. I think you know that we have amended it, and these amendments should make things easier for the cinema industry and theatres. The museum industry has specific features too, even some that concern the country’s defence, culture and education... For example, when archaeologists file for field work permits, they are obliged to outline the expected results of this work, although it is clear that they cannot calculate in advance what and how many archaeological items they expect to find during the course of their field work.

I do not think it appropriate for the culture-related industries to select the cheapest offer without so much as a thought about the bidder’s professional qualities or the specifics of one or other institution. I understand this perfectly.

We will definitely have to address these and other legal conflicts. I would ask the Ministries of Economic Development, Culture and Finance to submit their relevant proposals as soon as possible. Once this problem is resolved, operators in this sector will be able to use the public-private partnership arrangement more often.

Sponsorship and patronage of the arts have increased in recent years, as you know. Many businesses are on the board of trustees of state theatres, libraries and museums. We need to think together about what we can do to encourage their activity and make it more attractive. I hope you have heard about the first steps that have been taken. One of them is a social tax deduction on the share of income spent on donations, which came into force in January 2012. It is specified in article 219 of the Russian Tax Code for all individual income tax payers. I will not go into details now, but this option is now available.

This and other moves the government is making to encourage arts sponsorship must be publicised, and I expect that the relevant agencies will do what is necessary to raise awareness of these new opportunities. Of course, government subsidies cannot resolve all the problems facing the sector; however, some problems are entirely beyond the museums’ control. Despite the riches we have – in fact you should know more about this than I do, and Russia is more than competitive in this area – we still lag far behind most international museums in terms of attendance and revenues. As far as I know, the Hermitage gets about one quarter of the number of visitors the Louvre gets, for example.

Mikhail Piotrovsky (General Director of the Hermitage Museum): We will be handling as many again after the modernisation is completed.

Vladimir Putin: We hope so. But the problem is bigger than the Hermitage or its modernisation plans. In 2010, over 30 million tourists visited Paris, and St Petersburg had only 5.1 million tourists. That’s where the problem lies. This problem is beyond the reach of museum workers, although large important institutions like the Hermitage are without doubt among the major tourist attractions. But we also need the infrastructure, hotels and much more. This is our common goal. I suggest we discuss the whole range of problems here today. I would like to give the floor to the Minister of Culture, Alexander Avdeyev. Go ahead please.

Alexander Avdeyev: Thank you. Mr Putin, we regard this discussion as a concrete step in promoting the ideas you spelled out in one of your pre-election articles, Building Justice: A Social Policy for Russia.

I have already said today that this kind of meeting between the head of government and museum workers has never happened before in living memory, not in the Soviet era or even before, for that matter. This certainly gives us hope and inspires people, makes them become willing to share their innermost. I think we will see a very interesting discussion today.

The time is ripe for addressing the accumulated problems of the museum sector and for restructuring the whole system of Russian museums. I expect Mr Mindlin will speak in more detail about this (Mikhail Mindlin, General Director of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts). He and a group of researchers prepared an analytical report commissioned by the museum community. He will present it briefly today.

Now I would like to discuss some of the key problems as I see them. You have already mentioned the unfinished construction and renovation projects, and inadequate financing which is making it impossible to improve museum workers’ pay. Mr Putin, you spoke of the need to improve their financial situation. I have had meetings with many museum workers in recent years, and frankly, neither they nor librarians have ever asked for a pay rise: they would consider such talk unethical. But the problem still exists. I think this problem needs to be addressed because with their incomes they cannot afford even the cheapest mortgage, not even a subsidised mortgage, and their housing problems are the same as in other sectors and industries. You have cited impressive figures for funds allocated for upgrading and restoration work. I want to say that in this respect things are easier for federal museums because they are taken care of by the state, by three ministries – the Culture, Economy and Finance Ministries. And we have some impressive projects underway: the expansion and upgrading of the Hermitage and Tretyakov museums; upgrading and expanding Irina Antonova’s museum; building work has been completed at the Arms Museum in Tula and the Prokhorovka Field Museum; premises at Oranienbaum have been refurbished, and a unique restoration project was completed in Tsarskoye Selo. In the next few months we will probably launch preparations for the construction of one of Russia’s largest museums – the Museum of Modern Art. We have never had such a state museum, and the government is allocating around five billion roubles for it, this money is being set aside in a federal targeted programme. This is going to be a modern art centre similar in size, scope and philosophy to the Pompidou Centre in Paris. I am glad to see Mikhail Mindlin here. He is in charge of this project of great national importance. In terms of size this museum will be about the same as the Hermitage.

