Letter by General Director of the State Hermitage to the staff, about the closing of the museum
In his letter, Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky writes about the closure of the museum due to the corona virus outbreak. Read the letter below.
18 March 2020
Dear People of the Hermitage
This is war. The enemy is invisible, but some of the front lines are evident.
Today’s difficulties are, of course, far removed from the horrors that our history has known, including the Siege. Things have been far worse than they are now and more frightening. But the walls of the Hermitage preserve for us priceless experience of how to safeguard the body, soul and honour of the museum in conditions of isolation and threat.
The Hermitage is continuing to function and to perform its mission – collecting, preserving, restoring, studying the world’s cultural and artistic heritage, and making it accessible to present and future generations. In the situation of a global pandemic and panic the last function – access– is temporarily moving online, which is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the times.
During the Siege of Leningrad, our predecessors ensured the preservation of the buildings and interiors, caught and extinguished bombs, gave lectures to those serving in the forces and to each other, hastened to complete their scholarly works, devised and conducted guided tours around the empty frames. And they did so under conditions of strict discipline. The noble practice and mystic spirit of the Hermitage under siege remains forever with us and serves as an example.
This isolation can and should be used for new cultured, intellectual work. Ahead of us lies the task of turning problems into opportunities. Stark necessity requires that we make serious use of all the latest means of communication – from virtual meetings to online tours. We also have the chance to hold back the course of time a little and draw up complete “lists of deficiencies” regarding our infrastructure, storage and research activities. We are able to reflect on recent decades and write an analytical history of them.
Exhibitions and guided tours that are being constantly broadcast online are expanding our audience. The first guided tour distributed through VKontakte and Odnoklassniki showing the Hermitage Staraya Derevnya which is closed to visitors has had more than 300,000 views in just two days. We have the opportunity to spread far more broadly than usual a deep excursion into the complex world of humanity’s culture.
The latest events have shown how right we were to constantly explain that museums’ income and profitability should not be the basis for their evaluation and, most importantly, their funding. The disappearance of tourists is a reminder that the true accessibility of culture does not consist of throwing open all the doors. It is a good thing that we have managed to get included, and so far upheld, the constitutional amendment that proclaims the support and defence of culture to be an obligation of the state. We say once again that the opinion of people of culture should be listened to and heeded.
In the days ahead we will have to prove to ourselves and to the world that culture is able to counter misfortune, even if that misfortune is sent down from on high. We are increasing our care for the safety and integrity of the collections. We are not reducing but expanding connections and solidarity between museums. We are advancing our public education activities, today online. We should show “the city and the world” an example of a cultured understanding of accessibility, effectiveness, openness, discipline and intelligent optimism.
Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky
General Director of the State Hermitage