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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete Collective Reborn




Home, refuge and alma mater to many of St. Petersburg's alternative artists, the Fond Svobodnoi Kultury, or Free Culture Foundation, at 10 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa, is back in business.


Pushkinskaya 10, as St. Petersburg's predecessor to Moscow's Dom Center is usually called, had for years been a haven for people who wanted to distance themselves from the conventional when it was closed in 1995 for major renovations.


The seven-floor building's walls, during its long, long life, have seen art exhibits, concerts and Narcotics Anonymous meetings as well as the presence of three nightclubs (including one called Art Klinika, or The Art Clinic), offices for rock 'n' roll bands and an artists' squat.


Pushkinskaya's history dates to the 1970s, when the first informal artists' groups began to form in the northern capital. One of these, the Association for Experimental Exhibitions later became the Association for Experimental Art, whose members eventually began squatting at Pushkinskaya, demanding that the city renovate the building's long-since abandoned apartments and turn them into artists' and musicians' studios.


The city relented and the squatters vacated the premises in 1995. When renovations of the space were completed in 1998, only one-fourth of the building went to the group that had been occupying it for years - when they moved back in, there was no room for much of what had previously gone on at Pushkinskaya and organizers were forced to turn away many people who had once been active there.


Today, the address boasts new attractions, like the John Lennon Temple (in apartment 910, a reference to Lennon's birthday on Oct. 9), which is run by St. Petersburg's best-known Beatles fan, Kolya Vasin. Also housed at number 10 is the Museum of Non-Conformist Art, which is often host to controversial projects such as exhibits of contemporary religious-themed art.


"It's better than before, I believe," said Sergei Kovalsky, president of the Free Culture Foundation. "There's less drinking and less procrastination."


Indeed, the new Pushkinskaya will likely never have to suffer its electricity being shut off for not having paid its bills (in those days, the squatters used a generator to supply their power) - no, the people at this address are today ruled by something once foreign to these walls: discipline.


All musicians and artists with a studio at Pushkinskaya must sign an annual contract and agree to present the fruits of their labor at the end of each year to a membership committee in order to prove they hasn't just been watching the world go by from their studio window.


Among the residents who are now held to these strict regulations is rock superstars Boris Grebenshchikov of Akvarium, who has a studio at Pushkinskaya, as do 40 other artists and musicians.


As always, the talents of Pushkinskaya's inhabitants are very diverse. "Often, our artists compose tunes and our musicians experiment with poetry," said Andrei Khlobystin, director of Pushkinskaya's Library of Independent Art.


One of the nightclubs that survived the renovations is Fish Fabrique - a tiny club with a green stage and a few tables with live shows every night, frequented by members of the local music scene (electronic band Deadushki, for example, hang out here).


Despite the return of Fabrique, Kovalsky said that Pushkinskaya is free of nostalgia for the old days. "The most important thing is to bridge the generation gap," he said. "Young people experiment with the newest technologies, which are sometimes denied or ignored by the older generation."


But has the new Pushkinskaya lost something to creature comforts and organization?


"Pushkinskaya has lost a great deal of its merry spirit," said St. Petersburg artist Nika Kukovitskaya. "Even the ceilings seem lower than they used to be. The comfort - some of the studio floors are actually heated - seems to be hampering the creativity."


Weird Moscow will return next week.