In February, I traveled to Russia as part of a cultural exchange program between museum experts from Russia and the U.S., organized by the St. Petersburg-based Pro Arte Foundation and funded by the Potanin Foundation. Amidst increasingly complex relations between the leadership of these two old super-frenemies, cultural exchange has taken on a revitalized role. FSN was invited to help devise ways that music can activate museum spaces and enable museums of all sizes to attract a wider audience — perhaps not enough to solve disagreements around Syria or gay rights, but vital work nonetheless.
I felt honored to have such great traveling companions, as the four other Americans on the 7-day trip were true museum superstars: Morris Vogel (Lower East Side Tenement Museum), Susan Fruchter (Smithsonian’s American History Museum), Julie Good (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and Sonya Shrier (The Museum of Modern Art). The Pro Arte team were incredibly thoughtful, organized, and knowledgable: their visionary director Elena Kolovskaya, the indefatigable Anastasia Rozhkova, and our fabulous translator (and Beyonce jukebox) Leo Murzenko. We visited some of Russia’s most famous museums (like the Hermitage), and a few lesser known ones (like the Lenin Museum).
I spent a day consulting with the the Rimsky-Korsakov Museum in St. Petersburg to develop strategies for making their exhibits more interactive, and discussed potential future partnerships with museums that involve the six OneBeat Russian alumni: Denis Peniugin, Alexander Shirunov, Anton Sergeev, Anna Gelyuk, Katya Shilonosova, and Mitya Burmistov (who was of course off gallivanting in Japan while I was in Russia). I also was lucky to have a chance to hang out with another OneBeat alum, Ukrainian rockstar bassist Roman Garkavenko.
My favorite museum on this trip was the smallest – the Museum of Sound, which is part of the Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center, located in an old squat converted into a complex of museums and artist residency centers. The Museum of Sound included a number of original instruments made from everyday objects. Downstairs is the Temple of Love, Peace, and Music dedicated to John Lennon, where i met the self-proclaimed #1 Beatles fan in the world.
On the last day of our trip, our museum group got to travel to the Russian equivalent of the State Department to meet up with lifelong cultural diplomat and popular talk-show host Mikhail Shvydkoi, who fed us delicious tea and cookies and shared key nuggets of wisdom about working in Russian-American relations, noting that if you work in this particularly slow-to-change bi-lateral relationship, “you need to live a long life.” Well, it’s hard to argue with that.