By Aleksey Gibson and Jane Siena Talley

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As the city of St. Petersburg prepares for its 300th birthday in 2003, the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation is assuming an increasingly vital role as the only noncommercial organization devoted exclusively to cultural heritage preservation in this World Heritage City and former capital of Russia.

The Center for Preservation has grown from a modest partnership of three founding organizations—the Russian Academy of Sciences, the city of St. Petersburg, and the Getty Conservation Institute—into an independent organization backed by a strong coalition of over 30 cultural institutions in St. Petersburg and a range of museums and libraries in the United States and Europe. The Center's mission is to encourage and facilitate modern conservation strategies, such as preventive care of collections, through professional programs in education and training, information services, collaborative scientific research, and heritage advocacy. At first temporarily headquartered in the Lavalle Palace, the Center moved into its permanent home in the historic Trubetskoy-Naryshkin Mansion on Tchaikovsky Street in June 1999. It is scheduled to open its new Nicolaas Witsen Information Facility by the end of 2000.

Since last reported in this publication (see Conservation, vol. 13, no. 1), the Center has reached a number of significant milestones in its establishment as a permanent center for the preservation of the cultural heritage of St. Petersburg and the surrounding region.

Programs and Resources

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Conceived in the aftermath of the disastrous 1988 fire at the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Center seeks to implement programs that address the enormous conservation needs of cultural institutions in St. Petersburg. Ranging from well-known museums and palace complexes, such as the State Hermitage Museum, the State Russian Museum, and the summer palaces of Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk, to other kinds of institutions, including the National Library, the Academy of Sciences, the Oriental Institute, and the Mariinsky Theater, these repositories share similar concerns. Among these concerns are security matters (ranging from crowd control to theft and terrorism); disaster preparedness; pollution and environmental degradation; fire and flooding; and collections management and staff training.

To provide Russian curators and conservation professionals access to the wealth of knowledge available worldwide in the field of conservation, the Center organizes seminars, symposia, workshops, and consultancies. These activities not only serve a didactic purpose but also create a forum in which conservation professionals can learn from one another in a collegial environment.

During the 1999 - 2000 academic year, the Center hosted a number of seminars and workshops in response to the requests of its constituents in St. Petersburg. These included an April 2000 seminar entitled "Preventive Conservation: Improved Exhibition Procedures," led by experts from the State Russian Museum, the State Hermitage Museum, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The seminar addressed exhibition planning from the viewpoints of aesthetics, conservation, and protection of works of art. Two months later, conservators from the National Trust in the United Kingdom, in partnership with staff of Pavlovsk Palace Museum, led a seminar entitled "Good Housekeeping in Historic Collections," sharing their considerable expertise in the cleaning of historic objects and interiors with colleagues from the various palace museums and collections in and around St. Petersburg.

As part of its ongoing series on security, the Center also sponsored, in collaboration with the Russian State Security Bureau (FSB), "Security Seminar III" in June 1999, led by security experts from the Getty Trust, the Hermitage, and IBM. This seminar was devoted to crisis management, disaster preparedness, the Y2K problem, and cultural terrorism. Following the seminar, the FSB, in response to the recent wave of bombings in Russia, approached the Center with a request to hold a seminar on heritage terrorism. This seminar focused on the potential threat to cultural institutions. "Security Seminar IV," in October 2000, was devoted to the problems of crowd control, particularly at the highly popular summer palace of Peterhof.

Future programs in planning include seminars and internships devoted to textile conservation and historic costumes, musical instrument conservation, and, in collaboration with the Mariinsky Theater, the restoration of rare 18th-century musical scores by Italian composers at the Russian imperial court. Also in the planning stage is a collaborative project with the Hermitage on saving outdoor sculpture.

A major new resource at the Center will be the Nicolaas Witsen Information Facility. In 1997 the government of the Netherlands, through the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decided to establish the Witsen Information Facility at the Center in honor of the 17th-century Dutch scholar and mayor of Amsterdam who fostered early Dutch-Russian relations. This generous contribution has funded several new initiatives in information services to assist the Center's client institutions. These include: (1) the first and exclusive office in Russia of the Art Loss Register; (2) a specialized preservation library of foreign and Russian reference sources; (3) an electronic communications system linking the Center and its constituent organizations to other international databases and libraries; and (4) a desktop publishing unit.