Vladimir Putin: How much space do you currently take up, Mr Gusev?

Vladimir Gusev: 70,000 square metres.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, are there any bigger ones? What other museum in the world is as big as that?

Remark: Versailles, I think.

Vladimir Putin: Well, Versailles. If you also include the gardens, then there will be perhaps …

Vladimir Gusev: The same as the Vatican …

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry, Mr Avdeyev. But what area have we handed over to you in the past few years? The Mikhailovsky, Stroganovsky …?

Vladimir Gusev: The Stroganovsky, then the Mikhailovsky Castle, the Marble Palace, the Corps de Guards pavilions at the Mikhailovsky Castle where we are opening an electronic museum.

Vladimir Putin: Roughly what is the area of these premises?

Vladimir Gusev: They are small, Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Are they? The Mikhailovsky Castle small?

Vladimir Gusev: No, the Mikhailovsky is vast, it’s big, but the pavilions …

Vladimir Putin: No, no, I mean overall … The Mikhailovsky and Stroganovsky castles and the Marble Palace?

Vladimir Gusev: Something like 20,000 or 20,000 to 25,000 [square metres].

Vladimir Putin: Somewhere around 30,000, I think. So in these years we have doubled the overall area of the Russian Museum.

Vladimir Gusev: Yes, yes. The work is slowly drawing to a close, with just a few things here and there to finish off.

Alexander Avdeyev: Mr Putin, now I want to take up the issue of storage facilities. You have already said the main thing. I wish to add one more fact. In recent years we have built only one museum depository, it is now 90% complete. It was built in Kostroma and not according to a schedule but following your visit to the Ipatiev (Hypatian) Monastery. I think the scant attention given to depositories and the aftermath of this negligence over recent decades has come from ignorance of museum technology. The job of storing museum pieces is no less important than displaying and studying them. Meanwhile good depositories are few and far between, and we have a paradoxical situation today. Take Vladimir Grusman’s museum (Vladimir Grusman, Director of the Russian Ethnographic Museum). This is a world-famous museum. But in this museum there is one square centimetre of storage space available per storage item. Yet this is a museum which displays the ethnic and cultural diversity of our country. I would say it is a living illustration of your article about the national question in Russia. It should be read in the context of this museum. The situation with depositories is very difficult. But things are even worse for the regional museums. Many of them have areas reserved for expansion, say in Tula and other cities. But more often than not the local authorities lack the funds and understanding that depositories are just as essential as the museum itself. Incidentally, Mr Putin, I would like to note that in recent times you have twice visited the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts – to see works by Caravaggio and an exhibition sponsored by Deutsche Bank. It would be good if regional and local officials visited museums as often. Even governors do not go to museums everywhere. There are regions …

Vladimir Putin: Here is Mr Radayev (Valery Radayev, Governor of the Saratov Region)

Alexander Avdeyev: Mr Radayev, …

Vladimir Putin: … who is here with us today in the museum …

Alexander Avdeyev: … it is your first day today. I congratulate you and  …

Vladimir Putin: We all congratulate you.

Alexander Avdeyev: …wish for father-like care for the museums in your region. The Ministry of Culture has developed a system of modular depositaries. They can be manufactured in standard form and will cost much less. We have to have a nationwide programme for these depositories. I think Mr Grusman will supply some more examples. He already has such a modular depository and it’s working well.

Strengthening the restoration industry is directly related to the depository issue. We often find ourselves in a situation where there are more museum pieces that require restoration than the industry can cope with. Next spring the Grabar Centre, which burned down two years ago, will be running at full capacity and we will be able to cope, I hope. Veliky Novgorod Governor Sergei Mitin has made a very good suggestion: he proposed establishing regional restoration centres. We are going to do this now. It is a fine idea and will take the pressure off the Moscow restoration studios and mean that museums won’t have to come to the capital to obtain high-quality restorations.

