An Alliance between TSU and the Pushkin State Museum: Possible Ways of Collaboration (Part I)

Tomsk State University values its relations with Russian and international collaborates from diverse spheres of activity. This year, our partnership has been enlarged to include thePushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. The Pushkin Museum is, in a sense, a unique organization among museums. At one time, it was established on the initiative of Moscow University to develop and disseminate scientific knowledge about the world's fine art and its history not only among students at the university but also among wide circles of Russian society. In other words, the Museum set itself both scientific education, and cultural education goals from its inception. Its special committee included members of the management of Moscow University, professors of its History and Philology Faculty, representatives of the highest authorities of the Russian Empire, and patrons who donated money to the Museum and provided it with their personal art and scientific collections. Thanks to the efforts of the committee and especially Ivan Tsvetaev (father of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva), professor of the Department of Theory and History of Arts, as well as people who sympathized with his ideas, the Museum was opened and named after Emperor Alexander III. This is how the glorious history of the first art and educational public museum in Moscow began. Later on, it was renamed after the prominent Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. 


Those who know the history of Tomsk State University can immediately follow several similar details: The First Siberian Tomsk Imperial University was also established not only for scientific and educational but also for cultural and educational purposes (promotion of Russian culture to Siberia and the enlightenment of its peoples). It was founded thanks to the activities of a special committee, which included representatives of the central and local authorities, professors, public figures, and patrons, whose personal collections of books and various valuable historical artifacts laid the foundation for the Scientific Library and the university museums. There are also names of particular people in the history of the University, whose efforts became a starting point of the first university in Siberia. Our University was also named after Emperor Alexander III and changed its name later. Finally, TSU celebrates its birthday at the end of May, so does the Pushkin Museum. The latter coincidence was the reason for our joint celebration this year in Tomsk.

The rest of the similarities between the “biographies” and strategic goals of our two remarkable institutions have become the reason to sign a cooperation agreement, as well as to consider launching joint projects in the future. The first joint project was the forum Versions of the Future: A Dialogue of Artists and Scientists, at which representatives of the scientific and creative communities spoke about the possibilities of combining the two spheres (science and art) in solving global problems.

The delegation of the Pushkin Museum was headed by its director Marina Devovna Loshak, a famous Russian curator, gallery owner, art critic, art manager, and collector. We had a conversation and I would like to share it with the readers of my blog. The meeting was also attended by Ilya Doronchenkov and Ekaterina Kochetkova, two deputy directors of the Pushkin Museum. The purpose of this conversation was to discuss possible options for the partnership that has already begun, and an attempt to present a certain model of cooperation between the University and the Museum in the future.


Eduard Galazhinsky:

- What interest does your museum have in partnering with universities today? 

Marina Loshak:

- For us, the connection with science has always been important, since a museum is a scientific institution as well. This has developed historically, and a modern museum cannot do without it especially such a universal museum as ours, which maintains a lot of different directions and different collections. 


- How is such a model of relations usually built between a museum and universities? 


- Usually, such a model is built through the organization of touring exhibitions at universities, when possible. This is a good option, but it makes the link between a museum and universities extremely weak. People come to such exhibitions simply as consumers of art, they get acquainted with the works, and ... this is where it all ends. In our case, we dream of some completely different format of work with a university, of a new - hybrid - product that would combine the knowledge of a university and the knowledge of the Museum, the experience of a university, and the experience of the Museum. These types of knowledge and experience are quite similar in many ways but instrumentally different.


- As it turned out, in our case, even the histories of our organizations are very similar. 


- Yes, and I would like to think that this is not a coincidence. We see our presence in Tomsk precisely through the collaboration of scientists with other scientists; scientists with artists; art with science; collections with collections. We would like to connect scientists, scientific positions, and together design projects to explore common subject areas. This is some sort of a cross-cultural intersection, sometimes direct and sometimes indirect. Today, during our, unfortunately, very quick trip around TSU, we saw the science museums at different faculties. And we realized that we have one more fantastic point of collaboration through the introduction of relevant works of art into the historical body of museums.

Together we can dream of such a laboratory that would appear at Tomsk State University, where an artist can contact a certain department or a researcher, become a participant in a startup project, and as a result, carry out a very serious art project based on scientific knowledge. There can be many such projects, and they can be associated with certain scientific discoveries or the study of human life. All this can become a subject of research for the artist, turning into a completely new exhibition, transported to Moscow and any museum in the world. Thus, we are pursuing several tasks, including making the University more visible in the world. And this is also very important. 


E.G .: 

- Yes, it is! For us, this will be a very interesting and new way to promote the image of TSU and the Big University in general. We will be very grateful to you for your help in this matter. In fact, you and I have swung at a new model of interaction between a university and a museum. And the first thing to remember in this case is the environment, the general socio-cultural context. The main mission of TSU is built around the following philosophy: Imperial Tomsk University was originally conceived not only as a center of science and education but also as a center of culture in Siberia. Most of its first professors were somehow affiliated with art and creativity. For example, Nikolai Gesekhus, the first rector of our University, played the violin, and his wife organized the first musical society in Tomsk. Influence on local communities is the generic essence of the University, therefore, we immediately prescribed this “third role” in our development program in 2013. 

