05.04.2017: Museum of the Future – discussion in Hermitage Volunteer Service

05.04.2017, Saint-Petersburg: the State Hermitage Volunteer Service gathered for a meeting regarding the upcoming Intermuseum festival in Moscow. The slogan of this year’s festival is «The Museum of the Future». Main issue of the meeting was the attempt to find out what the museum of the future will look like and what the main topics of future museum work will be. Besides the Volunteer Office staff, interns and volunteers from Moscow, head of the Volunteer Service Mikhail Kozhukhovsky invited Daria Hookk, senior scientific researcher of the department for Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia.

The meeting started with a presentation summing up the current developments, latest works and new methods in museums all over the world. The intention of the presentation was to point out the major concerns of future museums by giving an overview about current projects. It also proposed some topics for the later following discussion. Main propositions of the presentation were attempts for more interaction and participation between museums and visitors.

This could be realized through:

  • Games (digital or classical).
  • Use of new technologies to open new possibilities of learning, interaction and participation.
  • Digitalisation of the collection and free access at any time and place.
  • Involvement of the senses, especially possibility to touch either the originals or replicas.
  • Workshops (printing, drawing, do your own work of art).

The following discussion focused on three topics:

  • Definition of the term «visitor».
  • The call for more interaction in the museum (by means of technology).
  • Children as the future and an important public.

Who comes to the museum? The definition of the «visitor»

At the beginning of the discussion the question was raised how we define the visitors, who and what they are. In the presentation there was the example of the changing concept in museum work in the Badisches Landesmuseum, Germany. To understand how museums in the future will work it is important to find out how the relationship between institution and individuum will change. In the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, the attempt is to replace tickets with usercards, implying the role of visitors will change into «Benutzer», the German word for «user». In the discussion Daria Hookk pointed out that the term «user» in the Russian language has a more negative connotation than in languages like German or English. In conclusion one of the tasks for museums in the future will be, to find a fitting term for the changing relation between person and establishment. Also to find a right addressing towards the now called «audience».

The question in the future will be:

  • Are they still visitors or guests, observers, beholders, audience, public, customers, consumers, users or stakeholders?
  • How will the Russian museum address them?

What is the connotation of the words, especially «user» and «consumer»? Is «user» more active and interactive whereas «consumer» is more passive? Many questions were raised during the discussion. Although it is hard to find answers to all of them, one fact stuck out. The relation between the two parties that meet in museums are changing. The one directional path of information and knowledge being transferred from one to another has changed into an interaction between visitors and specific parts of museum work. Mikhail Kozhukhovsky emphasized the aspect of people being the owners of their cultural heritage and raised the question how they can be involved. The further task for the Volunteer Service will be to open this question to discussion, not only for members of the State Hermitage Volunteer Service but also for interested people all over the country or maybe even all over the world.

Ask the people about the Museum of the Future

The suggestion was made to ask the visitors of the Intermuseum fair to write down what they expect or how they imagine the museum of the future. There can be different approaches to get in touch with people of all ages, drawing posters of the museum of the future, poetic writing, summing up thoughts, maybe even architectonical concepts. In the long term, it could also be possible to organize a competition on this subject, where people can participate and send their works to the Volunteer Service.


To find a future concept for museums, the participants of the discussion collected their experience with museums and what impressed them the most while visiting them. One example was the Jewish Museum & Tolerance Center in Moscow, which is very interactive and has an educational aspect not only for adults but especially for children. However, this might not only be a museum in the traditional sense because its main focus is not on having a collection that is displayed behind glass but on the concept of being an interactive space.

While talking about interaction in museums, there is also the question how we define this term. Is there always technology involved when it comes to interaction in the museum of the future? And more important, for whom will the museum of the future be?


In the meeting everyone agreed that thinking about a future concept for museums, it is necessary to think of future generations at the same time. So the starting point for new considerations and concepts of museums is to work with children and their families as they are the audience of museums of the future. As children being the future generation, now is already the time to focus on the young visitors. Children can learn so much in museums and get a connection to their own cultural heritage and its connection to cultures all over the world. Only then humankind can continue to grow, flourish and reach aims we now can only dream of. But the focus should not only be on the children but also on their families, as part of their daily life and closest relatives they play a major part in their education. It is the mission for future museums to provide an interesting visit not only for adults as independent personalities but also as members of families who visit the museum with their children to teach them something about their culture and heritage. Some museums already developed a concept how to address not only adults but also children, for example the Finish Forest Museum Lusto, where children have their own entrance through a hole in a tree and experience the forest as explorers by using all their senses. Whereas it seems to be a more difficult task for art museums to provide an interactive an integrative access to their installation considering the value and the uniqueness of the displayed artworks.

