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American Friends of the Russian Country Estate (A-Force), a Washington, D.C. based 501(c)(3), non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Russia's historic country estates and museum-houses, received funding under the SABIT Grants Program to further support its technical assistance efforts.


Tolstoy Museum

Leo Tolstoy wrote several of his most famous works at Yasnaya Polyana, most notably War and Peace. Half a million tourists a year visit the museum.


In 2003 A-Force will train two Russian museum personnel for four months in museum management, tourism, historic preservation, and regional economic development.


The training is aimed at helping Russian country estates and museum-houses become self-sustainable business entities. Whereas in the United States private donations help to cover a significant percentage of museum operating costs and major construction projects, the requisite institutional structures and laws do not exist in Russia to solicit private donations. For example, there are no tax incentives for contributions to museums. “Under the current system most museums are funded inadequately by local or federal ministries of culture. This has led to a dire situation where museum personnel are basically working for free and really necessary repairs cannot be made,” observes A-Force’s President Priscilla Roosevelt.


Museums also compete directly for donations with churches (church restoration is very popular among wealthy Russians), which are classified as charitable institutions under the Russian tax code. Lack of income transparency also serves as a significant factor deterring private donations to cultural institutions. Some wealthy Russians do not want the government to know how much money they have - a large donation may tip tax authorities off to potential under reporting of income. Furthermore, if an individual does want to contribute, rural estate museums lack the visibility that cultural icons like the Bolshoi Theater have in terms of drawing private donations.


A-Force recently trained an employee from the historic museum-house of Leo Tolstoy known as Yasnaya Polyana, which is located in the Tula Region outside of Moscow. Tolstoy wrote many of his books here, most notably War and Peace. Under A-Force’s grant, Anna Radinskaya, Special Events Coordinator at Yasnaya Polyana, spent one month in Atlanta, Georgia at the Margaret Mitchell House. During her training, she helped to organize an event at which Vladimir Tolstoy, Director of Yasnaya Polyana, spoke to members of the Association of Southern Architecture. Radinskaya also spent one month training at Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson located in Charlottesville, VA.


Yasnaya Polyana is one of the most popular rural tourist destinations in Russia. Half a million tourists visit per year. “Real self-sustainability is a pretty distant goal, but the idea is that the trainees pick up ideas from our institutions for profitable museum-related activities. The new Director, Vladimir Tolstoy, is young and dynamic – thinking constantly about gift shops, restaurants, and how to turn Yasnaya Polyana into a tourist destination,” said Roosevelt. The museum also recently acquired a nearby hotel which they are refurbishing to house visitors.


Roosevelt strongly believes that the personal relationships host organizations form with trainees can serve as a catalyst for change. The Director of the Margaret Mitchell House will attend a conference at Yasnaya Polyana later this year. “This may just be the start of a real collaboration between the two literary museums,” commented Roosevelt.



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