By Sophia Kishkovsky
The Winter Olympics, which close this weekend, have brought the Sochi State Art Museum more visitors than it has ever seen, a director told us this week. But the extra attention comes at a cost, a different administrator said.
“Right now, there are even more visitors than during the resort season,” Olga Khrisanova, the director of the exhibition department, said by telephone. Although Sochi is hosting the Winter Olympics—winning the bid in 2007 after a massive push by President Vladimir Putin, who likes to ski there—it is known more as beach town that people visit in the warmer months. “During the high season there are around 300 visitors per day, up to 500,” Khrisanova said. But the crowds in town for the Olympic Games have given a definite boost to attendance. “We received more than 1,000 visitors during the first few days [of the games]”, with Korean, Chinese and European tourists arriving in the largest numbers, she said.
The museum, which has a modest collection, is housed in a grand Neo-Classical building from the Stalinist era. During the Olympics, it has a special exhibition about the tsarist dynasty’s athletic pursuits, from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. “The Conditioning of Bodily Splendour: Sports and the Romanov Family” (until 23 March), includes objects from the collection of the State Peterhof Museum Reserve, such as the saddle of Catherine the Great’s favourite horse. Another show includes sport-themed work by contemporary artists from across Russia.
But the effort has also put a strain on the museum’s limited resources, said the museum’s administrator, Irina Prokhorenko, in a telephone interview. All of Sochi’s cultural spaces were told to open free of charge through the Paralympics, due to take place in March. The art museum, which usually has an entrance fee of 200 rubles (around $5.60), is staying open seven days a week for the duration, but staff will receive no extra pay on salaries that average 7,000 rubles a month (just under $200). “So the museum is open free of charge for over a month, and we have no days off,” she said.
As a benefit, however, she said the museum has been outfitted with elevators, a toilet and other wheelchair accessible facilities to accommodate Paralympic visitors.
Prokhorenko said that she is “not sure” that the Olympics are a good thing for Sochi and that she is “not rich enough” to attend any of the events as a spectator, but allowed that the opening ceremony, which she watched on television, was beautiful.
Khrisanova, meanwhile, described herself as “among those who were for [the Olympics] from the very beginning”, adding, “I feel proud for my country”.
To emphasise that sentiment, a Museum of Olympic Glory opened in Sochi in time for the games.