June 25, 2016
Say something about culture neglected
The Museum Centre celebrates a long, 25-year journey
An anniversary always presupposes some kind of celebration, especially when it is commemorated by one of the city’s most magnificent buildings... The building of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s Museum Centre stands at the very centre of Baku, near the Boulevard, and was constructed in 1960 to a design by the celebrated Azerbaijani architect Hasan Mejidov. It was built on the 90th anniversary of the leader of the world’s proletariat and opened in 1961 as a branch of the Moscow V.I. Lenin Museum. In the 55 years of its existence, many outstanding personalities as well as ordinary citizens of the republic, have trodden its marble steps. And how many of the city’s guests have visited it!
Liana Vezirova, director, Honoured Culture Worker and member of the Union of Artists of Azerbaijan, spoke to the "Kaspiy" newspaper about how the Museum Centre, also celebrating its anniversary this year, works today.
- The Museum Centre of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is 25 years old today. What does this date mean to you?
- This is not just a significant date, but a long, 25-year journey.
But people cannot always decide for themselves exactly what the Museum Centre is ...
There is nothing else of its kind in Azerbaijan. I could say that this was a new concept but, looking back, I understand that my work alone within its walls is already 20 years old. And the Museum Centre itself was organized in 1991 when, following the collapse of the USSR, the building of the branch of the Moscow Lenin Museum was transferred to the then Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan. It brings together the State Museum of Musical Culture of Azerbaijan, the Jafar Jabbarli Azerbaijan State Theatre Museum, the Museum of Azerbaijani Independence and the collection of the Azerbaijan State Museum of the History of Religion. And all of them in one building! It also houses the Art Gallery, the Round Hall - the Rotunda - and an Assembly Hall. The "Russian Museum: Virtual Branch" information and educational centre has also been operating here since April 2008. I have tried to find some equivalent of our centre in the post-Soviet area and there was a similar story in Krasnoyarsk ... But I have to admit that although our centre is known in many other countries, only the very curious raise the question: what is the Museum Centre?
- The Museum Centre brings together several museums with different themes. How do they get along under the same roof?
- Very well indeed (smiles). We have many joint events. These are also those especially pleasant days when all the museums are united in a single project that raises the interest of visitors. But I always note that there is more here than those museums’ expositions; this is also a cultural and educational centre. Here you can participate in concerts or exhibitions, conferences or round tables. The Museum Centre covers a wide range of entertainment and enlightenment activities, education and training ... This place is very active in our city’s cultural life. The Art Gallery here has hosted solo exhibitions by the People’s Artists Mir Nadir Zeynalov and Nazim Beykishiyev, Rasim Babayev and Elchin Aslanov, Honoured Art Worker Irina Eldarova and many others, I could list names for hours. Art from Germany, Iran, Bulgaria and Turkey has been presented here within the framework of international exhibitions. The conference hall and the Round Hall have hosted Days of Culture of the Gulf Countries, TURKSOY meetings, CIS ministers, and the popular annual art project, "The Colour of Beauty", as well as the international bienniales ALUMINIUM and FUSION DOLLS, and solo exhibitions by doll masters from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Minsk. The Museum Centre provides a platform for a variety of creative meetings, concerts, performances of dance, presentations, photography exhibitions and fashion shows. Thus, the Museum Centre combines, as it were, the activities of many cultural institutions.
- Is it possible to teach people about culture?
- Not only is it possible, it is also necessary! And it needs to be done every minute of our lives. A child's introduction to culture begins from the first day of life and it lasts to a person’s last breath. Every day we must learn the culture of our country and other states, the culture of communication and mutual understanding. Culture, after all, is a very capacious concept. Unfortunately, there are people who do not understand that culture, education and social needs should be the priorities for financial support. The family must first of all invest in their child’s education, and the indispensable support of the elderly is also a manifestation of culture. Otherwise, the society cannot be recognized as cultural.
- As head of the Museum Centre, tell us how our society perceives museums?
