Before the start of the meeting, the President visited the Pskov Academic Drama Theatre, which recently underwent restoration and construction work.
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Speech at a meeting of the Council for Culture and Art Presidium
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
Today, this expanded meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Art Presidium is taking place in Pskov, which is home to many of our people’s historical monuments and spiritual holy sites.
For people in Russia and throughout the world, this region is above all associated with Alexander Pushkin and his work. The Pskov Drama Theatre bears his name. Many of you were there today, and I just visited the theatre too and looked around. From what I heard, the impressions are good.
I want to begin by saying though that today’s meeting is one of the first events taking place as part of the Year of Culture that has just opened in Russia. At the same time, this meeting is also an important stage in the work to draft the state programme Basic Principles of State Cultural Policy.
I therefore hope to hear from you today your views on these basic principles and this programme. Indeed, the main purpose of today’s meeting is to hear what you have to say on this matter.
Dmitry Likhachev said that culture is an immense integral phenomenon that transforms individuals into a people and nation. We all realise the tremendous part that culture plays in developing our country, strengthening its influence and reputation in the world, and preserving its integrity and national sovereignty.
”We all realise the tremendous part that culture plays in developing our country, strengthening its influence and reputation in the world, and preserving its integrity and national sovereignty. Culture and education are the elements that form our country’s human capital and are part of our historical code and national character.“
After all, without culture, what sovereignty can we speak of, and what would there be to fight for? Culture and education are the elements that form our country’s human capital and are part of our historical code and national character.
This is why state cultural policy must cover all areas of life, help to preserve traditional values, deepen our spiritual ties with our native land, raise trust among people and increase their responsibility and participation as citizens in developing our country.
This Year of Culture must be a year for turning to our multi-ethnic people’s rich heritage and modern cultural achievements. Not only culture and arts figures, teachers, journalists, museum staff, librarians and so on have a part to play here. Political parties, public organisations, patrons of the arts, and the whole of society all need to get involved in this work.
Colleagues, to be honest, I asked you to get together today so as to send the signal at the start of the year to everyone at once, everyone I just mentioned, in order to set the public-state mechanism in motion.
Culture takes many different forms. It covers theatre, cinema, painting, literature and folk arts. We need to examine the issues concerning each different genre within the context of creating a unified cultural space within our country that has its own unique substance.
It is in this context that I propose that we discuss in depth developing regional and children’s theatres in Russia. I remember at one of our meetings, some colleagues raised these matters, some of you included. Regional and provincial theatres always played a part as real centres for education and public life in our country.
It is very important not simply to revive but also to develop and do everything we can to support interest in theatre in our regions. We need to make it possible for people to be able to see talented theatre productions no matter where they live in the country.
We will look today at what some regions are doing in this area. I’ve asked to get the linkups ready. Our colleagues from the Caucasus will tell us about what is happening there, and we will hear from other regions too.
Russian theatre’s creative potential is growing all the time. Theatres have a better material and technical base and there is more financing available, more grants for supporting theatre, including regional theatres. Private cultural initiatives are developing, and theatre premieres are becoming important cultural events that the public look forward to and watch out for.
”This Year of Culture must be a year for turning to our multi-ethnic people’s rich heritage and modern cultural achievements. Not only culture and arts figures have a part to play here. Political parties, public organisations, patrons of the arts, and the whole of society all need to get involved in this work.“
But many mid-sized towns and most small towns do not have their own theatres, unfortunately. As a rule, theatres tend to be concentrated in the regional capitals and bigger cities. We need to overcome this ‘theatre discrimination’.
I have heard various opinions on this matter. Some people say that other countries do not even have this much, and that there is no repertory theatre tradition at all. But Russia does have this tradition, in the past and today too. This is one of our competitive advantages as the trendy term has it today, and it is something we should definitely support.
We do realise that it is probably not possible to build a theatre in every single town, and in any case it would not be possible to build a real, strong team in each place. But we can find the solution by looking at our own past experience. I remind you that the Soviet Union had a very active touring and festival scene.
It was in this way that we created a unified theatre space, strengthened interethnic contacts and built links between a very large country’s different parts. I have said in the past that there is much in our past experience that we can and should make use of today. I am not talking about the ideological content of course, but about the methods for organising work.
There has been an increase in tours of late. Moscow and St Petersburg theatres have substantially expanded their touring repertoire and are visiting new places. At the same time, the leading regional theatres are putting on their performances on Moscow and St Petersburg stages.
The cause for concern though is that regional theatres are coming to the capitals, but hardly ever tour even to their neighbouring regions. We need to examine the causes for this situation. Clearly, money is a cause of course, but then we need an impulse here from the Culture Ministry and the regional authorities.
The next issue is theatres for children and young people. We need to educate a new generation of viewers, cultivate in them good artistic taste and the ability to understand and appreciate theatre, drama and music. If we went about this the right way, perhaps we would be able to avoid tragedies like today’s tragedy in Moscow.
Turning to our historical experience once again, it was in Russia that the first children’s theatres in the world appeared. Even back in 1918, during the civil war, 15-year-old Natalya Sats organised her own small theatre for children. Theatres for young viewers were established during the 1920s. One of the oldest of these theatres, in Leningrad, continued staging performances even during the blockade.
It is our duty to our forebears and to future generations to build on and keep developing this tradition of theatre for children and young people. Unfortunately, this work is not getting the attention it needs. There are practically no new children’s and youth theatres being opened.
”Culture takes many different forms. We need to examine the issues concerning each different genre within the context of creating a unified cultural space within our country that has its own unique substance.“
Existing children’s theatres often prefer to rent out their stages for various entertainment shows, the content and performance level of which leave much to be desired. Of course this situation has to change.
We need high-quality, serious theatrical performances for children and teenagers that will introduce them to Russian and world classics, and teach them to think, empathise, and believe in the power of good. Theatres also need to stage works by modern Russian authors too. I am sure that we can improve the situation if we propose effective support mechanisms.
Cinema is a good example here, and I think many of you also know this well. After discussions, above all with the professional community, the Cinema Fund was established a few years ago. Three Russian films came out last year with the Fund’s financial support. They were among the top ten films at the Russian box office, ahead of many foreign films. As you know, these films were Legenda No 17, Yolki-3, and Stalingrad.
Let me note too that we will give due recognition to cultural figures’ contribution to educating our young people and will soon make some specific proposals in this area. The presidential prize for the best works of art and literature for children and teenagers will be awarded for the first time very soon. There are three prizes, each worth 2.5 million rubles. I do not know whether you would say this is a lot or not.
The next issue is that we also must restore the network of children’s theatre studios and arts and literature groups. Actors and other professionals in the cultural sector already coming to the end of their active careers, but who are ready to share their experience and work with young people could all get involved in this work. We need to support public initiatives in the theatre sector too and provide assistance to non-commercial organisations and independent theatre groups.
I am not just talking about financial support, but also about premises for staging performances, holding rehearsals and working with children. Not only specialised theatre buildings can be used here, but also libraries, museums, cultural centres, leisure centres and schools. I will ask the regional and local authorities to lend their support too, to enthusiasts and creative initiatives from the public.
Let me stress that there are many issues to address here, and all of this places great responsibility on the state authorities and the theatre community. These are the issues I want to discuss with you today, colleagues.