M.L .:

- In contemporary art and in the modern world, this is a common practice. Art has its own language and it uses this language to tell of science and the world, offering its own interpretations. For people from science and education, art to some extent opens their eyes to see another side of the world. The Higher School of Economics (HSE), for example, has hosted the international Telling Stories Festival since 2018. It brings together all sorts of well-known professionals to discuss the topic of today. This year, Yaroslav Kuzminov, ex-rector of HSE, Alexander Etkind, writer, historian, and professor at the European University in Florence, and I were invited to speak at one of the sessions. The last question from the moderator concerned the tools that each of us could recommend to today's students and the principles that should be taken as the most important ones when thinking about the future. Yaroslav Kuzminov said an obvious, but very important thing: it is necessary to expand the number of languages ​​spoken by a person. It was not meant to refer to foreign languages, but the languages ​​of knowledge used in the field of art, the field of literature, or the field of natural sciences, which turns an individual into a modern person. Our cooperation is a tool to create a new language that would change the paradigm of understanding. It is important for you and for us because we are also entering the field of another language and are trying to use this language and understand it better. The modern world is multilingual, and this is, one might say, a philosophical moment in the synthesis of institutions such as a museum and a university.


E.G .:

- In this logic, our project with you is a kind of synergy of world outlook and efforts to really look beyond the horizon. Art through metaphor and intuition grasps essential laws faster than science.

 M.L .:

- A great artist, among other things, is also a special being that feels some things very sharply and early because this person is more subtly arranged. The artist gives "signals" that often do not correspond to the understanding of the people around, which gives them a feeling of resentment. But one shouldn't be offended, one should listen.

 E.G .:

- Especially when we discuss such issues as post-humanity, the transformation of human nature, changes in the social structure of society, new edges of reality...

 M.L .:

- Today we are driving the first peg into the foundation of our joint history, and therefore it is important for us to determine the possible paradigms of collaboration. Despite the fact that there is segmented scientific knowledge and art "in itself", there are approaches that allow them to overlap and obtain results that are valuable for both sides and for the whole society. We can redesign existing educational programs together, or we can create new ones. In any case, it is always a question of connecting your people, who perform at TSU, and ours. And not only museum employees. However, I would like to hear how you see the research and educational alliance?


E.G .:

- It seems to me that there are at least three areas of our possible collaboration with you, three potential scenarios. The first is to increase the general cultural level of our students, despite the fact that TSU, as a classical university, has always paid great attention to this issue. We have a choir chapel, there are various museums that all freshmen must pass through. By the way, they are all open to the residents. We try to keep this line, and according to employers, our graduates are usually distinguished by their higher cultural level, which is reflected in their personal attitudes. Therefore, we not only support the TSU Institute of Art and Culture in various forms — a jazz orchestra, creative studios, the organization of concerts, competitions and festivals, — but also try to increase all that, despite the difficulties and even misunderstanding on the part of some stakeholders. At the same time, we must admit that in recent years we have encountered some problems. Creative structures began to close on themselves and their aficionados, went towards narrow professionalization, losing connection with the people. Now our task is to return them to, and to enrich them with more massive forms of creativity so that thousands of students are somehow involved in their activities. 

M.L .:

- Students should be participants in all this in the first place, otherwise what is the purpose of all this? 


E.G .:

- Exactly! I even have an idea to open the halls of our Culture Center and other buildings so that students could come there and express their creativity at lunch breaks. The development of individual and collective creativity and a high level of culture is the basic thing in the further development of the University.

The second possible topic of our cooperation is what you talked about earlier. It is teaching students a second language, developing the complexity of their thinking and the depth of their personal reflection. But this is for those who are really ready to enter this high level. This kind of mass activity should also be quite extensive, but this is a more exquisite story. For example, we are planning to reboot our humanities component: to create a scientific and educational program named New High Hume. TSU has strong philosophers, philologists, good scientific schools with history and traditions. Now we are trying to introduce them to the modern issues of the informational nature of man and society, and they are beginning to be actively involved in this work. For example, it is possible to make a small digital program related to mastering a new language of understanding the world, nourishing it with certain skills in calligraphy, drawing, sculpting, and playing music, because this is also related to personal growth.

At the same time, we are not talking about entering a narrow professional sphere, but about creating a tool for developing the breadth of outlook and competencies of students, which allows them to quickly adapt to the new conditions of their future working life. When we discussed the target model of our graduate a few years back, we considered the concept by Oleg Genisaretsky. He coined the term “transfession”, not “profession”, implying training for activities in a wide professional field. Moreover, according to the historical tradition, a classical university has never trained narrow profile specialists. If, for example, a biologist graduates from such a university, he or she can work as an ecologist, a biotechnologist, a teacher of biology, and so on. Transfessionalism is by no means amateurism, it is the ability to expand professional boundaries, to change oneself along with a changing profession, which cannot be done without developed complex thinking. And it, as you know, is really formed only in a creative environment. 


Another important level of the model of our collaboration is the involvement of young people in cultural education and practical creativity in the context of the Big University. If we proceed from the fact that there are about 60 thousand students in Tomsk right now, and with the construction of a new campus on the left bank of the Tom this number may increase to 80 thousand, and then to 100 thousand, then today we should think about creating an interesting and rich cultural and educational environment and new systemic tools that draw all students into this great story. This is, in fact, a fundamentally new project for the government, combining the educational programs of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education that promise a synergistic effect. For example, now, we are negotiating with the Novosibirsk Conservatory in order to build relationships, since we have our own Conductor and Choir Department. 

(To be continued)