Nicole Krist, volunteer from Germany.

17.03.2017: Volunteers take a tour of the exhibition «Decoration of the Russian Imperial Table»

On the 17th of March, 2017, Hermitage volunteers were given a tour of the exhibition «From the Serving Pantries. The Decoration of the Russian Imperial Table». This wonderful tour was conducted by the head of the Hermitage school centre Irina Dyubanova.

The exhibition featured more than 1200 exhibits from the collections of the Hermitage, the Russian Museum as well as the palaces of Pavlovsk and Peterhof and the Moscow Kremlin Museum. It featured examples of the decoration of the tables at receptions in the Imperial residences and Grand-Ducal palaces: porcelain dinnerware, ceramic tableware, glass, gold and silver, and a small sculpture commissioned specifically for the celebration decorated the table.

Irina began her story with a description of the clothing of the keepers of the Tzar’s tableware, and also pointed at the special baskets and boxes, in which porcelain was stored and transported in those days. All the sets are carefully stored in specially equipped premises – Service pantries.

Next, the volunteers were presented a wedding service, presented to Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in 1894 by German Emperor Wilhelm II. The service, created by the Berlin Royal porcelain manufactory, is striking in its elegance and beauty. The white porcelain is decorated with very delicate pink and purple flowers– a symbol of love, spring and innocence. The wedding table was decorated with artfully folded napkins which a guest could unfold in a single motion.

Irina gave special attention to the famous Russian Order of the Gardner porceline production manufacture (St. George, St. Andrew, Alexander, Vladimir), it was used for festivities in honour of the knights of the four highest Russian awards. At receptions Catherine II poured the soup with the laddle, taking care of guests. Whilst leaving the dinner, the guest could walk away with a gift: a plate from this dinner service. Each set is decorated with the insignia, star and ribbon of the relevant state awards.

Volunteers remembered the story of the famous Blue Dinner Service or the Cameo Dinner Service, created by the Sèvres porcelain manufactory between 1778 and 1779, having been commissioned by Empress Catherine II. Following a fire in the Winter Palace in 1837 all the jewels were placed on the Palace square and the Royal family didn’t notice anything amiss. However, part of this set deposited in the Admiralty, had disappeared and a few years later were auctioned abroad. The Royal family tried to buy back the missing part of the service. Later, the Russian masters of the Imperial porcelain factory tried to recreate this service, but it was impossible to replicate the unusual sky blue/turquoise, as the original was made in Sèvres out of soft porcelain, and then a copy – out of solid porcelain. Only in the production of soft porcelain, in which the temperature in the furnace is lower, can you use paint which give such an amazing rich shades. Even in France, the recipe for the production of soft porcelain at that time had been lost.

A very interesting and original Hunting service (Meissen, 1766-1768.), and St. Andrew service decorated with a lemon, asparagus, artichoke and mushrooms (Meissen, 1744-1745). Volunteers remembered the vases for sweets and fruits, adorned with flowers, made in openwork trellis. Striking beauty gold plated bronze vases and candlesticks. In those days the tables were decorated with fresh flowers and even trees in pots to give guests the impression that they are at a table outside, rather than indoors.

Until the mid-18th century tableware to the Russian court came primarily from foreign manufacturers. But later, on the eve of the Christmas celebrations at the Winter Palace had far better products created by the Imperial porcelain manufacturers in St. Petersburg.

Silver and gold dishes held an important place in a serving Royal table. Irina said that in the 18th century in Russia there was a consistent supply of food to the table. Thus the guests could sample each hot meal. The tables were assembled into complex compositions, for example in the form of the Imperial crown, sea shells or spirals. A similar design was conceived, taking into account the public nature of the ceremonial meals, when viewers were allowed onto the balcony.