The Witsen Information Facility is scheduled to open at the Center before the end of 2000. The Center will also launch its Web site (www.artsave.ru). The Web site and information facility will not only allow the work of the Center to be followed around the world but will also provide its Russian users with the kind of international access to information and colleagues that can enhance their own conservation efforts.

Grants, Research, and Advocacy

One of the Center's objectives is to offer Russian professionals increased opportunities for professional exchange and study. In that context, the Center has provided Russian conservators, curators, and conservation scientists with the opportunity to travel to the West. During 1999 - 2000, under the Center's auspices, the Royal Library in The Hague, the Centre des recherches sur la conservation des documents graphiques in Paris, and the GCI hosted professionals from St. Petersburg who engaged in research and study. In the summer and fall of 2000, the Center also gave travel grants to St. Petersburg professionals, including one to present a paper at an Oxford University symposium and another to study historic fountain design and maintenance in Spain and Italy.

In tandem with its educational and scientific programs, the Center sees itself as an advocate for heritage preservation throughout St. Petersburg. In order to raise awareness of the conservation needs of the city and its region, the Center seeks to build partnerships with Russian government bodies and other like-minded organizations, such as Save Venice. The Center also promotes preservation through publications, public lectures, videos, and exhibitions. For example, the Center assisted the Russian State Museum in publishing the proceedings of the museum's April 2000 seminar "The Problems of Storage and Restoration of Art Museum Collections." The publication features over 20 papers on a range of conservation and preventive conservation topics.

Center staff is working closely with Vladimir A. Yakovlev, governor of St. Petersburg, and other city authorities to ensure that the 2003 celebration attracts international attention to St. Petersburg's conservation needs. Support for the Center and its mission has also come from the national government. Mikhail Shvydkoy—who was appointed minister of culture of the Russian Federation this spring—joined the Center's board of directors in September 2000 and has issued a protocol of understanding from the Russian Ministry of Culture that strengthens the Center's work in the region.

Also joining the Center's board of directors is Mikhail Piotrovski, director of the State Hermitage Museum. In a press release issued jointly by the Center and the Hermitage in September 2000, he announced that the Center "has come through its initial phase of development by showing that it can organize exactly the types of collaboration in conservation that are most needed here. . . . Now we will take a leading role in the St. Petersburg International Center to support our city's conservation needs."

Thanks to the generosity of the St. Petersburg municipal government, the Center has been able to take possession of the historic Trubetskoy-Naryshkin Mansion with the understanding that the Center will restore and maintain this property. In keeping with its mission, the Center sees the renovation of its own home as a model for the restoration of other historic properties throughout the city and is in the process of developing a fund-raising campaign to meet this goal.

Aleksey Gibson is a research assistant with the GCI. Jane Siena Talley is a GCI senior project specialist and president of the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation.

Advisory Council of the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation

Dr. Mikhail Shvydkoy, Minister of Culture, Russian Federation
Dr. Mikhail B. Piotrovski, Director, State Hermitage Museum
Dr. Vladimir A. Gusev, Director, State Russian Museum
Dr. Vadim V. Znamenov, Director, State Peterhof Museum
Dr. Valerii P. Leonov, Director, Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Dr. Vladimir N. Zaitsev, Director, Russian National Library
Dr. Alexander D. Margolis, Director, International Foundation for the Salvation of St. Petersburg
Dr. Rudi Ekkart, Director, The Netherlands Institute for Art History
Dr. M. Kirby Talley Jr., Executive Counselor for International Cultural Heritage Policy, Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science Founding Director, St. Petersburg International Center in St. Petersburg

 

Leaders of Recent Seminars and Workshops

Gordon Anson, Chief of Production, Design Department, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Oleg Boev, Head of Security, State Hermitage Museum
Marilyn Dunn, Conservator, Cornwall Regional Office, National Trust, U.K.
Wilbur Faulk, Senior Project Manager, Getty Conservation Institute
Ivan Karlov, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, State Russian Museum
Catherine MacCarthy, Conservator, Severn Regional Office, National Trust, U.K.
Viktor Pavlov, Head of Design, Design Department, State Hermitage Museum
Caroline Rendell, Conservator, Northumbria Regional Office, National Trust, U.K.
Mervin Richard, Deputy Chief of Conservation, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Nikolai Tretiakov, Director, Pavlovsk Palace Museum
Brent Woodworth, Manager, Global IBM Crisis Response Team