City Culture to Get New Head
Published: October 26, 2011 (Issue # 1680)
As Anton Gubankov has resigned as the head of City Hall’s Culture Committee, rumors abound that his replacement will be prominent local businessman Vladimir Kekhman, the director of the Mikhailovsky Theater, who made his substantial fortune importing fruit.
No confirmation of any negotiations being held with Kekhman could be obtained from either City Hall or the Mikhailovsky Theater on Tuesday, yet the millionaire’s possible appointment to the job has been the talk of the city’s cultural community for the past few days.
For the moment, City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has appointed Gubankov’s deputy Anna Kucherova as acting head of the committee.
According to Poltavchenko, Gubankov, who has made no public comments on what he may do next, resigned of his own accord.
“The new governor is creating a new team; new people have joined the administration,” Gubankov said. “I am not the kind of person who would try to keep a job at any cost. Being able to work and be efficient at what I do has always been a priority. What I would most like to see is the ambitious cultural policy that was beginning to shape up go from strength to strength.”
In that respect, Gubankov may soon be disappointed. The city’s cultural circles were expecting his resignation. Poltavchenko’s list of priorities for the city’s development reportedly differs from those of St. Petersburg’s former governor Valentina Matviyenko, who encouraged costly outdoor festivities such as the Alye Parusa (“Scarlet Sails”) high school graduation festival. If the new governor does indeed have a different vision of spending on culture, it was natural to expect Gubankov’s departure to follow the resignation of deputy governor Alla Manilova, who masterminded these policies and with whom Gubankov worked closely.
On taking up the governor’s job on Sept. 1, Poltavchenko said he would make changes to the city government, but stressed that those changes would come gradually. Earlier this month, Poltavchenko accepted the resignation of Vera Dementyeva, who was chair of the city’s Committee for the Preservation and Protection of Historical Monuments. Dementyeva, who was facing fierce opposition from the local cultural community for her controversial policies that allowed a number of historic mansions to be destroyed, landed the plum job of director of the Pavlovsk Museum and Estate.
Many members of the local artistic and cultural community balk at the news of Kekhman’s possible arrival in the city government. While his supporters call him an efficient arts manager — under his leadership the Mikhailovsky Theater has been able to afford expensive renovation, Western coaches, star guest soloists and internationally established advisors — Kekhman’s critics accuse him of lack of vision, pointing to the frequent reshuffles at the theater’s management, including heads of opera and ballet divisions. For instance, the internationally acclaimed former Mariinsky Theater soloist Farukh Ruzimatov did not last as head of the company’s ballet division, and opera diva Yelena Obraztsova also failed to stay long as head of the theater’s opera department. Kekhman can offer generous salaries, but because he does not really have a clear idea of where his theater should go, he is easily manipulated by the various camps, hence the frequent staff reshuffles, analysts say. They predict it will be difficult for him to develop a sense of direction for an entire city, especially one as culturally diverse as St. Petersburg.
While jazz patriarch David Goloshchekin, head of the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic Hall, is convinced that giving the chair of the Culture Committee to someone without a strong background in the arts and solid understanding of culture would be a grave mistake, Vasily Kichedzhi, the city’s new deputy governor who oversees, in particular, cultural issues, said the issue has not yet been decided.
“I have a list of nearly 25 potential candidates for this position. They are very different people, and all of them have gained a reputation in the city either for their artistic achievements or impressive managerial skills,” Kichedzhi said.
“Before any decision is made, we will hold talks with the most respected members of the city’s artistic circles.”
Kekhman has become notorious with many local media outlets for his controversial policies toward critics who produce negative reviews about Mikhailovsky Theater productions. The authors of the most scathing reviews have been denied both press accreditation to further performances and access to soloists.