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© RIA Novosti. Valeriy Melnikov

Don’t fear the hipsters

by Joy Neumeyer at 28/11/2011 18:55

Sergei Kapkov, the newly minted director of Moscow’s Department of Culture, isn’t a typical bureaucrat. Rather than hunkering down in an office, the 35-year-old is constantly out around town, meeting with project directors and touring development sites. In his off hours, he’s a social butterfly who’s dating Ksenia Sobchak.

He speaks to journalists with unbuttoned ease. “I can put on a tie if you want,” Kapkov said lightly at the beginning of an interview with The Moscow News.

The new ‘Girl with Oar’ statue – a scaled version of a lost Soviet-era icon

© RIA Novosti. / Alexander Vilf

The new ‘Girl with Oar’ statue – a scaled version of a lost Soviet-era icon

With modern managerial methods and an eye on trends, Kapkov positions himself as the prophet of a new, post-Soviet style of cultural development based on citizens’ needs.

“I think that the only chance for my branch, my type of work, is to listen to experts’ opinion and social opinion,” Kapkov said over a breakfast of kasha and cigarettes at Il Forno, a cafe near the department’s headquarters on Ulitsa Neglinnaya. “How can I force people like Comrade Stalin: there should be this many plays about Lenin, this many plays about the October Revolution?

“I have to trust people.”

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appointed Kapkov in late September after his successful stint overseeing Gorky Park’s metamorphosis this spring-summer. Over several months, the park transformed from a Stalinist relic, full of clunky roller coasters and decrepit pavilions, to a hip urban hangout complete with lounge chairs, wifi and yoga classes.

Now, at the helm of a four-year, 180-billion-ruble project dedicated to improving Moscow’s cultural life, the Nizhny Novgorod native has his eye on making the rest of the city just as inviting.

“I’d like for the atmosphere of the city to change, for it to be friendlier, non-aggressive, lighter,” he said.

Kapkov earned a degree in civil and municipal management from Nizhny Novgorod’s Volgo-Vyatskaya Academy of Civil Service in 1993. Upon graduating, he helped manage Boris Nemtsov’s successful 1995 reelection bid for Nizhny Novgorod governor, and subsequently led several other regional campaigns.

In the late ’90s, Kapkov caught the eye of then-governor of Chukotka, Roman Abramovich, who named him as his deputy in the Far East region. In 2004 the oligarch picked Kapkov to head his National Football Academy. Kapkov served as a United Russia deputy in the State Duma from 2003 to 2011, leaving in March to head the Gorky Park overhaul, which received heavy financial backing from Abramovich.

In his new job as the city’s culture boss, Kapkov is entrusted with overseeing 917 cultural institutions— a department rivaled in size only by the city schools.

“It surprised me how many state cultural institutions are located in Moscow,” he said. “It surprised me what a huge amount of money is spent on the support and preservation of this culture.

A chess game during BookMarket, part of Gorky Park’s new cultural focus

© RIA Novosti. / Vladimir Vyatkin

A chess game during BookMarket, part of Gorky Park’s new cultural focus

“And to be objective, the results don’t correspond with the money.”

Kapkov’s plans are great—even quixotic (see infographic). According to him, they represent a significant shift from the priorities of Yury Luzhkov, Moscow’s mayor for 18 years until President Dmitry Medvedev fired him in 2010. “[Luzhkov] was a person with a feudal mindset. He was the ruler. If he liked someone, they built something,” he said.

Under Luzhkov, construction expanded significantly into new neighborhoods on Moscow’s outskirts, such as the northern suburb of Severnoye Tushino. However, 70 percent of the city’s cultural institutions remain located within the Third Ring Road.

“[Luzhkov] loved things with a great public image, like the House of Music, things on a huge scale. It worked out so that Moscow developed… but almost no cultural facilities were built.”

To achieve balance outside the center, Kapkov says the city will build libraries and convert old industrial buildings into meeting spaces for local clubs and arts classes.

In Kapkov’s Gorky Park, swinging recliners have replaced rollercoasters

© RIA Novosti. / Aleksandr Utkin

In Kapkov’s Gorky Park, swinging recliners have replaced rollercoasters

The previous administration also wasn’t known for its rapport with youth. “Luzhkov generally never saw people from age 25 to 40… and ac- CONCERT GROUPS 10.3 cordingly there were very few places for young people,” Kapkov said.

For Kapkov, on the other hand, attracting young people is a central goal. “I would like people of my generation and younger to feel comfortable in this city and not have any fantasies about leaving,” Kapkov said.

On a recent weekend, cranes removed Gorky Park’s aging roller coasters.

“In the ’90s I’m sure that roller coasters were really trendy,” Kapkov said. “Now they’re not.”

He’s proud the park became a hotspot for hip young ping pong players and skateboarders over the summer, but brushes aside the notion that other visitors might be scared off.

“Common people don’t need to be afraid of hipsters,” he said. “We have a large melting pot.”

Lying on the grass, drinking coffee or riding bicycles, he says, everyone can feel how the city’s atmosphere has changed.

City Day celebrations in the new-look Gorky Park in September

© RIA Novosti. / Aleksandr Utkin

City Day celebrations in the new-look Gorky Park in September


“You have the feeling that it’s a different life, that it’s not Moscow. It’s not quite Berlin, but it’s not Moscow,” he said.

After his first month in office, it remains to be seen whether Kapkov’s modernization plan will survive the city’s most entrenched brand of culture—bureaucratic corruption.

“The difficulty here is that no matter what trend I set, it’s very important that on the other end it’s realized,” he said.

Later that day, Kapkov was heading up to the northern suburb of Severnoye Tushino to explain to the director of park renovations there how to begin work.

“He needs to conduct a logical survey of the population, talk with them, meet with them, start to socialize with them. It’s very difficult.”

But Kapkov has no shortage of confidence. As he headed off to tour a church with Sobyanin and Patriarch Kirill, a reporter expressed hope that his plans would work out.

“I have no doubt it will work out,” he said, stamping out his last cigarette.

Learn more about the “Moscow Culture: 2012–2016” project at www.mosdepkultura.ru

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #92"
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