We still have not resolved the problem of state guarantees for putting on international exhibitions in Russia. I know that Mr Storchak (Sergei Storchak, Deputy Finance Minister) and Mr Savelyev (Oleg Savelyev, Deputy Minister for Economic Development) are of a different opinion and may challenge my point of view. But all civilised countries in the world provide state guarantees for international shows. When exhibitions are brought to this country, we have to pay for them with hard cash.  Last year we forked out over $600,000 in hard cash for a Picasso show, although we could have laid aside a certain amount of money, kept some of it back and issued state guarantees when needed. True, some colleagues from the Finance Ministry explain to me that it is easier to pay hard cash than to lay it aside and keep idle money lying around in the budget. But there are other schemes, for example the English scheme. Mr Mindlin may describe it in detail, where it is possible to lay aside small funds but still provide state guarantees. It appears we have dropped out of this global practice of state guarantees which applies to the best shows in the world, and they are reluctant to come to us because it has to be discussed separately and a separate tender to choose an insurance company has to be held and hard cash paid for the insurance. I think the overriding consideration here should be cultural interests, not those of esteemed accountants and economic departments, for all the respect I have for them.

The ministry still doesn’t have the funds to acquire new exhibits, especially those belonging to the national artistic heritage. Excellent and very rare paintings by Russian masters are sold at public auctions. Private collectors are also selling off their treasures. But the ministry and museums are short of money to purchase them and we have to turn to sponsors. Incidentally, our sponsors have not vanished despite the economic crisis, they are still funding us and we are managing to buy high-value pieces for the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and a few, truth be said, for Irina Antonova’s museum. But the sponsors need to be thanked, Mr Putin. You mentioned the charity law. Indeed, the law stipulates tax rebates for charity providers. Charity providers, or benefactors, are those who donate money for people’s needs. There are various interpretations of this law because many lawyers claim that the law does not apply to patrons of the arts. If this is the case, we should request that the State Duma make amendments to the law in order for the tax concession law to be applicable to patrons of the arts in the same way as it applies to charity providers.

The Culture Ministry and the Finance Ministry have removed in recent years many unjustified restrictions to museum activities, in particular, the activities of memorial estates. Today, small cafes, restaurants and even small hotels have been permitted on their territories. Extra-budgetary funds are becoming a good source of salary increases and museums’ economic activity. But these extra-budgetary funds are subject to rather high taxes. The law gives tax benefits to extra-budgetary fund of educational institutions and medical facilities. It would be good to extend this practice to museums.

Vladimir Putin: What benefits are you referring to?

Alexander Avdeyev: I’m talking about tax concessions on extra-budgetary funds. Educational institutions and medical facilities are eligible for these concessions while museums are not.

Mr Putin, I have one more request that I hope will be included in the resolution. My request is to strengthen connections between school curricula and museum activities. If you look at any museum in western countries, it is very common for schoolchildren to visit museums on a regular basis. They sit on the floor and listen to their teachers, and this is a way for them to learn about the culture and beauty of the arts. Our schoolchildren visit museums only occasionally and this must be changed. We work in conjunction with the Education Ministry and I think museum tours must certainly be included in the school curriculum.

Vladimir Putin: I remember that we used to visit the Hermitage regularly.

Mikhail Piotrovsky: Schoolchildren visit the Hermitage quite often.

Vladimir Putin: Do they?

Mikhail Piotrovsky: Yes, they do.

Vladimir Putin: When I went to school in Leningrad, or St Petersburg, we had extracurricular activities. We would visit the Hermitage at least once every month and a half.

Alexander Avdeyev: Yes, but today everything depends on a school's principal or a class supervisor. If they are wise and sensible they will arrange tours for children. If they don’t bother, they will not arrange anything and nobody will expect it from them. But for example, there is an excellent fine arts museum in Saratov that is one of the best museums of its kind in Russia.

One more thing, Mr Putin. Many of your meetings with theatre workers spotlighted the possibility of contract employment. I received instructions from you on this issue and it was also included in the government instructions. Mr Putin, the issue has not been resolved to this day either for theatres or for museum workers. What we need is… It is impossible to ask a negligent employee to retire even if he or she has reached retirement age until he or she hands in a retirement notice. This issue cannot be resolved due to the huge number of approvals that is required. The Labour Code must be amended. This should be resolved completely.

