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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bard's Memory Inspires Art Center

If Nikita Vysotsky gets his way, the museum bearing his father's name will be much more than a shrine to the celebrated bard -- it will be an entire artistic community.

A center for performing and visual arts has begun to take shape around the Vladimir Vysotsky Museum, complete with exhibition space, artists-in-residence and a small theater.

Vladimir Vysotsky became famous for his politically charged songs, which were largely banned until perestroika. In the Soviet Union, it was only possible to get his music through friends, who in turn got their copies through friends.

The museum pays homage to all aspects of the man's life: Vysotsky the bard and Vysotsky the stage and film actor are both represented. The permanent exhibit includes photographs, handwritten notes and poems, theater archives and even the songwriter's guitar and recording equipment.

But soon the center will be much more than a collection of such memorabilia; it has already begun to take shape as a creative community surrounding and complementing the museum.

"The idea of this center is to perpetuate the artistic culture that my father was a part of," says Nikita Vysotsky, a former actor and now the museum's director and driving force, because "it's impossible to detail everything about his life."

Vysotsky says he believes his father would have supported him in the endeavor. Rather than having people simply worship his memory, Vladimir Vysotsky would have been happier to see them engage in their own creative expression.

"Great artists are co-authors, they inspire other people. ... I want to build an artistic community around my father, not necessarily centered around my father's life, but growing out of it," he says.

A key part of Vysotsky's plan being carried out now is the renovation of the 19th-century brick building near Taganskaya Ploshchad that houses the museum.

"They're destroying these types of buildings and I'd like to save this one at least," he says, adding that his father knew and liked this particular building, just a few steps away from the Taganka Theater, where he performed.

Vysotsky says they plan to keep the original facade and courtyard intact while completely rebuilding the interior. In addition to housing the permanent Vysotsky collection, the center will support a small theater and galleries with rotating exhibits.

So far, the museum has completed construction on the theater and one of the galleries -- called the Sam Brook -- for various exhibits. Vysotsky says he eventually wants to invite theater students to perform their final projects in the mini-theater. He would also like to see it host benefit concerts for the museum.

Vysotsky says the museum also needs to construct a good storage facility, a small publishing house and a recording studio to preserve his father's works.

"We also have a large photo archive and reprints [relating to the elder Vysotsky's life], and we want to restore these," Vysotsky says.

But, as usual, funding is a problem. Vysotsky says that at current renovating costs of $400 per square meter, the restoration will be about $1.1 million.

"It's not that there isn't money out there," he says. "But the government has stopped financing like it used to."

On a recent trip to Germany, Vysotsky says he was inspired by museums that were able to generate much of their own capital.

"This center, when it's completed, needs to be self-sufficient. It needs parts that can fund the other parts that aren't profitable," he says, adding that he'd like to finish the center by July 2000, the 20th anniversary of his father's death.

As for the completed Sam Brook gallery, which is named after a fictitious African Marxist character in one of Vysotsky's songs, it is currently preparing for an exhibit of works by artist and longtime friend of Vysotsky, Mikhail Shemyakin, who worked with and was inspired by the bard in Paris during the 1970s. The exhibit, opening Monday, will feature paintings, graphic works and even songs that Vysotsky was inspired to write through his acquaintance with Shemyakin.

The gallery is also the permanent workshop of a small society of contemporary artists. Ivan Kalesnikov, one of the resident artists and spokesman for Sam Brook, says the gallery is one of the first of its kind in Moscow.

"It's not commercial," Kalesnikov says. "It gives new artists a chance to be exhibited. ... Over 40 artists have had their works displayed here so far."

Kalesnikov says he got involved when the younger Vysotsky approached him seeking artists to work at the museum.

Together with other artists, "we built the gallery with our own hands and money," he says. And in December 1997, the Sam Brook gallery hosted its first exhibit and now has eight others under its belt.

One of the missions of Sam Brook is to exhibit art that is "crazy, a little experimental, unusual, and most importantly, it must be done truthfully," Kalesnikov says.

The gallery also encourages collaboration among artists.

"Together, there is new energy," Kalesnikov says.