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1 July 2012

Moscow Clusters

The Russian capital is no stranger to the creative industries' clustering phenomenon. Here's a look at three of the most successful and innovative ones.

(c) Ido Mor (Flickr Commons)

Winzavod's START programme has attracted the attention of the nation's visual arts community.

Industrial clustering - and in particular creative industries clustering - has become a regular feature in most cities in the northern hemisphere. The realisation of the effects of spatial agglomeration on fostering innovation systems (by giving businesses greater access to 'skilled staff and shared services', and 'the opportunity to capture valuable knowledge spillovers'[1]) has been coupled with local economic policies seeking to reinvent dying post-industrial economies and abandoned spaces.

Moscow is no stranger to this phenomenon: cultural clusters are now a key part of the city's post-Soviet cultural landscape and of Moscovites' cultural vocabulary. The first of these to emerge - Artplay - opened back in 2003, when Sergey Desyatov, architect and developer, restored the old Red Rose factory (a centrally located weaving-mill in operation since the October Revolution of 1917), turning it into an arts and business space. The place soon became popular with Desyatov's circle of friends, who started to rent out spaces for their offices/studios. Desyatov soon expanded the offer to private, commercial companies, offering spaces at standard market rates (for non-commercial architecture and design companies he introduced discounts). The resulting synergy between arts and business was a first for Moscow. Alongside the new commercial and artistic collaborations developing from the agglomeration of designers, Desyatov opened a cultural space (a gallery, a cafe) to develop non-for profit initiatives that support and showcase the best of the local design and architecture sectors.

(c) Pablo Rossello

Without knowing it, Desyatov and ArtPlay started off a new trend in Moscow.

Without knowing it, Desyatov started off a new trend in Moscow. The city is home to an immense industrial built environment, some of which failed to move into private hands during the Perestroika and post-Soviet years. These derelict, lifeless Soviet factories suddenly found a new life and purpose.

In this article we'll focus on three regeneration and cluster development projects led by some of Moscow's leading cultural visionaries: Artplay, which has recently relocated to the Syromyatniki neighbourhood (where it owns -and is developing- over 75,000 sq meters of space); Strelka and the cultural complex built on the old Red October chocolate factory; and the popular contemporary art centreWinzavod, built in one of Moscow's most run-down industrial quarters near the Kursky railway. Winzavod itself is based in the quarter's former winery plant buildings, very near to Artplay's new headquarters. Although sharing some basic principles and aims, each of these projects is unique in its own right.

Artplay: reinventing the Manometr plant
Artplay is something of a veteran institution in Moscow now. Presently based at the former Manometr plant, which previously belonged to the USSR's Ministry of Heavy Mechanical Industry, it has become both a design/architecture business hub and a shopping centre. It houses over 70 design and architecture bureaus as well as 300 manufacturers and suppliers of furniture, lights, ceramics, interior materials and special building equipment. The close proximity between product developers and retailers has stimulated an active and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two.

Artplay also hosts educational and exhibition spaces (with three exhibition halls of over 8,000 sq meters which regularly put on art events, video art festivals, music concerts, theatre productions, film screenings, lectures and workshops). In September 2010, the British School of Design (one of Russia's foremost design academies, working in partnership with the School of the Creative Arts at The University of Hertfordshire)relocated here, and in 2011 the cluster became the main venue for Moscow's 4th International Biennale of Contemporary Art. The Roof at the top of the main building is a premier hideaway for Moscow hipsters during the summer - in winter, the space turns into a skating rink for those strong enough to brave the cold.

Artplay's most interesting feature though is that it started the whole trend - 'growing intuitively, without any pre-defined notion on creative industries/creative economy development', according to Mikhail Gnedovsky, Head of Russia's Cultural Policy Institute. It was a truly grassroots initiative in an unlikely and unwanted place, opening up spatial opportunities for Moscow's cultural community and new uses for the abandoned Moscovite industrial parks.

(c) Pablo Rossello

Like the other Moscow clusters, Winzavod has become an active centre for cultural exchange and development, with a particular focus on design and visual arts.

