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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Artistic Community In Conflict With Mayor

The city's artistic community is again buzzing like a stirred beehive. Ten Pushkinskaya Ulitsa, a much-talked-about building that is the center of the city's underground and the Soho of St. Petersburg, has become the center of another major scandal.

A few weeks ago Mayor Anatoly Sobchak declared that the building would be given to the St. Petersburg's state television company, known as Channel 5. The building will be turned into apartments, including a newly formed "Pushkinskaya 10 Creative Center."

What it all means is the Free Culture Foundation -- which brought together hundreds of artists, musicians, actors and writers -- will be thrown out.

Over the last five years the foundation firmly established itself in the building, and developed ideas for a Contemporary Arts Museum, galleries, studios and performance space.

It earned a national and international reputation, and in a way became one of the symbols of the city, and a must for every visitor interested in modern arts.

It is not going to give up easily.

"It is not clear to us why in order for the new center to be started and set up an existing creative unity has to be sacrificed," says an open letter to the mayor, signed by leading artists, residents and friends of Pushkinskaya 10. It urges Sobchak to repeal his decision.

"It seems to have become an ethnographic tradition of our Motherland," it continues, "first destroying everything which had been built by somebody else, then build anew, get not what we wanted, and repent."

The foundation, granted the building by the recently dissolved City Council, is prepared to fight desperately for its rights. Its director general, artist Sergei Kovalsky, says the foundation will take the mayor's decision to court.

The scandal has added fuel to the city's potentially explosive political situation.

Alexander Belyayev, the former head of the dissolved City Council and a member of the Federal Assembly, has already gone to court over another of Sobchak's decisions -- to ban members of the Federal Assembly from running for seats in the City Council to be elected this spring.

With the election campaign evolving, and a simultaneous campaign to put the mayor through a popular vote of confidence, the last thing Sobchak needs these days is a loss of support among the city's intellectuals and its artistic community.

Perhaps there is no escape. Even an abandoned, decrepit building which the artists naively believed would become their ivory tower has turned into a political battlefield.