- The Moscow Department of Culture manages over 500 cultural institutions including 90 theatres.
- Decentralisation and modernisation are the cornerstone of cultural policy.
- A number of private cultural institutions have recently been founded in the city.
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 2,511 sq. km
Total population: 12,108,275
Total national population living in the city: 8.29 %
Education level – with degree level or higher: 43 %
GDP (PPP) million: US$ 382,700
Moscow’s cultural inheritance flows from more than a thousand years of history. Starting as a trading post on the Moskva River, it became the capital of the Russian Empire, surviving famine, plague, fire and siege. Architecturally it was shaped by Russian Orthodoxy, developing a skyline of distinctive onion-domed churches. In 1712 Moscow was forced to cede its status as capital city to the new city of St Petersburg, symbolic of Russia’s westernising cultural aspirations.
After the Russian Revolution, Moscow once again became the national capital. Under centralised Soviet control, culture became both a state benefit provided to citizens and a key source of prestige for the regime. It was under Soviet rule that the Bolshoi Ballet became internationally renowned. Even the Moscow Metro, still a wonder of city infrastructure, was built to embody Stalinist ideals through its architecture. Yet Soviet rule also forced many expressions of culture underground.
Although Moscow’s cultural life has undergone rapid change since the fall of the Soviet Union, much of the institutional structure of that era remains. The great majority of Moscow’s cultural bodies are still under direct state control. Many of the largest – such as the Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin Museum, the Historical Museum, and the Grand Theatre – are federally managed by the Ministry of Culture of Russia. Meanwhile the Moscow Department of Culture manages over 500 institutions at over 1000 sites across the city, including libraries, museums, amusement parks, recreation centers, exhibition halls, art schools, concert halls, and cinemas. This extraordinary network – including over 90 state-owned theatres – is one of Moscow’s main cultural assets. It also presents one of its major challenges.
Having been shaped by a tradition of state investment in culture aimed at developing national and international prestige, Moscow is now adapting to a world where grassroots diversity and the contributions of the creative classes are considered equally important in driving cultural life.
Since 2011 the city has taken a new approach to cultural policy, focusing on decentralisation and modernisation. After 1991, state-owned cultural institutions suffered from deep funding cuts. Now there is an emphasis on updating museums and galleries in order to meet the needs of Moscow residents, with pilot institutions experimenting with new facades, interiors, opening hours, content and programming.
The Department of Culture has pursued new approaches to funding and management of culture. In 2014 it experimented with a grants programme which was, unusually, open to non-state-owned institutions, although this is currently on hold. It is developing new key performance indicators for public cultural institutions, while providing institutions with greater autonomy in meeting these targets. It is also using public-private partnerships to restore and preserve cultural heritage.
Recently a number of innovative private institutions have also been founded, adding to the city’s cultural vibrancy. These include the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (based around the collections of Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich), the Artplay Centre for Design (a 75,000 square metre creative cluster housing architecture and design firms, exhibitions, galleries, shops and restaurants), and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, which aims to send an international message of increasing tolerance, targeted particularly at Jewish emigrants from Russia.
Architecturally, Moscow has undergone multiple reinventions. Its built heritage remains under threat: in the city centre, in particular, many buildings have been demolished to make way for new apartments and hotels. The city government is now trying to monitor and limit such development, while Archnadzor, a pressure group, records the state of the built environment and publicises threats to it.
An impressive 54% of the city remains public green space. There has been an ambitious and successful programme to redevelop sites such as Gorky Park and the Muzeon Park of Arts (a large outdoor sculpture museum), with the city also aiming to “promote the gradual exploration of… urban spaces by its residents” through pedestrianisation and the creation of new events and festivals.
Under Soviet rule, population pressure led to the creation of extensive planned suburbs dominated by monumental tower blocks, often with a more limited cultural offer. Previously most festivals were held in the city centre, meaning that 90% of the city population lacked local access to them. Now the city has ensured that holidays are celebrated in a more decentralised and inclusive way across Moscow.
Moscow possesses a richness of culture and heritage which would be the envy of many world cities. Its impressive network of public cultural institutions has been shaped by a tradition of strong state control and investment. Now, nearly 25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, its decentralisation and modernisation programme is ensuring that its cultural assets have meaning for a new generation of city residents.