We were struck by the dazzling richness, magnificence and diversity of the exhibition. The atmosphere of the celebration left no one indifferent. The Hermitage volunteers really enjoyed this tour, which was masterfully conducted by the Director of the Hermitage School centre Irina Dyubanova.

Written by Elena Verkhovskaya, volunteer, Russia.
Translation by James Lofthouse, volunteer.

30.03.2017: Students from Kirov Economic and Legal Lyceum — 3 days with «Volunteer Service»

This year we, a small team of students from KELL (Kirov Economic and Legal Lyceum), tried our hand at volunteer activities for the first time. We had no idea what we’d be doing as we entered the snug room, where a sign reading «Volunteer Service» hangs on the door.

Day 1 (28th of March, 2017)

We were greeted by Confucius’ temporary role executor (as the writings on the walls proclaimed), unshakable Mikhail Kozhuhovsky. He was introduced to the swing of things and met a charming foreigner Hendrickje Kehlenbeck, Germany, who prepared a great presentation in English about the so-called Indian series of tapestries.

After the story began, duties were assigned and numbered volunteer badges were given out. One pair was on duty at the entrance, another patrolled the cloakroom, and others signed the stones in the Archaeology Department, the fourth looked for silver coins in the halls of the Hermitage.

Day 2 (29th of March, 2017)

On the second day we switched roles. Yulia and I worked in the cloakroom, it was an interesting experience: tens, hundreds and thousands of foreigners passed us, of different ages and nationalities, an infinite number of their voices merged into one unintelligible roar.

The pupils working in the other departments shared their impressions: Ana liked to work in the silent archaeological hall, Katya and Nastya learned that there was a huge variety of silver coins during the reign of Peter the Great, whilst Artem and Zahar noted the size of the library.

Day 3 (30th of March, 2017)

On the third (and last) day we performed scenes from the play of Pierre de Marivaux «The Game of Love and Chance». This scene was written together with Galina Arkadyevna, our leader and part-time teacher of Russian language and literature. The scene talks about funny situations which occur as a result of two young people who, unbeknownst to one other, agree to swap clothes with her servants. Diana played the role of Sylvia, Maria Churakova played Lisette, and Zach was briefly reincarnated as Mr. Dorante. Despite not having much time to prepare, the guys did well. The audience consisted of the museum staff as well as overseas visitors all of whom praised the play.

Overall, volunteering has not only provided us with a positive impression, but also an unforgettable experience to us in this new activity; we met some great people and gave them a piece of our country in the form of gifts of foreign volunteers. Michael and his team also gave us some memorable gifts, which was unexpected but very nice. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this huge family of volunteers.

We wish all and every success to the Hermitage staff and its volunteers!

Written by Maria Babintseva, Russia.

Opening of the children’s computer graphics and animation contest

«Tour de France 1717 – The Grand Journey of Peter the Great»

On February 19, 2017 in the Winter Palace of Peter the Great as part of the large educational program «1717», the Volunteer Service has held the grand opening of the next children’s computer graphics and animation competition: «Tour De France 1717 – the Grand Journey of Peter the Great». The project is dedicated to the 300th anniversary of Peter I’s travels abroad in 1717 and was prepared in conjunction with the School Centre, the Russian History and Culture Department and the Department of Western European Applied Arts.

Contest participants are offered topics related to significant events of the early 18th century from European and Russian history as well as numerous reforms and transformations of Peter’s time and the influence of European art on the development of Russian culture. A number of the topics are connected with the history and construction of St. Petersburg.

A large-scale educational program was organized for the participants of the competition. Thanks to the staff of the Department of the History of Russian Culture: N.I. Tarasova and S.A. Nilov, the children got to know the history of the Winter Palace, the traditions of 18th century European fashion, saw dolls in costumes of this era and learned about the preserved wardrobe of Peter I. Guests of the program were happy to take part in gaming sessions devoted to the first textbook of etiquette in Russia «Mirror of Youth» published in 1717.

The dolls in the event were decorated in historical costumes of the 18th century: Peter I, Louis XIV, actors of the King Sun Theatre were dressed in decorative costumes. They were carefully created according to sources on the history of fashion by Anna Ernestovna Zhabreva, a member of the Academy of Sciences. An elegant red-haired lady in a dress with a «Watteau dress» performed by Olga Y. Atamanova – head of the circle for puppetry, opened the «School Centre» of the Hermitage in 2016.

