The word combination “museum of regional studies” has never stirred up positive emotions in me before – I have always thought that the history of my region (I come from Sloviansk) deserves and needs a more interesting and active way of explanation. But changes for the better are already underway.
Regional studies museums in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are being turned into an active public space. A project, “Museum Open for Renovation,” was launched in Sloviansk and Lysychansk past autumn, within the framework of which the organizers held a number of educational events, presented ceramic production in Sloviansk as a social phenomenon, furnished museums with the up-to-date equipment, made promotion clips, conducted classes for the museum staff, and, what is more, made it possible to know the true history of the area.
The Day requested Leonid MARUSHCHAK, in charge of art at the nongovernmental organization Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, manager of the project “Museum Open for Renovation,” to furnish the details of what is going on in museums.
“A MUSEUM IS A MIND-SHAPING INSTITUTION”
How did you hit upon the idea of revitalizing museums in the Donbas? Why do you think it is necessary right now?
“We began to work with museums two years ago and to carry out the project ‘Museum Open for Renovation’ past November. We had done thorough research before and found out that a museum, both in eastern Ukraine and in any nook, remains a mind-shaping institution in a city, region, and the country as a whole. But they have not in fact been changing in the 25 years of independence.
“The museums were established mostly in the 1970s-1980s, and one of their main functions was ideological impact – they were a mouthpiece to propagate and glorify communism. We decided to struggle with this by searching for new methods. ‘Museum Open for Renovation’ is an experimental project, for we, together with museum people in the east and the rest of Ukraine, as well as their foreign colleagues, are thinking over what is to be done with this communist-era legacy. Regional studies institutions perform a very important function in the cities. And in the east, it is also an opportunity to revitalize a city’s humanitarian sphere, even a method of working with the territories across the line of disengagement. For example, it will be interesting for migrants to come into new humanitarian institutions. With due account of our situation, they are supposed to crop up like mushrooms after a rainfall.
“To start with, we chose two cities, Sloviansk and Lysychansk, – the former because the war in the east and the chronicle of resistance began there, and the latter because it had almost never had a fair share of care. What is more, the Donbas we know, i.e. an industrial region, was in fact emerging in the late 19th century at the place of today’s Lysychansk. It is here that coal began to be extracted and the first European-style factories were built.”
“OPEN OUR EYES ON THE DONBAS’ HISTORY AND PRESENT DAY”
What idea do you want to put across by this project? Is it debunking stereotypes in the approach to the east?
“I wonder why Ukraine, where a war is going on and there is a humanitarian vacuum, forgets about such institutions as museums. Indeed, you could say that times are different now. This was, is, and will always be said. But, taking into account that these institutions are still resorting to the rhetoric of the 1970s-1980s, it would be harmful to ignore this.
“The project is interesting in that it is aimed at not only changing the museum, but also popularizing what was long hushed up or not emphasized. I mean the things that would open our eyes on the Donbas’ history and present day. We ourselves are even surprised.
“Past year we carried out the project ‘International Investments in Ukraine since the Turn of the 20th Century’ based on the research done by the Dnipropetrovsk Dmytro Yavornytsky History Museum. To tell the truth, it is not the Soviet Union that industrialized the Donbas – it is the European investments which began to come here from in the late 19th century well before the October Revolution occurred. Very few are saying this. And, as we often heard in the east, ‘to know’ and ‘to be aware of’ are different things. And such cities as, for example, Kostiantynivka, were in fact laid by the Belgians. They built the infrastructure that is still used in the city.
“Sloviansk was historically a famous city of merchants. We recently launched there ‘Lokhvytsia Zemstvo Schools,’ a social project by Olha Herasymiuk. The point is that schools in the Poltava gubernia were built in the early 20th century in the style of Ukrainian art nouveau. Not so many of these buildings have survived in Ukraine – the best known of them is the Poltava Oblast Museum of Regional Studies. There is also a building like this in Sloviansk. It is the Public Assembly House built in 1912 by the well-known Kharkiv architect Yevhen Serdiuk in the style of Ukrainian art nouveau. If structures like this were built in Sloviansk, what kind of ‘Russian land’ can we talk about?