- Museum culture has a very delicate structure. Those who work in such institutions are a special kind of people. We live in a time of market economy, and in striving for that, we have not only gained much, we have also lost something. Alas, a consumer society began to develop. People spent less on visiting museums, theatres, galleries, exhibitions ... For some reason, people do not hesitate to pay for something extra for their wardrobe, which is sometimes not necessary, but the fact that they have to pay for entrance to a museum is not always accepted. I absolutely do not understand the "torment of the soul" when people are ready to spend money on visiting a restaurant, but are outraged by an entrance charge for a museum. In fact, the price of a ticket is purely symbolic, I would even say, laughable. And it would be good to start teaching children to visit places where they can develop spiritually.
In general, cultural education should be the principal programme for schools and kindergartens. However, I should note that museums also need to catch up with the modern era in their technical equipment. And exhibitions need to be updated regularly. I support the return of travelling exhibitions in cooperation with foreign museums. There should constantly be something new happening within the walls of our cultural institutions; they need to be very interactive. Unfortunately, you don't see this everywhere, that's why we have such a cool response from society towards museums today. However, one must clearly understand that no cultural society is possible without museums.
- Perhaps society perceives museums as frozen history, while modern reality requires a dynamic?
- Isn't the history in other of the world’s museums frozen? For example, the Russian Museum of St. Petersburg, the Hermitage ... But those museums are very well visited.
- I can assume that their publicity and recognition play a major role here. And the PR campaigns of our national museums leave much to be desired ...
- I agree, but I think that the museums themselves should work seriously on these aspects. They must be staffed by true professionals. This is essential! Again, I refer to the example of St. Petersburg’s museums, to which I feel quite close, because I studied in that city. What workers they have there! Educated, well-read and who love their work as being of great benefit. With us - it is the exact opposite. Even those who graduate from universities in our sector do not want to work in their speciality, and prioritise financial rewards. And this is the source of my bewilderment. Why then choose this field of work? If there is no desire to serve culture, then choose a different path! And if you have chosen to serve culture, then follow it through, no matter what the problems. As they say: through adversity - to the stars!
- You always stress that: service ...
- Because that is exactly what it is! People who have aligned their professional work with culture make a self-sacrifice. Indeed, in this area it is impossible to focus on the "material aspect". Culture cannot do business. Never! It can provide a certain range of services, earning money to re-invest in culture. And so I am always strongly against the taxing of cultural institutions. Culture is not production! It cannot be equated with those who produce to make a profit. Cultural organizations need finance in order to advance, to develop, to aspire to the necessary technical equipment, to involve even more people in efforts to expand their horizons, thereby raising a new cultural generation of citizens for the future of our country.
On visits abroad, I note a different approach to the taxation of museums and galleries. Yes, there is no such body as the Ministry of Culture, and there are many private museums and galleries. But even small museums can have cafes, restaurants, shops, and even small industries under their roofs. In our country, even the smallest such initiative places the museum in the ranks of business. I sincerely hope that an awareness of the importance of culture in the life of any society will emerge. And this awareness, I note, is also part of culture, about which I often speak at different levels.
- Liana Leonidovna, don't you sometimes feel like Don Quixote in his fight with windmills?
- I think that it is imperative to talk about this. We need to explain our position on the importance of this issue to those on whom so much depends. If we do not set out the essentials, then there will be no conversation. It is very unpleasant for me to recognise the basis on which culture is financed. This has been the case since the Soviet era. I am sure that such a regressive approach is unacceptable today! And then they wonder why our citizens are so uncultured. I remember the times when trade unions allocated huge funds, with which I, as head of the Medical Workers’ House of Culture, could organize a huge number of groups, clubs of different interests and events - completely free of charge, you know. I'm not even talking about sponsored school #6, almost all of whose students knew the way to our House of Culture very well. They came to the Medical Workers’ House five times a week. Can we afford such a luxury today?
- Is there any way forward?
- There is always a way. But the point is that you have to work, work and work!