Martis Davis, Irina Bliznets, Kathy Southern and Hugh Southern hear opening remarks at the Marble Palace.
Marty Davis's presentation:
 video     audio
  (play with Apple Quicktime if needed.)
Kathy Southern's presentation:
 part 1  video    audio
 part 2  video    audio
 part 3  video    audio
  (play with Apple Quicktime if needed.)
Dr. Smith's narrative (pdf) on
Disability in British Art Institutions.
Fund Consultant
Days in Country
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Days do not reflect
preparation time
  RUSSIA     2011

Consultants: Ralph Appelbaum • James C. Armstrong • James Bradburne • Michael Brewer • Stephen Brown • Teresia Bush • Kathleen Charla • Barbara Charles • Patricia Ciraulo • Martis Davis • David Donath • Jacqueline Duke • Deborah Edward • Paul Elicker • James Finke • Barbara Franco • Karen Franklin • Anton Ginzberg • Jessica Glass • Wayne Harvey • Honee Hess • Johnathan Hess • Bob Jones • Jerold Kappel • Lyndel King • Jay Levenson • Sandra Lorimer • Jack McAuliffe • Christine Miles • Ann Mintz • Ward Mintz • Pamela Myers • Susan Nichols • Gary Oslund • Jack Pascarosa • Drake Patten • Jillian Poole • Jane Safer • Patrick Sears • Mark Shoemaker • Charles Saumarez Smith • Hugh Southern • Kathy Dwyer Southern • Julian Spalding • Bob Staples • Mary Delle Stelzer • Cathy Sterling • Martin Sullivan • Sonnet Takahisa • Sonnet Takahisa • Larry Tamburri • Allen Townsend • Robert Workman • Carole Wysocki • Sally Yerkovich • David Young • Deborah Ziska • Rena Zurofsky

St. Petersburg, Russia

April 11–15, 2011

Consultants: Kathy Southern, Marty Davis, Charles Saumarez Smith and Mark Shoemaker

The Fund for Arts and Culture assisted The State Russian Museums in St. Petersburg in organizing a conference on “Disabilities/Access” from April 11-15, 2011. The dates of the conference were arranged to coincide with the annual meeting of the directors from provincial museums throughout the Russian Federation, which takes place each spring under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the State Russian Museum. The Astoria Hotel was a sponsor of the event, and the Astoria housed all consultants representing The Fund.

The needs of the disabled have been given visibility in Russia lately through the interest of Prime Minister Putin, most recently in a speech to the Government Presidium on March 17 in which he declared “A comfortable environment for people with disabilities is our absolute priority.” It remains to be seen whether this translates into financial support; however it is currently a matter of great interest to the museum community throughout Russia.

On Monday, April 11th, the conference began in a splendid room in The Marble Palace, with some 60 people in attendance. These included Vladimir Gusev, Director of The State Russian Museum; Natalia Kuleshova, Deputy Director; Pavel Soltan, Deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, and Member of the coordinating council for disabled people for the Governor of St. Petersburg; Yelena Fyodorova, Head of the Department of Culture of the Central District of St. Petersburg; and Sheila Gwaltney, Consul General of the USA in St. Petersburg. The day was spent greeting guests, hearing presentations from vendors of elevators, assisted listening devices and other equipment facilitating access for the disabled. There was also discussion of a number of issues introduced by the directors attending the meeting.

The conference proper began on Tuesday, April 12th in the Lecture Hall at the Mikhailovsky Castle. The original schedule called for Kathy Southern, CEO of the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., to lead off the meeting with a presentation illustrated with many examples, with captions automatically translated into Russian. The technology initially did not work, so the first presentation was instead made by Marty Davis, who covered some critical design issues, notably the universal acceptance and use of curb cuts that had been created initially to facilitate street crossings for baby carriages and wheelchairs. He also discussed the importance of clear and concise messages and signage, and of bold communications to the media and the public. Kathy’s slide problem was fixed, and she was able, to present a persuasive account of the principles of universal design, using many examples from the plans for the National Children’s Museum. Her presentation elicited many questions from the 35 or so persons in the audience, completing a lively session. On Wednesday, April 13th, Dr. Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the Royal Academy in London, presented a lively and moving narrative of the renovation of some inaccessible areas in The National Portrait Gallery in London, of which he was formerly Director, and of his own experience as a museum visitor with his disabled wife in a wheelchair. His humor and candor were disarming, and stimulated many questions from an audience of 35 or so. He was followed in the afternoon by Mark Shoemaker, a principal in the architectural firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli in New Haven, designers of many buildings and projects throughout the world. His lavishly illustrated presentation used examples from many of these, supporting his statement that universal design, the advancement of user-friendly access for everyone, was now an ingrained theme for many contemporary architects in every country. This session also stimulated many questions. At the end of the day, The State Russian Museums gave a festive reception for the conferees, featuring champagne, smoked salmon canapés and many toasts to guests and hosts.

On Thursday, April 14th, the conferees were bused to Gatchina, a state art-historic palace and park in the Southwest environs of St Petersburg. The Deputy Director, Yelena Gladkova discussed the access issues entailed in the renovation of an historic building, and the group then toured the palace. In the afternoon Marty Davis and Kathy Southern reviewed strategies for implementation, including fundraising, sponsorship and collaboration with organizations representing the disabled. Pavel Soltan of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg returned to the conference, urging museums to embrace the concept of universal design at a lively session attended by some 50 of the museum directors at the conference.

Finally, on Friday morning, April 15th, the conferees met at the Hermitage Museum for a guided tour of the museum’s accommodations for the disabled, including lifts, wheelchair ramps and audio guides in several languages. Some intractable issues were revealed, inconsistent floor levels and heights and lack of captions at readable heights. Several conferees noted that despite limitations, The Hermitage was advanced in its provisions for the disabled compared with many museums elsewhere in Russia.

On Saturday, April 16th, Kathy Southern, and her husband Hugh, representing The Fund for Arts and Culture, accepted an invitation to lunch with Deputy Director of the State Russian Museum, Natalia Kuleshova, and Tamara Yakovleva, Head of the Department of Cooperative Work with the art museums of Russia, Irina Bliznets, Curator from the State Russian Museum and our faithful translator. Ms. Kuleshova, who expressed her warm appreciation for The Fund’s contribution to the conference, and reported several calls to her from museum directors in attendance to express their congratulations for the conference, an unusual occurrence according to her. In the course of a long and discursive conversation, the Russian State Museums’ management of the renovation of the Summer Palace and Garden was discussed, and Kathy Southern’s suggestion that this could be made an example of the practice of universal design was eagerly embraced by Ms. Kuleshova. She also broached the notion of a follow-up conference in 2012 devoted to the themes of design and architecture.

This meeting ended with much goodwill, and the hope of everyone that The Fund might continue to play a significant role in the programs of the State Russian Museums in the future.

THE FUND FOR ARTS AND CULTURE 2016 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington, VA 22213