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Monday, March 5, 2012

IS MOSCOW’S CULTURE TSAR PUTIN’S SECRET ELECTION WEAPON?


Is Moscow’s culture tsar Putin’s secret election weapon?
The Russian presidential candidate may be taking his cue from Sergei Kapkov, who transformed Moscow’s dilapidated Gorky Park into an arts haven

By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 29 February 2012

Sergei Kapkov, a close associate of billionaire art collector and football entrepreneur Roman Abramovich and a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, quickly made his mark on Moscow when he was put in charge of the dilapidated Gorky Park last March. He rapidly transformed a space known for tatty fairground rides and run-down ephemera from the Soviet regime into an attractive, sophisticated European park for Muscovites, with access to free wifi, cafes and yoga classes. The Garage Centre for Contemporary Art, founded and run by Abramovich's partner, Dasha Zhukova, is due to move to the park in spring this year.

Following his success with Gorky Park, Kapkov was appointed head of Moscow's department of culture late last year by Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and again wasted no time in taking headline-grabbing initiatives. One of first acts was to waive admission charges to city-run museums from 2 to 9 of January, during the school holidays. Kapkov told reporters that 93,000 people had visited the State Darwin Museum of Natural History during that period alone-only 400,000 had visited during the whole of 2011. One blogger reported that the queues had been longer than those for “the Lenin Mausoleum in Soviet times”. Part of the initiative has been maintained, with free access to city museums on the third Sunday of every month. And as part of his plans to make Moscow more culturally tourist-friendly, Kapkov also wants to introduce a museum pass and abolish two-tier admission fees, which make foreigners pay more than Russians. Mayor Sobyanin told a press conference on 14 February that nearly 30bn rubles have been allocated for cultural development in Moscow in 2012, almost 20 times more than in 2010.

“The Luzhkov [Sobyanin's predecessor as mayor] regime was so horrible, that it's not hard to do something based on common sense,” says Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, the president of the Strelka Institute for Art, Media and Design, a consultant on Gorky Park and other projects.

“Moscow is quite an aggressive city,” Kapkov told the Moscow Urban Forum conference in December. “People in this aggressive city try to put up boundaries between their personal space and the outside world. They put a huge fence up around their house or stay deep in their apartment. If they go out, it's to restricted areas, such as theatres or restaurants. From this we conclude that people draw a sharp distinction between personal and public space, private from public. They don't consider themselves responsible for public space. They don't think it belongs to them. It's not only that people limit their living space; it's that they don't feel their belonging to this space. They're not ready to deal with it themselves, and in this configuration they expect the state to give form to this space for them. This is bland and boring on the local level.”


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