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Meeting with Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova

December 7, 2020, The Kremlin, Moscow

The meeting with Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova included a discussion on children’s art schools. Preserving cultural heritage sites was another major item on the agenda.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Ms Lyubimova.

Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I would like to report to you on our projects.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

But I would like you to begin with something else. You may remember that at the Council for Culture meeting some of our colleagues talked about music education in Russia, and the problems children’s art schools face.

I have said on a number of occasions that these institutions should not be merged into local youth centres, as was the case during the Soviet period. After all, music and art schools were also created during the Soviet period, but they offered a different level of education and pursued different goals, and the teachers’ level of competence was entirely different. What can you say on this matter?

Olga Lyubimova: This is the exact topic I wanted to start with today. Thank you very much for raising this matter. We have been working on it from the outset.

It is true that the certificate created by the Education Ministry is a positive and well-minded initiative for extracurricular project groups. However, it is absolutely inappropriate when it comes to children’s art schools. It is not uncommon for children to attend these schools for five, seven or nine years up to five times a week, instead of just one or two classes as is usually the case for project groups. Attending art school becomes part of daily life for the students. These institutions are our gold standard and we will make sure that it is maintained.

Together with the Education Ministry, with Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov, we have worked this out and issued an order exempting children’s art schools from this programme. This was a very important decision. Before that, we had to make the necessary arrangements directly with the regions on a case-by-case basis, but now we have an order to this effect.

Of course, everything that concerns children’s art schools is not only a traditional but also an absolutely unique national system, which we preserved in the most difficult years. We are doing all we can so that the national system of education offers an opportunity to share teaching practices and to encourage our graduates to accept teaching positions in this system.

It is very important to have a system where arts can be taught in a comfortable atmosphere. This is a crucial factor, and it is connected to the relevant position in the Culture national project. In this way, we are renovating and restoring the existing schools, but we have also established 12 new schools, and we have increased the number of pupils attending them – I would like to draw your attention to this hugely important figure – by 68,000 children.

Vladimir Putin: The art schools?

Olga Lyubimova: Yes, the art schools we have across the country. In addition to renovation and reconstruction, we have bought 20,000 new musical instruments, which is really very important. We have provided 15,000 pieces of study materials the regions needed for a long time. We are now preparing new design estimate documents, and one of the most frequent subjects we discuss at our meetings with the governors in the regions is children’s art schools – it is our particular pride that everyone knows about such schools now, and something that even municipal authorities welcome warmly.

The second issue on the slide you are looking at concerns the preservation of our cultural landmarks. It is an equally important issue. These are mostly our main large projects, which we have completed this year, even despite the coronavirus epidemic, and this was very important for us as well. We have renovated the Motherland Calls monument in Volgograd; it was one of the main projects we completed in time for the 75th anniversary of Victory. There were 11 kilometres of cracks in the monument, and 99 of the 117 cables inside it were rusty. The monument was built hastily in 1965, and we have completed unique cement work on the monument.

Tula has the third largest number of museums now. It is said that the biggest problem for tourist families going there is that a weekend is no longer enough to visit all of them. The museums have children’s entertainment programmes so that families can leave their children there for a long time.The Novodevichy Convent is a very important project as well. We are carrying out some very serious work together with the Russian Orthodox Church, and it’s very important for us because the combination of a museum and church is an extremely delicate matter. You know, I was born in Moscow. We have shown Mr Sobyanin [Moscow Mayor] a new tourism attraction on a 500-year-old structure: a rampart where you can walk. I keep wondering why this is possible in Jerusalem and many other cities – there are lots of examples, but it’s a convent that we have here, and it seemed like an impossible thing to do, but now we have new opportunities and hence a new tourist route.

Next, the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery. It is a very complicated restoration project. We are going to celebrate the birth anniversary of Prince Alexander Nevsky soon. Of course, in addition to the extremely important events being coordinated with the church to cater to the spiritual requirements of people, as well as educational programmes and concerts, it is good that we have an opportunity to both renovate the facades and carry on thorough restoration until 2028. The monastery must shine.

Vladimir Putin: There are also several facilities inside the monastery that need our attention.

Olga Lyubimova: Yes, we talked with His Holiness about this. We are looking into the possibilities, because time goes by and we do need to renovate this object.

Going back to reconstruction, I would like to say that this is a new programme we have prepared at the Culture Ministry for the conservation of monuments. We are pressed for time, and money is an important factor as well. We are not asking for additional funds; we have redistributed the available resources so that we can finance the conservation of 50 large cultural heritage sites for decades ahead.

An extremely important aspect of restoration concerns wooden architecture. There are 7,500 wooden churches in Russia, and 3,500 of them are dilapidated. It is a huge problem. At the same time, we need to train more restorers, as you mentioned at the Council meeting. This project should be undertaken together with the church and the dioceses. Our work is like a traffic light: some things are red, others are yellow, and some are green, which means that they are still in good condition.

Vladimir Putin: How old are these objects, these landmarks?

Olga Lyubimova: Some were built in the 16th century, and others date back to the 14th century.

Vladimir Putin: Wooden architecture?

Olga Lyubimova: Yes, wooden churches. We are completing an extremely complicated restoration project in Kizhi. And we are training a new generation of restorers during these projects. I will tell you later about our volunteers, which is a precious experience for us.

As for major projects, I would also like to mention the Tsiolkovsky Museum – a very complex project indeed. We have been working on it since 2010, and the museum will mark its 60th birthday in 2021.

Vladimir Putin: A Museum of Cosmonautics?

