Cold War/Hot Culture
International Festival of Russian Art and Culture

Festval Report

January 24, 2001

The International Festival of Russian Art and Culture is now history. It is time to take stock, give thanks, and look into the future.

The Festival took place in Las Vegas on November 19-21, 2000. Three years of preparations paid off handsomely when some 50 poets, musicians, visual artists, art critics, and literary scholars came together to celebrate the passing of the Cold War and to reflect on the place of art in society. The featured events included discussion panels, poetry readings, music performances, a film screening, and a day trip to the Grand Canyon. Judged from the published reviews, radio programs, interviews, and numerous letters from the participants, the Las Vegas festivities proved to be an experience the likes of which this city has never seen.

We had our share of adversities that threatened the project early on. The visual art show in particular seemed in danger. Thanks to the curator's ingenuity, the artists' generosity, and the art director's dedication, however, the festival has exceeded expectations. Our exhibition "America and Russian Nonconformist Art" turned out to be a hit – it made the top ten list of the best art shows gracing Las Vegas in the year 2000. The show received high marks from the curators attending the festival and local art critics. The exhibition will remain on display at the UNLV Barrick Museum through March 16, 2000.

Enclosed you will find several reviews that appeared in the Las Vegas press during the last few weeks. You may question certain judgments expressed in these reviews; there are a couple of obvious misstatments and misquotations, but the tone is respectful and the overall treatment is very sympathetic. I also send you a few notes concerning the festival that came my away, an interview with a festival participant published on the Internet, and an example of personal statement on American experience that we plan to publish later on. More reviews and reminiscences will be coming out later, but every indication we have so far suggests that this was a rare event. Konstantin Kustanovich has captured the festival spirit this way: AIt was really an extraordinary event. To see this dialogue between art and scholarship, to observe people who have already become a part of Russian cultural mythology was a rare aesthetic and intellectual treat. The proceedings of a scholarly conference can easily be published, but this performance was unique and it can survive only in the memory of those present.

While only those who took part in the live events could do full justice to the festival spirit, I want to preserve some of it for posterity. To that effect, I have been assembling the audio-visual archives. I hope one day to bring out an art catalogue with the art samples, festival photos, excerpts from the panel discussions, and personal statements from the participants. There is no money for that at the moment, some engenuous fundraising efforts would be needed to pull this project through. Clearly, this is a long-term proposition.

More realistic is the prospect for creating a master tape with the festival video footage, the video tour of the exhibition, and Oksana Bulgakova's movie that we screened in Las Vegas. Two Southern Nevada TV stations are committed to showing the film, and I am making inquiries about the possibility of broadcasting it nationally. The UNLV film lab has agreed to rent us its facilities to produce such a tape. Oksana Bulgakova and Dietmar Hochmuth may come to Vegas as early as mid-February to help produce the master tape and finish work on the movie "America Made in Russia: Images of America in Russian Cinema." If you wish to have your video or photo materials included in the master tape, please send them to me as soon as possible.

The Russian art festival has also generated a plethora of audio materials. To my regret, I did not make arrangements for a professional quality recording of the artistic performances. The tape recorder used was meant to capture the panel discussions rather than live music events and poetry recitals. Once I have heard the tapes, however, I realized that they have considerable value, both as historical documents and artistic statements.

Enclosed you will find the first in a series of CDs honoring artists who dazzled us at the Russian art festival. This is the live concert that Yuri Shevchuk gave on November 19, 2000. The recording is far from perfect; there are occasional glitches; the track #18, you will discover, has gotten hopelessly entangled with another track. And yet, this is one of the most powerful performances I have heard this artist give. Unfiltered, unaided by technology, Yuri's voice cuts to the emotional bone the way only a real time event can do. The recording also contains a unique narrative, the story of the Russian rock music, that many will find enlightening. I hope you enjoy this CD and its attractive cover designed by Vladimir Paperny.

Next on my agenda is a CD featuring the concert by Vladimir Tarasov and Dmitri Prigov, followed by another CD, or a CD set, with poetry recitals by Kushner, Rubinstein, Kibirov, and Prigov. I do not know when all these projects will bear fruit. The festival funds have been exhausted a while ago, and the future progress depends on extra fundraising efforts. If you wish to help us pay for additional CDs, the video master tape and art catalogue, you can make a small donation to the festival fund by writing a check to AUNLV Board of Regents, marking it down "Russian art festival," and mailing it to Department of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5033, attention Veona Hunsinger.

The Russian art festival may well be one of a kind event that abides no sequel. The logistics of putting it together have been formidable, the circumstances that made it possible unique, the wealth of experience it has generated should last a lifetime. And yet, one can readily envision a series of art related events under the now familiar Cold War/Hot Culture heading that will bring together Russian artists working in different media, let them reflect on the bygone era and the present art scene, display their virtuosity and record their artistic ware. Las Vegas may be a surprisingly fitting venue for such exercises: the hotel rates are relatively low, food is cheap, the recording studio time is a fraction of what it costs elsewhere, and the sheer splendor of LV gaudy palaces is an attraction in and of itself. Why else would the Guggenheim Museum and St. Petersburg Hermitage build a permanent gallery here in collaboration with the Venetian Resort and Casino? I do not know if I can rise up to the occasion if another opportunity to stage a Russian festival comes along, but this is food for thought.

Meanwhile, I wish to thank the festival sponsors who made this event possible – the Trust for Mutual Understanding, Nevada Humanities Committee, Nevada Arts Council, UNLV College of Liberal Arts, and Marjorie Barrick Museum. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Vladimir Paperny, the festival art director; Katya Dyogot, the exhibition curator; and Fred Starr, chair of the Advisory Board. Their hard work and enthusiasm were invaluable in carrying this monster project to term. I am grateful to all the artists, art critics, and scholars who joined forces with us in this undertaking. Thanks are also due to those of you who used personal resources to come to Las Vegas and show support for Russian art. I hope to see all of you again some day.