Take Me To Perm!

by Paddy Johnson on July 25, 2011 Newswire

Graffiti on the side of a building. Mikhail Galustov for The New York Times

The Siberian city of Perm, population under one million, has dedicated 3 percent of its annual budget to arts funding, according to The New York Times. That’s $53 million, which at this point is probably more than allotted by New York state. The new spending is the result of Oleg Chirkunov’s efforts, a man who was appointed as the city’s governor in 2004. “A city must have a dream”, he told the Times, explaining that when he was appointed, Perm was losing a lot its young people. “160,000 in eight years.” he said, adding, “Something needed to be done to make this an attractive place to live.”

As Finn-Olaf Jones tells it, no small part of the city’s draw stems from the people themselves, who are extraordinarily kind. In one instance, Jones recalls the entire hotel staff searching for a visitor’s lost iphone; in another, a woman behind him at the pharmacy called her daughter to help him order some cough drops. It comes as no surprise, then, that city programs actually fly in graffiti artists from Mexico and New York to decorate their highways.

According to Jones, not everyone is a fan of Perm’s art budget — one computer programmer expressed skepticism over the need to dedicate so much tax dollars to the field — but concedes the city is more interesting for it. Probably the most interesting observation along these lines came from Jone’s experience attending the ballet and opera theatre, which was packed with locals wearing their Saturday best. Compare this to the New York City Opera, which has been seeking ways to engage younger audiences with only marginal success.

Of course, New York arts organizations will have problems much larger than funding if the debt ceiling’s worst case scenario is realized. No one’s going to be able to attend the theatre if we’re all too poor to do so.

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