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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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