Sunday, September 20, 2009

From a Dark Past to a Bright Future - Part 2: Economic Summit

The riverside setting of the summit in Perm

I have a Russian VIP press pass - don't ask me why

Earlier in the same day we visited Perm 36, Sasha took us to a major Economic Summit being held a resort near the Kama River.  It was attended by the Governor of the region of Perm, as well as the Minister of Culture, and many luminaries and officials from all over Russia and from other countries as well. The day we attended focused on the Cultural Initiative, so it was attended not only by officials, but also Russian movie stars,TV stars, talk show hosts, directors of museums, film directors and several billionaires.  To us, they all looked like regular people, and Sasha had to keep telling us "that person is a big movie star", or "that guy with the jeans is like the Bill Gates of Russia".  We were given VIP passes, and Carmen was interviewed by several newspapers and radio shows.  Our video crew interviewed the Governor, the Minister of Culture, and also Mr. Ghelman, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Perm, who is considered the "father" of the new cultural revolution here.

At the summit all the tents are white (and so are all the people).

Edward, a well known theater director in Perm is a legend in his own mind

Sasha was in his element here - master schmoozer

Carmen and I impersonate Russian rock stars in the press room

The Governor is a very charismatic person, and a man of the people.  He is not a member of the ruling party, and he dresses in jeans, always flies economy class, and reminds me a bit of Bill Clinton in his gregariousness.  His initiative is a bold one - he has decided to put 6% of the state's budget into culture and the arts, with the goal of making Perm the cultural center of Russia.  His theory is that if you invest in the arts, and make a city a great place to live because of its culture, that private investment in businesses, stores, restaurants, will follow, and the city will grow and flourish because people will want to move there and the quality of life will make people want to stay there.  The economy will grow and there will be more employment from the new businesses and institutions. So far, from what we see in Perm, it seems to be working.  The city is definitely under renewal - there is construction everywhere -and the number of amazing cultural activities for free or cheap rivals most US cities. The initiative is of course controversial, and conservatives complain that the money should be spent directly on infrastructure and services, or given directly to businesses rather than cultural institutions (sound familiar?).

The Governor of Perm region - he came to our concert!

The Minister of Culture checks out our CD "Eternal"

Sasha has a different tailor than the other summit attendees

Carmen compliments a passing diplomat

The world media were represented here

In the US, by comparison, most arts budgets for states is less than 1%. At the turn f the last century, cities like New York and Boston made similar investments into cultural institutions, and those are now still with us - the symphonies, museums, theaters. The difference was in the US it was mostly private money, while in Perm, it is money spent by the government.  I think the initiative will work, and it is a bold experiment worth following. Oh yeah, and our concert is part of it.  We recently discovered that the government is subsidizing the ticket prices, so people can buy tickets for about $6 each to our show.  In addition, high school and college students from all over the country have been bussed and flown into Perm to be able to experience the varied shows of the festival and then return to their home towns to spread the news about what's new in the arts. I am at a loss to think of an equivalent program in the US of this magnitude.  At a time when many European countries and the US are deleting arts from their budgets, it is amazing to see the opposite happening in what was once a grey, forbidding industrial city called Molotov.

The video team interview Ghelman, the "godfather" of the Perm Cultural revolution

Gelman wears cool glasses he may have borrowed from Elton John

Carmen & I found the free press brunch - and it was excellent!
I knew those press passes would come in handy.


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