The event ended with excursions through the halls of the Winter Palace. As a special surprise for children, the curators of the exposition introduced a unique musical mechanism of English watches originally belonging to Peter I.

The competition is open to everyone between the ages of 6 and 17. The works will be accepted until April 30th, 2017, and the winners will be decided by May 13th, 2017.

Contests for schoolchildren in the field of information technology have been carried out since 2005 by the Hermitage Volunteer Service in conjunction with the Scientific and Methodical Department «School Centre» with the cooperation of the scientific departments of the Hermitage. The competition works are carried out in the form of multimedia presentations, computer graphics and animation. The work of the winners will be presented on the monitors in the halls of the museum.

«We do not simply live in the environment of cultural heritage, we are responsible for it»

«We do not simply live in the environment of cultural heritage, we are responsible for it»

— Mikhail Kozhukhovsky, October 2016.

The Days of the Hermitage have started in the Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Art, in the framework of which the most interesting events have been planned. One of these events was a meeting with the leader of the Hermitage’s volunteer service, Mikhail Kozhukhovsky. In light of the establishment of the «Hermitage – Urals» project we could not miss the opportunity to talk to Mikhail about the methods for opening up the creative potential of volunteers and the important mission of this charitable movement in the modern world.

— Mikhail Yurevich, have you managed to get to know Ekaterinburg?

— It is my first visit here, so I only started to get acquainted with the cultural traditions a couple of days ago. We contacted representatives of public organisations and museums which are interested in developing a volunteer service. I hope all of this will help us with the plan for organising volunteering, and help us to understand the tasks which will arise before those who will develop this activity in the cultural sphere.

Unfortunately, I am not well acquainted with the volunteer movement in the Urals but I am looking forward to learning more about it. I cannot say that one single concept of the collaboration has already been formed but it is very important and good that this has started. I have good experience in organising the work of the volunteer service at the State Hermitage but I understand that there certain traditions have already developed concerning attracting volunteers, its own behavioural stereotypes, its own methodology of involvement, a concept which differs from all those other variants of concepts for attracting volunteers to the cultural sphere. We are unique in this sense. But our system was created thanks to the fact that we are located in a unique city and in a unique museum – the Hermitage, which is famous throughout the whole world and is a focal point of many, many cultural traditions. But here, in Ekaterinburg, I expect that they will help me to understand by what the young people of this city live (the lives/way of life of young people in this city), what the new generation breathes and what will help it to come together for the creation of (to create)new, interesting projects.

— How is the organization of the Hermitage’s volunteer service unique?

— At the Hermitage, the experience of long-term museum employees and volunteers plays a huge role. Alongside their professional activities, they happily take part in the development of volunteer projects and can take themselves in a completely new direction. We in turn cannot get by without the help of specialists. For example, they help us to create costumes. For the project «Palmyra: Breathing life!» the curator of sculptures helped us to make costumes reminiscent of the third century AD. Without these numerous specialists working in areas such as educational projects or the study of the ancient world and the East; the volunteers would have had tied hands. We simply would not have been able to realize such a challenging project. When one thinks of the Hermitage, then any fantastical job must be based on serious academic research. Fortunately, this is precisely how we work. This allows for the discovery and combination of the numerous talents as well as the enthusiasm of the employees. Thanks to this combination, wonderful projects are being created. And, actually, I can say that we are one of the most creative structures in State Hermitage: a riot of ideas, completely new formats of collaboration with departments. The search for something new allows us to realise fantastic activities.

Another unique principle of ours is training the volunteers to feel a sense of responsibility for the preservation of cultural heritage. Volunteers begin their activities around the Hermitage armed with a clear understanding of this important task. We do not want them in any case to think that by coming to the Hermitage, they are there simply to undertake some kind of basic task. They do not simply work for the volunteer service, but also for the Hermitage Museum itself – the best museum, the world’s heritage – this needs to be felt . Naturally it’s very difficult to be aware of this responsibility? But you have to understand that any idea, any project created by the volunteers fulfils this fundamental mission.

