“Culture starts from a person”
Lilit Makunts

“Culture starts from a person”

This May, Armenia formed a new government, and among the ministries the most problematic one was probably the Ministry of Culture. 34-year-old university professor Lilit Makunts was appointed to lead the field of culture to the new age. Regional Post discussed with Mrs. Makunts her first months on the post, the future of the Armenian culture, and the role of the Opera and Ballet Theater in it.

 

Interview : Artavazd Yeghiazaryan

 

Mrs. Minister, what are the results of those first months for the Ministry and yourself personally?

— Four-five months is not enough time for some big results, but it’s long enough to define our biggest problems – system problems, separate problems, problems that lead from one to another, etc. Actually, just after a month we already had a clear picture of what we were dealing with here.

And what was done to start solving them?

— It was very important to address those problems to the right people. And to do that, we came to the idea of working with “bottom-up” principle. Before, everything was the other way around: there were orders and resolutions coming from the top and the problems often didn’t get solved. So, we thought that it would be much better to involve more people from their relative cultural fields trying to hear them all, and only after that, with their help, start to fix those problems. Thus, the ministry held a series of discussions…

Could you hear anything, because some of the discussions were, really, noisy…

— It was not easy, but we were ready for that and we did everything very systematized, so it was really helpful. First, we tried to have a listen to the problems which they found important, then we discussed some ways of solving them, after which we talked about those ways with a wider range of professionals, like lawyers, finance specialists, etc., and finally, we set about solving the problems.

What are the best examples of such method?

— I would mention the actions we made in the field of literature. Well, it relates to all fields – we’ve decided from now on to support not the artist, not the company or the publishing house, but the project. For this purpose, we have announced two programs – first one is a grant program for literary works development, and the other – a literary contest in the frames of the Yerevan Book Fest. One more thing: starting from next year, when buying new books for the libraries, we’re not going to buy them just from the publisher or the writer, but from the bookstores, so that it includes all the parties – the store, the publisher, the author, and, finally, the user of the library.

For years, the Ministry of Culture has been supporting only state organizations. Let’s say, we subsidize state theaters, which means we cover all expenses of the building and pay salaries – no matter how many plays they’ve staged, while the independent artists have to solve all those problems, including finding a space to rent. So, now, we’ve decided to rethink the prices for the potential venues, so all interested parties can use them. As a result, we have a huge variety in the sense of charge and type and quality.

But, are all the venues ready to change the fees?

— No, not all of them: for example, the Opera theater. But I totally respect that decision, because we all understand that it would make it easier to rent that space for any project. Besides, Mr. Orbelian, head of the theater, says it’s a big problem when side projects make them change the repertoire. The most important thing here is the choice that now the artists will have in this case.

You’ve just mentioned the Opera and Ballet Theater, and its special value. We all know how important it was in the 20th century. What is the role of the theater in the future of the Armenian culture?

— Not many countries have an opera and a ballet. We have them both. We have great artists – singers and dancers, who perform on the best stages all over the world. So, this theater is a flagship organization for our culture. We had hours and hours of discussions with Mr. Orbelian about the future developments. And, we came to an agreement. My idea was that the roles should be rearranged inside the theater. A general director and an artistic director are very different and very huge positions. And though Mr. Orbelian is a great professional who is doing all the possible and impossible for the theater, it is difficult to do both management and artistic leading at the same time. If we want to bring the theater to a totally new level, we have to separate these positions. Very soon we are going to have a new artistic director, while Mr. Orbelian will continue the post of the general director. I think he is a great professional and a leader: we all can see what he’s done in the theater recently.

What are the biggest obstacles in doing all the reforms you and your team are planning?

— The thing is that all artists, people from the sphere of culture, want to be free. But many of them forget that freedom also includes responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Also, sometimes it seems to me that most of the time we are dealing with social problems and not cultural. Step by step we are going to change the mechanisms of subsidizing. We are ready to support good projects, but this can’t be done the same way. It may cause misunderstanding, but we need to change. For example, let’s take the festivals. We are still happy to support traditional ones, like the Golden Apricot Film Festival. But not just X money for Y festival. We need to understand on what exactly this money goes to, what impact we expect, and who knows, maybe we are giving more than it was applied. Besides, established festivals should already find sponsors from the private sector, and state’s role in their financial support should decrease eventually. And, with the saved finances we plan to create new, fresh festivals, especially ones in the regions of the country.

Another important cultural event was the International Contemporary Art Exhibition, ICAE 2018, held in Armenia this year. The idea is not only to show our culture to the world, but also to bring the world trends to Armenia. Our artists, and all of us, must be aware of what’s going on in the world to be part of it.

What is culture for you?

— Culture starts from the person, from the citizen of Armenia. When we meet other nations, for them Armenian culture is what we show them. We all must be responsible for our culture.

Not long ago I was in New York to attend the Armenian exhibition in Metropolitan museum. It was such an astonishing project, and it made me so proud! Of course, it was a one specific period of Armenian art, but still, it was ours and it was shown to the whole world. I was so proud to see hundreds and thousands of non-Armenians walking through the exhibit and discovering the wonder of the Armenian culture.

Minister of Education and Science Arayik Harutyunyan, Lilit Makunts and Nikol Pashinyan

Our culture is also brought to the world by great individuals, isn’t it?

— Indeed! On the Francophonie days we all were waiting for our great Charles Aznavour who, unfortunately, passed away not long before. And even after his life he was a real ambassador of the Armenian culture. Francophonie days were very important platform for new cooperation with different countries. The Ministry of Culture was not much involved in the process, it was more about foreign affairs, but I’m still very happy for what those days brought us.

Another important ambassador is William Saroyan, whose house-museum was opened this Summer in his hometown of Fresno… I’m sure, we will have much more to say and to show to the world. And to us.