January 22, 2021 at 4:16pm
The Moscow Union of Artists (MUA) has said that more than seven hundred Moscow-based artists are facing eviction and the destruction of their workspaces by the Russian government, according to a report in The Art Newspaper. Moscow owns about a thousand studios, most of which are located in “Khrushchyovka” residential buildings scattered throughout the capital; the spaces are leased at no cost by MUA as part of a now-defunct Soviet-era artist-training program. Of these, some five hundred are slated to be bulldozed, forcing the artists who occupy them—some of whom have held their leases for decades—“onto the streets,” says MUA.
The demolition is part of Moscow’s ambitious plan to move 10 percent of the city’s population from decrepit postwar housing into modern accommodations. Though the government is moving residents of the buildings scheduled to be demolished into new apartments, no such aid has been offered the artists, who received final eviction notices in December.
“The lease contract drawn up by Moscow city has a clause stipulating that if the buildings are demolished, we cannot demand replacement studios,” MUA staffer Yuri Kurshakov said. “It’s hard to stomach because we’re not just talking about a few studios here, but entire clusters that will disappear.”
MUA, which has roughly seven thousand members, is only able to provide one-third of them with studio space. Though Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin has promised that “no artists would be left on the street,” MUA says that the continuing Covid-19 crisis has made it impossible for them to meet with city officials to discuss the topic. Moscow city council deputy Yelena Yanchuk has derided Sobyanin’s promise to aid the displaced artists as “empty” and said that her lobbying efforts on the artists’ behalf have been ignored. MUA’s Kurshakov contended that the union was doing everything it could to help the evicted artists but said that the organization’s “tools to influence the situation are limited.”
Moscow city council deputy Dmitry Baronovksy expressed solidarity with the artists and frustration with the city government. “The first floors of these new buildings are nonresidential—to give part of these premises to the artists is a no-brainer, especially as two to three times more housing is being built than demolished,” he said, further noting, “Apparently, the city does not need artists. they do not bring income to the budget and it’s financially unprofitable to provide premises for them.”