An ex-military industrial city in the Urals has become a model of cultural development thanks to the policy undertaken by the local museum director. Art invades the streets and has reduced emigration. People don’t want to leave anymore.

The city of Perm, a military industry center located in the Urals, in the heart of Russia, is the example of a provincial town struggling to reinvent itself as a cultural center with international ambitions. The focus of this experiment is the city’s modern art museum (PERMM), implemented by gallerist Marat Gulelman.

The museum is housed in an old river station, situated on the banks of the river Kama. In the building is also hold a design center.

“PERMM is the hub of the transformation and modernization’s program of the city,” says Guelman. The museum has launched a public art program under which Perm is filled with sculptures and murals. Graffiti are covering the walls of construction sites as if the citizens have acquired a taste for painting. Perm is home of about 15 festivals, has a unique collection of wooden sculptures, and now has also a logo, the letter “P” in red, which is used for local promotion. Design of bus stops and a unified font for all texts and public signs are part of the project. “In Perm culture has become a development sector that drives the city,” says Guelman, according to which cultural projects are slowing the migration, because people are happier to live in the city. However, Perm, where unemployment is just over 2%, has not yet managed to reach one million inhabitants.

Guelman says that other Russian cities are asking him to do with them what he has done to Perm, namely, give them an identity to compete with other cities. Guelman has created a special organization called the Cultural Alliance, and has already visited the city of Tver, where in three days he has decided to create a cultural environment based on an old paper mill. Tver accounts for 30% of the Russian printing industry, so it can become a central issue throughout the country. The idea of a network that gives a distinctive profile to Russian cities is an “antiMcDonald’s concept, because each city will be different.” “The territory is a piece of dough that can be molded and the country is an organism, where each organ has a role. I help the cities to have their own face.”

Source : Pilar Bonet, “El experimento de Perm”, El País 12/02/2011 – read the complete article (in spanish)