Vladimir Putin: We have to agree on this issue with trade unions.

Alexander Avdeyev: Yes, with trade unions. We discussed this with them, but if we cooperate with members of parliament and our colleagues from other agencies, perhaps, it will be possible to resolve this issue, because a contract employment system will be introduced sooner or later. This system is widely practiced in many other countries and we will eventually switch to it as well.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that Russia boasts a strong school of Museology and we have many highly experienced professionals and managers working in this area. Our museum funds are unique and contain over 80 million pieces. Museums and exhibitions preserve our national history and provide for raising intelligent and well-educated people. They shape the cultural and educational environment in which Russian people live. Protecting our museums is a task of national importance. Forgive me for being so dramatic, Mr Putin, but it is true.

Vladimir Putin: Why? I fully agree. There is no reason for me to disagree. It is exactly as you describe.

 * * *

Vladimir Putin’s concluding remarks:

Colleagues, I think – and you have just said as much – that we have not gathered here in vain. I had a general idea of what your problems are: some are the same as in other areas while others are unique and characteristic of museum affairs. I admit that this is the first time I have heard about them. But our discussion during the last three-plus hours went beyond museum affairs and embraced problems with art in general, education and upbringing. This talk was useful in all respects.

First, I would like to say that we have draft Government Instructions here that were prepared in advance. But in view of our discussion today, we will certainly amend the list, finalise it and thoroughly work it through.

Second, we will reformat and reorient the activities of the Presidential Council on Culture. I am not ready to say how we will do this. Generally, I see it as a living organism with a capacity to influence the dragging of culture, as Mr Vladimir Tolstoy said, out of the cellar where it is now, even though I don’t entirely agree that it is in the cellar. Anyway, culture should be among our priorities.

I am very grateful to you all. Thank you very much and I expect to see you soon. Thank you.

* * *

During a meeting with representatives of Russian museums, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a number of instructions. Specifically, he instructed the Ministry of Finance to consider the possibility of exempting cultural institutions from income tax. The issue was raised by Yelena Gagarina, general director of the Moscow Kremlin Historical and Cultural Museum and Reserve. She said that at present cultural institutions have to pay taxes at the same level as any commercial company.  

Ms Gagarina proposed that “all the costs incurred through the acquisition of museum exhibits are included in the expenses taken into account when drawing up the tax base.” She also suggested that cultural institutions should enjoy the same privileges as medical and educational institutions, particularly in terms of having a zero income tax rate. Vladimir Putin promised to consider the possibility of extending this mechanism to cultural institutions and assigned the Ministry of Finance to look into the issue.     

One of the participants of the meeting noted that individuals importing cultural valuables for personal use are exempt from taxes. Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev reminded the prime minister how this procedure was established.  

“We need to look into this issue and bring it in line with common sense. If individuals are exempted from taxes when importing cultural valuables, museums should enjoy at least the same level of privileges,” Mr Putin said. 

Participants of the meeting also discussed the possibility of establishing a mechanism for insuring museum exhibits during their transportation within Russia and abroad. Mr Putin instructed the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture to finalise an insurance mechanism that would work both inside Russia and abroad.

Head of the State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky spoke of the need to create a system of state guarantees for insuring and returning museum exhibits. “We need to create a financial mechanism for such guarantees,” the prime minister said.

Director of the Russian Museum Vladimir Gusev told the prime minister that a childless descendent of Adolf Marks, who died in 1904, wants to transfer his ancestor’s collection of paintings to the Russian Museum.

“Instead of giving it to Christie’s, he wants to give it to us,” said Mr Gusev, adding that the museum lacks the funds to return the collection to Russia. “How much do you need?” Mr Putin asked. “Two million euros.” “You should submit a request to the Ministry of Culture, and we will provide the amount needed,” said the prime minister.

Vladimir Putin also promised to consider the possibility of transferring the building, which is currently housing the Moscow District Military Court on Stary Arbat Street to the State Museum of Literature. The museum’s director Marina Gomozkova said its relocation to Stary Arbat would make perfect sense as the street is home to a great number of museums.   

 “I’m not against it. Furthermore, I think administrative institutions like courts don’t have to be centrally located, Mr Putin said. He said the government will provide different premises to the Ministry of Defence or will allocate funds for the construction of a new building.