The Museum of Russian Art seeks “cultural diplomacy”

A docent leads a tour at The Museum of Russian Art.

The Museum of Russian Art Director Vladimir von Tsurikov said it feels like we’ve returned to Cold War days.

He said constant media coverage that places Russia in a negative light impacts American perceptions of all Russian people and culture.

“It’s important to reintroduce something else into this dialogue,” he said. “Cultural diplomacy, people-to-people diplomacy.”

That’s why the museum is planning to facilitate a cultural tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2018. Von Tsurikov said he wants to provide a chance for everyday Americans and Russians to interact.

“It’s the perfect time to go to Russia,” he said. “It allows us to break barriers and deconstruct myths on both sides.”

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Despite the negative press, Von Tsurikov said he’s not seeing a direct impact on the museum. But he worries it may impact public funding for Russian studies and the arts, at a time when there is a shortage of Russian language speakers and experts in the U.S.

Museum staff are thinking creatively to work around a Russian arts embargo in place for several years. Instead of acquiring pieces directly from Russian institutions, the museum displays work from private collections and other museums and relies on alternatives like multimedia as part of exhibits.

“There are ways to work around this if you’re not only looking at showing original artwork,” Von Tsurikov said.

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One current exhibition is called “Born in the USSR: Paintings of Childhood and Youth,” portraying youth in Soviet Pioneer uniforms and later becoming indoctrinated into the Communist party. The joyful piece “Milkmaids, Novella” by Nikolai Nikolaevich was recently installed in the museum’s gift shop, a spot that offers complimentary cups of tea.

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The museum has tripled its events in recent years. It’s hosting family days, vodka and wine tastings, local artists and pop-up exhibitions. After-hours tours are available in English and Russian, and the Belarusian band Stary Olsa will perform the evening of Sept. 7.

“It’s a great opportunity to show there is more to Russia than you read on CNN,” Von Tsurikov said.