The volunteers working with these global and honourable initiatives perform a wide range of tasks – from collecting rubbish to unpacking boxes and meeting guests. Even though some of these tasks are not particularly creative, thanks to their understanding of the overall mission, they are always prepared to overcome any challenges or give up their time to fill-in for someone at a moment’s notice. Purely for the sake of the high mission and global idea, it is important to establish similar services all over the world.

When it comes to the individual and the aims of the service, volunteering is a constant process of working on oneself. Despite the fact that our volunteer service has been running for thirteen years, we continue to better ourselves and make improvements. These comments may sound trivial but we are really trying to answer the question of why young people today need cultural heritage. In fact, we have an entire project aimed at young people to help them understand the role they can play in protecting cultural heritage. There is a constant introduction to the idea that we do not simply live in the environment of cultural heritage, but that we are responsible for it. We mustn’t be indifferent to it, regardless of what may be happening in the world in relation to it. It is not possible to say that there is only one importance just because it is directly linked to my work, and that other things are not so important because they are not – we simply cannot.

When we conceived the project dedicated to the terrible events of Palmyra, we thought up the name «Palmyra: Breathing life!» This defined what we wanted to achieve. We want every participant to be directly involved in the “breathing” of this life, and to feel the reconstruction of Palmyra and how it became dear. Hence the contents: a collapsible interactive layout of the Temple of Bel as well as a huge puzzle map of Palmyra which can be collected and rebuilt into the city. We must not forget, and should not allow (or allow) this culture to be destroyed. If we keep this in mind, we will begin to take good care of what is around us.

Naturally, many questions arose as we thought about this project. Journalists would ask why we are spending our time on Palmyra when there are so many other problems around! Yet, if we allow ourselves to pass this off as unimportant or meaningless, then we cannot truly appreciate the value of what is close to us. This is the principle upon which our volunteer service is based. We are constantly trying to abide by this principle: to better understand ourselves and the role of museums in society. To me it seems that with this noble mission we can unite volunteers of different spheres from Yekaterinburg to enable us to undergo many interesting projects. This is the most important bonus and the main motivation – when you realise the responsibility you have, you will do the job that someone else thinks is small, unimportant or routine, at the appropriate level.

— You mentioned that in the Hermitage volunteer service there is a unique system to attract people, could you explain that more in detail?

— We are lucky to have many people of different nationalities and lots of students from different countries who are attracted to our work. We have established good links with universities where foreign students go to study. There are many who are immediately attracted and ready to spend time on our projects. It is very important for us to provide a different experience, as through this we can create something new.

It is very important to us that volunteers realise their own project. This is the main motive for volunteer activities. During the time of a volunteers work, they must participate in a project with a team of associates. Therefore, on the very first day the volunteer is given the task of implementing his own project. This involves thoroughly exploring all areas of work and trying to find interesting ideas they could offer, both as a part of our service and beyond. The project should primarily be related to the development of museum business, awareness programs, involvement in volunteering, and collaborations with educational programs and universities. Usually these projects offer a whole new perspective, which allows them to better understand themselves and to build and offer completely new ideas.

The responsibility laid upon the volunteer from day one allows them to explore, say something new, and present a new idea. It would be great to create something similar here, based upon the cultural experience of Ekaterinburg. I think, that within this there is a new method for uncovering the creativity of the younger (but not the only!) generation.

— Were you yourself a volunteer?

— I’m a life-long volunteer! It is my mission. I always tell volunteers, leaving the walls of the Hermitage museum, you should understand that you no longer have the right to walk past the mistaken tourist or lost foreigner. No matter who you are, modest or shy, you don’t have the right to pass them by. Even if you don’t know the answer, approach them and try to help. From the first day volunteers learn to help. Obviously, they don’t have the knowledge of those who have worked here for a long time; however you cannot answer a visitor’s question with «I don’t know, I only just started here.» You must go with the visitor and find the answer. Tell them, we’ll figure it out, and all will be well.

This setting becomes the core of a person for a lifetime. And typically, the people that come to us stay in our service. This is simply because that kind of experience doesn’t go unnoticed. It is a very important principle to learn. It may sound like a lot to expect, but unfortunately if we do not set the bar high we will not be able to adjust to the idea of perfectionism and idealism. As a result, we will not succeed in nurturing an honest, decent citizen, for which homeland small and large, history, culture, and our land will make a difference.