Winzavod
Moscow's Wallpaper Guide-featured cluster (and now a premier tourist destination) is a group of galleries, shops, restaurants and bookshops housed in a former wine plant near the once shabby Kursky train station in central Moscow. Like the other clusters, it has become an active centre for cultural exchange and development, with a particular focus on design and visual arts.

Its START programme has attracted the attention of the nation's visual arts community - as well as the Presidency. As it is quite difficult for artists outside St. Petersburg or Moscow to get access to curators, visual arts festivals and exhibition opportunities (or receptive and understanding audiences and critics), Winzavod runs a scheme which identifies and supports young artists from across Russia. This assists them in curatorial matters, financial and technical development and whatever needs they have in order to bring their ideas into life. The scheme launched in 2008 and has received further support from President Medvev owing to its success.

Another programme, Design Territory, focuses on supporting the fledgling Russian design sector, which is badly networked (especially between designers and manufacturers). Winzavod works closely with manufacturers, running competitions where Russian designers mentor young design professionals in developing solutions for their product designs and fabrication. The programme is a unique opportunity for emerging practitioners to learn and familiarise themselves with the many needs and challenges involved in all stages of design production, from conception and manufacturing to distribution and retailing. Selected local manufacturers are encouraged to support the most innovative entries and develop them further - some to international export level.

(c) David Barrie (Flickr Commons)

Strelka: Institute for Media, Architecture and Design
Three years ago, a group of collaborators (Alexander Mamut, Sergei Adonyev, Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, Dmitry Likin and Oleg Shapiro) founded Strelka, a multi-platform cultural space which sought to become 'a stock exchange for human capital, a place shaping the flow of creative energy'.

'Strelka Institute is a non-for-profit organisation aimed at generating knowledge, producing new ideas and making them come true'. Its lecture halls and studios provide free training for international young specialists with a background in architecture, design and the social sciences. They also offer a 9-month postgraduate degree (in English) focused on city studies, based on a holistic programme which brings together media, design, architecture and social sciences to promote interdisciplinary and creative research to urban problem-solving.

The Institute manages a bar/restaurant, which has become a must-see culinary destination for Moscovites and visitors, and which supports the financial running of the centre.

(c) yasmapaz and ace_heart (Flickr Commons)

Strelka's housed within the wider cultural cluster of Red October, which occupies an old Soviet chocolate factory.

Last March, Strelka launched the new project DNK in Kaluga, a town 170 km from Moscow, home of rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky and the Museum of Cosmonautics. DNK - a Russian abbreviation for Houses of New Culture - is a network of new cultural centres across the country which seek to disseminate cultural innovation. The programme is currently supported by the national Ministry of Culture, as it aims to stimulate creativity and renovate cultural practice. The first DNK centre opened in Kaluga, and new chapters are being planned for Pervouralsk (40km from Yekaterinburg) and Vladivostock. To stimulate the interest and momentum around the programme, Strelka is running a series of events and seminars on cultural innovation.

As with Winzavod, Strelka's wider perspective on cultural development has ensured greater reach beyond the Moscovite community, expanding these clusters' roles beyond their obviousreal estate development dimension. These schemes now hold a position of leadership in the advancement of Moscow's (and in some cases, Russia's) cultural sector - not only through their dedicated programmes, like Strelka's DNK Kaluga or Winzavod's START, but also through their promotion of synergies between the arts and business, and through the introducition of innovative practices like co-working and interdisciplinary collaboration. (Elena Shampanova/Pablo Rossello)

(c) Strelka Institute (Flickr Commons)

A Wallpaper event at Strelka Institute.

The British Council has been working closely with all three clusters for many years now. Artplay hosted the British Council's Reconstruction: Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Fashion exhibition back in 2010; Winzavod has also hosted several exhibitions and masterclasses, including one recently by Francis Morris of Tate Modern. Strelka partnered with the British Council on the Future City Game programme, and has hosted numerous events and concerts, including a recent performance by Mathew Herbert. They're our main partner in Russia's first CultureShift programme next September.

[1] Nesta/Chapain, Caroline et al, Creative Clusters and Innovation, London: 2010.