Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Russian museum administrators listen, learn

By Beth Barovian
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — They were not the typical tourists at Mother of God Church, despite the number of pictures they took.

        Nor did they view the frescoes and oil paintings that color the Catholic church's walls with the scrutinizing eye of art critics, although they have the professional background to appreciate the work.

  The Community Connections Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. It's organized locally by the International Visitors Council of Greater Cincinnati, which has placed more than 200 participants from Russia and Georgia in business internships.
  IVC was chosen to play host to the most recent group, the first of its kind nationally, because of the wealth of historical and cultural resources in the Cincinnati area.
        The interior of the church, which underwent a $1.5 million renovation after a 1985 fire, is meant to leave an impact on those who enter. But the awe evoked in 10 Russians who visited last week was not the result of the vibrant colors and intricate stained glass patterns.

        The awe came from the restoration process itself.

        When looking at the paintings, the Russians wondered how the church raised the money, how it gathered the manpower to complete the work and, most important, how they could replicate such a success at home.

        This visit was just one the group has made during a three-week Tristate tour that ends Wednesday. The visit is part of the Commu nity Connections Program, an initiative begun by the U.S. State Department to train people from the former Soviet Union in free- market management skills.

        The group of visiting preservationists and administrators for nonprofit museums came from Samara, an industrial region of 2 million people in southwest Russia. Since Russia's financial crisis in 1998, funding for monuments and museums has steadily decreased.

        Historically in Russia, preservation funding has come from the government, said Elena Nalyotova, director for the Historical-Cultural Heritage Museum in Togliatti. The current trend, however, is to rely more on private funds.

        “We don't wait for the government to tell us which projects to renovate; we decide that for ourselves,” said Igor Subbotin, the chair of the Samara regional division of the All Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments.

        The Mother of God Church restoration was funded by insurance from fire damage and donations, all of which were collected in under a year. Speed is important, because “the longer something is left to deteriorate, the more expensive the restoration process becomes,” said Doug Eisele, president of Old World Restorations Inc.

        That's exactly what's happening in Russia.

        Another problem that Russia faces is the shortage of volunteers in nonprofit organizations. The Mother of God Church's restoration was completed by Old World Restorations, although it's increasingly common for volunteers to assist in such projects.

        The need for volunteers in Russia has little to do with lack of enthusiasm. “An acquaintance of mine said that volunteerism is the highest mark of capitalism,” said Sergey Agapov, the executive director for Samara Regional Historical-Ecological-Cultural NGO Povolzhye. “As the living standards of common people grow, so will the concept of volunteering.”

        During their stay, the Russians spoke with professionals to learn the tactics that nonprofits must employ to be successful. They also studied how:

        • Organizations attract and retain sponsors.

        • Museums build relationships with the government and businesses.

        • Tourism can increase because of cultural and historical sites.

        • Boards of trustees provide management and structure for nonprofits.

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