— Does a volunteer in the sphere of culture differ from a volunteer, let’s say, of sports or ecology?

— In my opinion, every volunteer should have a higher objective. We are very friendly with all the volunteer organizations in St. Petersburg but we also understand that the working conditions in our museum are incomparable to some of the hardships other organizations bring upon themselves, which in turn create a stressful environment for the volunteers. So we always try to be understanding, respectful and ready to participate in joint promotions and events. The Hermitage volunteers definitely take part in events throughout the city, sporting activities, and are willing to share their experiences about this. Thus the Hermitage is part of a larger entity, built upon the shared understanding that we are all working towards a common goal.

The main difference can likely be found in the principle I mentioned earlier- the special relationship with cultural heritage and an awareness of a higher mission. In addition to this, we do not split volunteers into fields of activity – everyone needs to be willing and able to do any kind of work. The strengths, knowledge and capabilities of each person are obviously indispensable when working on a project, but one must be ready at any moment to break away from creative tasks and come together to (for example) unpack boxes, pick up trash, to help people with disabilities or to unload a truck full of toys. We love it: a common cause unites us and makes us friendlier with one another.

— Why is the volunteer movement gaining such momentum these days? Why are volunteers needed in society?

— I am very glad that the government finally realized the importance and necessity of the educational value of volunteering for young people. In the past we had the Komsomol, through which many good things were done both voluntarily and involuntarily. As a result the educational effect of such work has not always been achieved. It is great that there are such opportunities available to those growing up in our society, but on the basis of selflessness that underpins volunteering. It provides us with the opportunity to combine efforts of amateurs and professionals as well as the chance to work with experienced people and learn about life from the older generation, rather than from books or the media.

There are no alternatives to this: the sense of unity and the responsibility for another person, an appreciation for the value of human life, and the importance of history and traditions. All of these incorporate the natural human desire for love. It is necessary to support this initiative which exists in every person. We have a tendency to isolate ourselves in our own individualism and try to solve personal problems. As a result we really suffer from the fact that we don’t hear the people who struggle to express themselves. It’s great when there are systems in place that allow us to find the embodiment of all that is kind and good within us, our neighbours and our friends; and to find the kindest and best way of applying it.

Interview by Daria Mitchurina, October 2016.

The meeting of the St. Petersburg branch of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society

February 22, 2017: a meeting of the St. Petersburg branch of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society was held in the Council Hall of the State Hermitage Museum.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, the chairman of the St. Petersburg branch and General Director of the Hermitage, began the meeting and talked about the projects of 2016 that had been carried out by the State Hermitage and dedicated to preserving cultural and historical heritage of the Middle East countries: The Days of Syria and The Days of Yemen, conferences, educational projects and exhibitions about the Middle East and Byzantium, and also programs about the heritage of Palmyra. The activities of volunteers in this area clearly revealed in the cultural and educational program «Palmyra: Breathing Life!» that brought together more than three dozen projects, and was designed to attract the attention to the catastrophic and intentional destruction of historical and cultural monuments.

The volunteer program «Palmyra: Breathing Life!» was widely acknowledged and implemented in various projects in both the Hermitage and the Moscow international festival of museums «Intermuseum 2016». The cultural and educational program «Palmyra: Breathing Life» was presented during «The Night of Museums 2016» at the Hermitage.

This is why the nominations of the new members of the Society were proposed by Mikhail Piotrovsky and unanimously approved by the Society. The new elects were the head of the Volunteer Service Michael Kozhukhovskiy and the sculptor of the Palmyra project Maria Nikiforova. They took an active part in the development of projects dedicated to the heritage of the Middle East, with the «Palmyra: Breathing Life!» project being the main theme for the whole volunteer community with regard to cultural volunteering.

The meeting also discussed plans and anniversary events scheduled for 2017, including the Society’s 135th anniversary, the 200th anniversary of Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin (the founder of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in the Holy Land), the 160th anniversary of the Society’s first chairman, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich (observed on May 11th), and the restoration of the Cross on the place of his death February 17, 1905.

The party and concert dedicated to these memorable events were held at the Hermitage Theatre.