Perm: melting pot of traditional and modern

Perm, a city at the foothills of the Ural Mountains on the edge of Europe, does not just specialize in rockets and salt extraction, as its cultural attractions are firmly taking their place in the limelight of Russian art.

Art and theater have long thrived in the city and its industrial heritage has always been an influence.

The world famous Sergey Diaghilev who created the “Ballets Russes” is hailed as a son of Perm.

During World War II, major theater and dance companies were evacuated to the region from Moscow.

The strong cultural traditions stem from the tragic history of the city, as it was a place of exile for many decades, says Georgy Isaakyan, head of Perm State Opera.

Many people, forming the artistic and scientific intelligentsia of the Soviet era, were exiled to Perm from Moscow and St. Petersburg, contributing to the creation of a “very specific portrait of Perm culture”, explains Isaakyan.

With its rich tapestry of classical culture, some may wonder whether there is room for the modern.

However, there is a sense of a real cultural revolution going on in Perm, and it is fast becoming a center of artistic pilgrimage.

Perm is drawing crowds of artists thanks to the influence of one man, impresario Marat Guleman.

"Our main idea is that Perm will become a tourist center, special tourism, an art tourist center for Russia. And the art will be the basis for new economy,” says Guleman.

Originally from Moldova, he came to prominence in Moscow, but has now turned his back on the capital in favor of Perm.

Surprisingly, it is not just the art that is benefiting from Marat's influence.

Can you imagine two years ago 60 per cent of young people aged 18 to 30 wanted to leave Perm, today only eight per cent," says Marat.

The epicenter of this cultural movement is the contemporary art museum. Housed in the old river port building it provides a great setting for the collections on display.

"As for the prospects of development, there could be an option that modern art would expand and broaden our mentality," believes Oleg Leibovich, professor of cultural studies at Perm University.

Apparently, Perm’s administration agrees with this viewpoint, as the city boasts some impressive public art sponsored by the Ministry of Culture.

­The graffiti adorning the city’s walls and buildings takes on many forms from traditional “khokhloma” patterns, to two of the worlds best known Homers.

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When Perm's cultural guru, Guleman, was asked how he wants to be remembered after founding his artistic ashram, he was optimistic and simply said he will find a new city for his inspiration.

Perm's rich cultural heritage continues to develop and move with the times as classical art and theater mingle with the modern, in Russia's self-proclaimed new capital of culture.