Olga Lyubimova: Yes. They would really like to see you at the opening there in Kaluga. It’s 15,000 square metres, and it has everything for children, for a prolonged stay – lecture rooms, cinemas, and a café even offers the chance to taste the food that astronauts eat, and of course, there are unique rare exhibits that cannot be seen anywhere else. We are now finishing the construction on time, and the museum workers are currently busy with their favourite part of the work – they are putting together the display.

The Culture national project – we have used up 99.9 percent of the funding in 2019. We hope and are determined to do just as well this year. We are slightly ahead of the plan now, up 1.5 percent. This is a very important task for us. Nevertheless, you know, every bit of it is in great demand in the regions. This concerns very small facilities, and the result is visible. And it is all very important – I am referring to event centres, virtual rooms, autoclubs, the mobiles [mobile cultural and educational institution], which have been modernised and are helping my colleagues, regional ministers of culture, to apportion cultural life in small municipalities appropriately, to organise concerts and other events.

You know, usually, this is a complicated story when you work with the regions: design estimates are not ready on time and so on. We now have project estimates at 10 billion rubles for local event centres, and once you come to the regions, the governors say, give me six more such centres, we need seven of those here. Because people are eager to visit them.

Vladimir Putin: Autoclubs, I see…

Olga Lyubimova: Autoclubs, yes, we have it as a mobile [institution], like in the Soviet years, remember, but more modern. And based on the above, it makes perfect sense to award a large number of grants to our art companies, including, which is very important, amateur ones. Indeed, they receive serious help – a grant of 2 million rubles which they can spend on new costumes, new equipment and, of course, this feeling of attention from the government.

There are cultural volunteers here, also a major project of ours, which is very inspiring. We were afraid that the coronavirus would make things difficult… These young people come from all over the country to restore cultural heritage sites. They took part in the conservation of the first thousand facilities. Plus, they see specialists who share their experience with them, and see that these facilities are in demand, that is, the skills they learn will come in handy one day. They also make friends, fall in love, and there is romance against the backdrop of restoring a beautiful old estate.

Certification is important for us. We had to immerse ourselves in it quite deeply. We have created a register upon your instructions, and clearly this responsibility now lies with the regions. We are convinced that the Ministry will have to assume responsibility, return these territorial administrations, and take the matter in their own hands and deal with licensing.

Vladimir Putin: Licensing of what?

Olga Lyubimova: We issue licenses to restorers and managing companies. In addition, the license used to be issued for an indefinite period of time. Now, it has become clear that it needs to be monitored over five years. Any three mistakes warrant a license revocation. We are aware of the number of sites that have to be redone, and we just can’t afford it. We don’t have either the time or the money for this, and we are losing sites this way.

Of course, certification is important. This means new specialists are coming onboard. It must be official-free. Just a professional community with free certification. Of course, the commission must be objective, which the Ministry of Culture is often reproached for. This is the kind of responsibility that we do not want to lose. On the contrary, we want to assume more of it.

Another very important draft law, which is related to cultural heritage sites as well. I will say just a few words about this. You are aware that we have cultural heritage sites that people live in. This is our shared effort with Mr Khusnullin [Deputy Prime Minister], and we are very grateful to him for that. Indeed, he assumed responsibility for these complex sites and these long-awaited results. In turn, we are working out the regulatory framework in order to step up this work.

With regard to the theatre, we plan to add a new programme.

Vladimir Putin: Which one?

Olga Lyubimova: A new, totally individual programme within the Ministry, which is tied in with an open form of protecting theatre projects dedicated to Russian classics.

This includes both school curriculum and a programme dedicated to the anniversaries of our classics, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Bunin. This will allow us to add to the Russian repertoires…

Vladimir Putin: Is this about Bunin’s 150th anniversary?

Olga Lyubimova: Correct, and Dostoevsky’s 200th anniversary. Alexander Ostrovsky is next. Clearly, we have the Maly Academic Theatre, but there are also a vast number of other venues.

I think that not only a federal theatre, but also regional or children's theatres, can claim support in this federal contest. A good show with beautiful decorations can live for 20–25 years, like Juno and Avos, or like a good production of Tom Sawyer, which I saw, then my children saw and which still draws in crowds to Molodeznhy Theatre. Thus, this contest will then make it possible to provide support as part of the Big Tour programme.

It makes sense to talk about cinema separately because we should have a separate contest for socially important films. In fact, this is a public contract. There are a number of subjects we need to address, as everyone is aware.

Our professional community has matured. They know there is the Cinema Fund, which finances films for the general public, including romantic comedies, which is good, because there are no bad genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, and Pushkin did too. However, when it comes to the tasks the Ministry of Culture faces, we believe that there must be a kind of competition. Anyway, this is a very important factor connected both with fictional films and with documentaries, and not just anniversary movies about certain events or people. I would like very much to have your support for this subject.

We can report minor achievements in this difficult year, including in the digital sphere. It is delightful that not only adults but also children have come to trust our культура.рф project. The number of views on our site has greatly increased, including views of children’s content, which is very important as well.

And lastly, one of our extremely important initiatives. As you know, we have the St Petersburg Cultural Forum, which is really very popular and important. We would like to complement this with a children’s cultural forum, where we would have the same sections. Of course, it is adults who meet to discuss children’s problems, including in education, but children can address them as well.

Of course, we hope very much to have your support. We would like our youngest workers of arts to attend such events; they are our softest power. This is a very serious initiative needed for children to meet and see each other, share their experience during the day. Children are actually incredibly hard workers. And in the evening they, young people from all over the world, should be able to watch the best performances we can offer or visit museums. And our tutors who are ready to help us and contribute to in 10 sections, will make such events very interesting and will share their experience – these are the kinds of people who can do this.

Vladimir Putin: This is a very good programme.

Thank you.

Olga Lyubimova: Thank you very much.

December 7, 2020, The Kremlin, Moscow