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Evictions Loom for Artists

Published: June 25, 2004 (Issue # 980)


In a city renowned for its art, the St. Petersburg Property Committee has told all local cultural figures using studios belonging to City Hall that they will be privatized.

Tenants will have to pay market rents or buy the studios if they want to stay. The artists were not ordered to vacate the studios, but the city's decree makes that virtually inevitable because most artists cannot afford market rentals.

The artisans, bewildered by the decision, held a protest meeting at the headquarters of the Artists' Union on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa on Thursday to discuss their response.

Street protests and even mass renunciation of Russian citizenship were mentioned as possible moves.

The city boasts about 2,000 studios that belong to the city and are rented by the artists in perpetuity. The right to rent a studio is granted by a professional union.

There are 14 artists' unions in St. Petersburg, including the Union of Artists, the Union of Composers, the Union of Writers, the Union of Designers and the Union of Architects.

Many artists live in the studios as well as using them for their creative works. The studios can't be inherited.

Prominent writer Ilya Shtemler urged the artists to take to the streets.

"Being delicate, quiet and tolerant is not going to help," he said. "The only way to confront this usurpation is to publicly protest outside Smolny and the Legislative Assembly. Even if we lose the studios we will keep our pride."

Artist Sergei Usik was far more radical; all petitions, meetings and protests would be treated as voices crying in the wilderness, he said.

The issue is political and requires a political response - all artists kicked out of their studios should renounce Russian citizenship, he said.

"To be effective, the measures must be sufficiently dramatic," he said. "If the authorities deprive us of our working space, they are clearly not interested in having artists here. That means we should go elsewhere."

Alternatively, Usik advised sending an appeal to the governments of developed countries asking them to give "the wandering stars" a roof over their heads.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in “Downton Abbey” if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russia’s best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russia’s most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkin’s, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontov’s short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library System’s website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Club’s weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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