Alumna Anna Trapkova shares her impressions on Strelka's educational process and talks about a plan to create innovative cultural centers, as well as her work at the Ministry of Culture.
— How did you hear about Strelka and why did you choose to matriculate?
— It was the institute's inaugural year, and because I knew some of the people who had launched Strelka, I believed that it would be a fantastic project. Also, at that time I wanted to restart my life. I had been working hard since I was 18 years old, and I realized that I had to either take a break and do nothing for a year or go back to school. Consequently, on Varvara Melnikova's recommendation, I applied to Strelka.
Later it emerged that my application had been the subject of heated debates, because 80 percent students in Strelka's first graduating class were architects. I had been a student at the literary institute, and later I studied cultural theory and history at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU). After that, I was accepted to two separate graduate programs — at the Higher School of Economics and RGGU — but dropped out after six months because I was tired of being detached from real life. In the end, I was accepted to Strelka, something neither I nor my instructors have regretted. To this day, we continue to be friends and colleagues.
— Tell us about Strelka's educational process. What were your expectations going in, and what impressions did you leave Strelka with?
— As I said, it was Strelka's very first year. We expected chaos, seeing as the institute was a start-up, both students and staff had a feeling that this was a work-in-progress. We found ourselves in this completely libertarian reality in which the success or failure of your work depended entirely on you. By the second year, everything was more systematized, I think because students became more demanding towards Strelka as an academic institute. Now, in its third year, Strelka looks like a normal school with set rules and an established style. But I don't envy current students. It was an amazing feeling to be a pioneer.
— Strelka students study in separate studios. Which studio did you study in?
— I was in the Public Spaces studio under Yury Grigoryan and Michael Schindhelm. I studied the economics of public spaces in Moscow, in other words, the value of parks. It was 2011, and everybody was talking about parks. Sergei Kapkov had just been put in charge of Moscow city's culture department, and discussions ongoing about how to revamp Gorky Park. We caught the trend, and our research broke down many ideas and turned others upside down.
In the end, Grigoryan's student gave a big presentation at the Public Chamber for Vice Mayor Andrei Sharonov, and I wrote a series of articles for the newspaper Moskovskie Novosti, with which we also organized a round table about parks. It turned into an entire special project.
— Tell us about your professional career. How did you end up working in the Ministry of Culture?
— While I was a student, I worked at the Center for the Study of the Informal Economy, and we wrote the first monograph about Russia's shadow economy called “Shadow Russia” — a gigantic, massive tome with extensive interviews. After that, I spent four years at Yevgeny Yasin's Liberal Mission Foundation, where I worked on conferences and publishing projects.
Before I arrived at Strelka, I worked for the consulting firm IRP Group, doing conferences, communications, forums and exhibitions. One of my projects was the Moscow Urban Forum, which we created a long time ago with Bulat Stolyarov. We held the first forum in 2011 and launched the journal Urban Agenda, of which I was editor-in-chief, but the forum ultimately marked the end of my tenure as an event planner. But I understand that I had to move forward and find ways to apply my skills to different areas. A short while later, I was offered a job at the Ministry of Culture, and because I'm a cultural specialist by training and had a lot of experience working with government officials from my work at IRP Group, I decided to give it a shot.
—Which projects are you working on right now?
— My main project involves innovative cultural centers, so-called “Houses of New Culture,” or DNK. It's a pilot project to create three contemporary art centers in the provincial cities of Kaluga, Petrouralsk, and Vladivostok. The DNKs will host contemporary art exhibitions. The ideology of these centers has its roots in contemporary art and technology. Everything related to science art, new technology in art, and various interdisciplinary transformations in contemporary art falls under the purview of the project. The DNKs will be places to spend time as well as workplaces for creative people. Take the city of Petrouralsk — there's absolutely nothing resembling a DNK there right now. They have a 12,000-square-meter House of Culture that follows a traditional program of folk singing and dancing, as well as a dusty, old library. These centers will spread contemporary culture and create new, higher-quality environments for creative people.
— Which challenges have you had to overcome while working on this project and, in general, for the government?
— The challenges are ordinary and could arise in any project: something wasn't done, a decision wasn't made, a deadline was broken, etc. It's good when everybody shares the ideology of the project and there aren't any contradictions. Working in the government requires that you know many laws and regulations. You have to be well-versed in everything and able to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. Government officials are more limited in what they can do than people who work in private companies. They also undoubtedly have more responsibility. Also, the scale of state-backed cultural institutions is simply awe-inspiring.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the efficiency of cultural institutions and people have tried to compare private institutions, which are effective by default, to state institutions, which are ineffective. It seems to me that there's an optical illusion at work here, because these two things are incomparable. Yes, it's true, Strelka and Garazh create unique and high-quality cultural products, but the size of their audience is minuscule compared to that of the Kremlin Museum or the Tretyakov Gallery, which enjoy gigantic store-rooms, huge scientific and exhibition potential, millions of visitors annually and … a certain clumsiness and conservatism. We need to learn to establish dialogs between the old and the new, state and private, academic and public. There's a lot of interesting and important work to be done.