Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arts Cannot Be Allowed To Crumble

Unfortunately for the actors, musicians, librarians and museum workers who marched in central Moscow Friday to protest drastic cuts in their meager wages and in government funding for the arts in general, when violinists strike hardly anybody notices.


The Culture Ministry appears to be taking the highbrow industrial action in its stride, calmly saying, in effect, that Russia's intellectual elite will have to wait in line for better times with everybody else. "It will probably go no further than this," one arts official said in Valeria Korchagina's article Friday.


Perhaps not. From this purely pragmatic point of view, turmoil in the immense world of Russian arts and culture is inevitable. In the Soviet period, musicians and actors and other artists were guaranteed wages as they are in virtually no other country.


The average aspiring actor in the former Soviet Union did not have to wait on tables or work several jobs in order to follow his or her chosen profession. The average theater director did not have to scramble for corporate sponsors or find inventive ways to cover for the unfortunate fact that adventurous theater is rarely profitable.


Yet this entirely misses the point of the current demonstrations. For every country does, to a greater or lesser extent, fund the arts, and when it comes to national libraries and galleries, they normally subsidize them to the hilt.


What is taking place in Russia is the total collapse of one the world's most admired cultural edifices. The Hermitage and Mariinsky theaters are threatened with closure -- doubtless there are ways these world-renowned institutions could fund themselves better, yet they should never be allowed to crumble.


The Lenin library is in shocking condition, with books rotting on the shelves and water seeping into the foundations. Other museums all over the country -- some of which are true provincial jewels -- cannot pay for the heating required to protect their valuables. These are institutions that have no choice but to rely on the government for funding and they -- like the books -- are being left to rot.


There is no arguing with the fact that the government must set priorities and ruthlessly distribute funds accordingly. If it met every demand for payment, hyper-inflation would follow close behind. Yet surely the national library, the national museums and many of the grand theaters and symphony orchestras that the new Russia has inherited and which have been the envy of the world are worth greater respect than this.