“We open a lot of historical pages like this. For example, when we were preparing the exhibit ‘Slavkeramprodukt’ at the Sloviansk Museum of Regional Studies, we found a stained-glass window, which had been hidden from general view for over 20 years, and arranged that it should be restored and displayed. Then we came to know that a stained-glass window made by Opanas Zalyvakha was kept at the Druzhkivka Museum. This well-known ‘Sixtier’ worked with Alla Horska and was a friend of Vasyl Stus and Oleksa Tykhyi. All of his monumental works were destroyed in the Soviet era. Moreover, he married Bandera’s niece, which also backfired on him. The best known stained-glass window he had made with Horska for Taras Shevchenko University’s ‘red block’ was banned and destroyed well before the official unveiling. The work that we found miraculously remained intact. It turned out to be a beautiful stained-glass window in three parts which we pieced together. We are very glad that our project is not confined to two museums but is encouraging other ones.
“We have established a ‘museum laboratory’ and purchased, with support from Ukraine Confidence Building Initiative (UCBI), the up-to-date equipment which we use when visiting not only museums, but also schools and kindergartens.”
“WE WANT TO PROVIDE SPACE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE”
There are all kinds of film shows, master classes, educational events, and photo competitions as part of the project. Can you say that people are interested?
“Increasing the number of museum visitors is the easiest thing to do in this project. Our goal is to stimulate science-extension activity so that museums could launch new projects and liven up. Let’s not forget that they are catastrophically inert in small towns. But we can see some qualitative changes. Museums are presented now with not only books or postcards – for example, the Sloviansk Museum of Regional Studies has received a 2,500-year-old Scythian sword. The museum is also often asked to give advice on certain changes in the city – for instance, in the restoration and reorganization of architectural monuments. And, what is more, the museum arouses more and more interest as an institution that is supposed to help the city or the district to find its own identity.”
A video filmed by means of drone that flew over the Artem monument by sculptor Kavaleridze has gone viral in the internet. What is the good of using this kind of new devices?
“Yes, the drone is the star of our project. We are often asked in letters why the museum needs a quadcopter. This question shows that the one is doubtful of the museum’s potential today. As practice shows, the drone is badly needed. For a historian, every flight of the quadcopter and the photography or video filming of a certain territory means documenting the situation. In the course of time, this video will be used as a historical fact, a document. Flyovers, such as the one near the Artem monument, gather a lot of internet views, but in this case it is also an opportunity to spot and film damage in the artwork of the sculpture genius Ivan Kavaleridze. The quadcopter helps us very much in terms of information and attracts new audiences – the number of child and teenage visitors has risen drastically. Children contact us on their own and ask us to visit their villages and schools.
“We also have such a device now as electron microscope. Just imagine children watching bugs and plants, looking into the eyes of spiders on a big wall-size screen. This is colossal because it allows museums to be a place for a child to begin to form.
“Further plans include opening modern times sections in a number of museums. Most of the museums of regional studies share this idea, and it is on the basis of such sections that we want to provide space for young people, find ways to arrange active and informative leisure.”
“THE REGIONS ARE IN NEED OF A HUMANITARIAN POLICY”
Why do you call the project “Museum Open for Renovation”?
“The very word ‘renovation’ suggests changes. Usually, in the case of a traditional renovation, everything is closed because there is a clear vision of what, for whom, and by whom is to change. But our project is different. We are carrying it out together with museum people and the city’s public. We want to ‘renovate’ the museum’s life, and we are doing this jointly with all those to whom it belongs. We are in a state of search.”
The project is being implemented from November to March. Isn’t four months too short a term? And what will there be after its completion?
“The project is being carried out as part of the UCBI funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It is the project’s first stage. We will take a short timeout to monitor what has been done and what the results are – in other words, to watch the museum, to see how they work without our active participation, whether the equipment and the Museum Laboratory work, and in what projects the museum will take part. When we examine the situation, we will decide on whether or not to continue.
“The fact that we have purchased equipment for the Sloviansk Museum of Regional Studies does not mean that only this museum will use it. We are gathering representatives of other regional museums in order to tell about our experience and encourage them to use all this.”
Is it easy to develop a new cultural field in the Donbas? What particularities did you have to take into account when drawing up the project?
“There have been no similar projects before, so we find it very difficult to have nobody to emulate. We are trying to make sure that our experience is interesting to and can be borrowed by others. It is necessary to establish such fields, especially through the efforts of the government. Ukraine’s regions, especially Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, are in bad need of a humanitarian policy. Attention should also be paid to the Carpathian region and other border areas. We must pursue a preemptive tactic here. Museums need a strenuous effort for reorganization and modernization because, let me say it again, they still remain mind-shaping institutions.”