Individual and Mass Demand for Information on Art discussed by Experts

On November 14, the first day of the Forum activities, the General Staff Building of the State Hermitage Museum hosted the key event of the section "Mass Communications" — the plenary discussion "Voice of Art in Media Space". Experts from various areas of culture discussed the phenomenon of the gross audience's surged interest in arts and the challenges that are faced today by the media offering insight into culture.  

Speakers at the event included Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Vladimir Medinsky, theatre director Konstantin Bogomolov, editor of The Art Newspaper Alison Cole (UK), Head of Strategic Projects at Google Emerging Markets Dona Raz Levy (Israel), Editor-in-Chief for Culture of Valeurs Actuelles Laurent Dandrieux (France) and General Director of Sintítulo, curator Eloy Martinez de la Pera Celada (Spain). The discussion was moderated by the General Director of TASS Sergey Mikhailov, the head of the section "Mass Communications" of the VIII Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum.

Today, there is a significant increase of the interest in arts displayed by mass audience: exhibitions of classical and contemporary authors are popular with various age and social groups of the population, the number of theatre goers and visitors of symphony concerts is growing together with the number of news items dedicated to cultural events. Olga Golodets,  Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, talked about the Russian version of the global trend:

"The demand for art is growing exponentially. We can see that exhibitions on the territory of the Russian Federation have been visited 1.7 times more often than before over the last 10 years. Over the last year museums and exhibitions were visited 154 million times — it's a huge figure. We can see the same demand for theatrical performances, we can see a growing interest in education in field of arts, and we should respond to modern challenges of the society.

While the art used to be available for quite a narrow group of people before, now the 'individual trajectory' is available for a large number of people due to the Internet and Mass Media. When the exhibition of Serov's works was announced to be the first breakthrough display of such a scale in Russia, it made us recognize that people's attitude to the art had changed significantly: we saw people from different regions who came to visit the exhibition. People changed their plans and priorities for that exhibition, and that was awesome. Today the task of a museum is to understand that the new audience is to come - people who might have never been in museums or theatres before, who might see some work of art for the first time. To work with emerging audience is a particular responsibility for the entire cultural community. It's great that the number of such people is growing; its great that now many cultural institutions consider ways to involve children and the youth in educational cultural programs. The Internet today allows every person creating their own individual trajectory of cultural development. Everyone makes their own choice of where to go — to a theatre, an exhibition, a museum, or just to have a trip across estates. Media here serve as a kind of navigators, moderators. Their ability to provide selection, guidance and help is critical for people. Media play a special role in establishment of professionals.

Vladimir Medinsky talked in detail about the ways in which modern technologies are being used to promote the Russian culture abroad:

"There are a few projects I would like to focus on. One of them is a chain of virtual concert halls. These are concert halls located in small towns, community clubs, city libraries, local music institutions, children’s art schools, music colleges. They are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies which makes it possible to watch any cultural events, concerts, theatrical performances and productions that take place in any corner of our country online or using a record. There seem to be no such thing anywhere else in the world.

The Ministry of Culture initiates creating of so-called 'virtual museums' so that you could visit any federal or regional museum and any exhibition via your mobile device or a computer. Besides, there are special mobile guides, applications, platforms with augmented reality technologies. For example, the ARTEFACT Application. If a museum is included in our program, you can just come and point your smartphone on the artwork you are interested in to get all the information about the piece, its author and their epoch.

We try to digitalize every serious exhibition, and there are daily broadcasts on Every regional community club that hosts a famous musician, lecturer or a theatrical performance can contact us, so that we could provide organizational, administrative and technical assistance for the global broadcast.

Representative of Google, Dona Raz Levy, talked about the new format of digital communications that have to do with popularizing of art.

"We see the interest in culture growing. The formats of cultural communications are changing: people want to get immersed into art; they want to know the context in which the works of art were created; they want to know more about different locations. We at Google thought that technologies must help culture. In 2011 we opened a special non-profit center that works on digitizng the national and international heritage. We have a total of 2000 partners worldwide, including The Hermitage Museum, The Tretyakov Gallery, Bolshoi Theatre, Louvre, Versailles, and other museums. Any child anywhere in the world who has internet access, can now take a virtual tour of Versailles, see exhibitions in the Hermitage — this is something we could not do when we were children.

Yet another important aspect of our work is the attempt to make art immortal. In 2016 we established a partnership with the National Museum of Brazil and started digitizing their exhibits. Unfortunately, there was a great fire in the museum in 2018, and practically all the collections were destroyed. This is a tragedy, however, many of the exhibits were digitized. That helped us create copies of these exhibits, or show the lost articles online," Dona Raz Levy said.

Editor-in-Chief of The Art Newspaper Alison Coleand General Director of Sintítulo, curator of art and fashion collections Eloy Martinez de la Pera Celada talked about the challenges of new times, and the attempts to negotiate a balance between social network and reality.

"We must think about our key audience - professionals who work in museums, students, educators, but we must be paying increasingly more attention to the public in general. Today we are working for the audience, which is interested not only in traditional art, but also in its new forms," Alison Cole said.

"Art has the potential to transform all of us. Art can create emotions, change us, make us dream. We do not want the museums to be filled with people who are very well versed in art. We want to see young people, the people who were born in this century, to come to museums, too. This can be done only via social networks," Eloy Martinez de la Pera Celada conclued.

Konstantin Bogomolov, Artistic Director of the Theatre Na Maloy Bronnoy, talked about the interaction that the contemporary public has with art, and the fears of the creative community.

"There is a certain danger in talking about the interaction between art and media. Art is mysterious, it is an individual and unique path in each case. How do we preserve it? How can we give the human being an opportunity to complete this path, enjoy it, experience joy or suffering? The media perform an educational function; they bring the art closer to the spectator; but they can also deprive the individual of the unique route to understanding art, instead, they form a gigantic flow managed by people who perform the role of curators. For the theatre the digital breakthrough is still ahead. On the one hand, I share the joy over how accessible art is today, but on the other hand, I am afraid that the art is experienced via wires and screens, some of its energy appeal is lost. Art becomes a part of mass consumption, when perception of art must be an individual product. I can see why managers are optimistic, but as a director, I feel a bit scared. I think we should talk about this as well," Konstantin Bogomolov said.

Editor-in-Chief for Culture at Valeurs Actuelles Magazine Laurent Dandrieu summarized the results of the discussion:

"It is the moral responsibility of the reporter to stimulate the spirit of his or her reader's personal discoveries, the spirit of inquisitiveness. We must keep reminding people that culture is not a consumer activity, that it is one of contemplation. Today we are getting increasingly more distanced from the content of art, and pay more attention to various intrigues in art, issues of finances. The mission of the journalist lies in focusing the audience's attention on content. Works of art can tell us very different stories, it is important that we keep these stories in good hands."