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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arts Ready to Play 'Russian Roulette'

Facing a severe shortage of financial support from the federal government, the Culture Ministry has taken a page from the book of many Western nations in its search for additional funds. It has decided to launch a non-commercial lottery to support the arts.

Yevgeny Sidorov, the culture minister, said Wednesday that funding for his ministry from the federal budget had been sharply curtailed in recent years, and that in fact it received only 60 percent of the funds allocated on paper.

"Therefore any assistance, whether it comes from sponsors, the earnings of individual agencies, or a lottery, is urgently needed in our search for extra-budgetary income to be invested in the service of Russian culture," he told the ministry's executive board.

The idea for a national lottery to help fund the arts in Russia came from a group of professors at the St. Petersburg Academy of Theatrical Arts, who approached the ministry last autumn. But Yelena Levshina, a member of the initiative group, said Wednesday that raising additional money was only one of the lottery's tasks.

"In our view, the main aim of this project is to attract by various means a wider audience for the arts in Russia, so that people feel that the institutions of culture are close to them, and that they are involved," Levshina said.

The lottery will not commence operations for at least six months, while its organizer, the Russian State Theatrical Agency, draws up a detailed organizational plan and registers the new lottery with the Federal Commission on Lotteries and Games.

Gennady Smirnov, head of the department for regional and national policy at the Culture Ministry, said some 15 percent of the total revenue raised by the lottery would be available for cultural projects, a figure he said was "quite reasonable."

Under Russian law, 40 percent of a lottery's take must be set aside for paying off winning tickets. Another 35 percent or so would go for operational costs, Smirnov said. Sidorov predicted that the remaining money would eventually allow the ministry to fund two major projects, such as the repair of the Bolshoi Theater and construction of its new branch theater next door, each year.

In drafting the business plan for the lottery, organizers relied heavily on the experience of Britain, which has very successfully raised money for the arts in this way. Sidorov said the British lottery raised an average of ?200 million (about $300 million) per year for the arts.

But Smirnov cautioned that income from the lottery would never equal funding from the federal budget. "Nevertheless, to reject the lottery plan for this reason would be incorrect. If we manage to restore even one music school in the absence of budgetary funds, this enterprise will not have been in vain," he said.