“Boghosyan Gardens” Non-Profit-Making Organization
Location: Vanadzor, Lori Province
Implementation period: April – September 2016
Coordinator: Sevada Petrosyan
Project Context and Objectives
The chimneys belonging to a chemical fibre factory and a thermal power plant in Vanadzor, which is Armenia’s third biggest city, welcome its guests from many kilometres away. The two industrial giants have become an integral part of the urban fabric and not so long ago used to serve as a symbol of this country’s advanced economy.
This kind of environment, jointly with a mass media-transmitted global culture infiltration, has contributed to the formation in the area of a strong musical subculture: in around 2005 several interesting rock groups appeared, with a certain community of the genre adherents forming around them. Rock music has become a unique example of the Vanadzor urban culture.
Can rock music be considered the city’s vital cultural heritage? We are sure that it can and has to (while the “semiotic pause” stage can even be a dangerous one in this respect), because already now it is capable of contributing to the enhancement of the local and national identity and pride for one’s culture, which is created here and now. There are lots of examples to support the thesis, unfortunately, so far outside Armenia, only.
Vanadzor’s investments in the flourishing local rock music fall short of the needs, which is why we have made up our minds to assume control of the situation and suggested that the local musicians’ concerts should be held. The format is a simple one, but in fact it is a rare opportunity to celebrate, conceptualise and assess the modern perceptible and intangible cultural phenomenon of the city, which phenomenon aspires to become cultural heritage.
With our vision of the city’s cultural landscape we had to be convincing for many potential partners, which is why concurrently we pursued a goal of creating the city’s visible cultural map. Only this type of visualised information can provide a basis in the future for discussing more global strategies of the Vanadzor cultural development.
Major Events and Results
– The first project stage has been dedicated to exploring and mapping the heritage sites, in the Vanadzor case, it is the industrial and modernist architecture of the city, as well as its modern music scene represented by rock music. The process related to identifying and comparing the examples of industrial and modernist architecture was conducted by the project manager and a team of interested Vanadzor enthusiasts and represented chamber studies and architectural monument visits. We have drafted a list of architects active in Vanadzor since the 1970’s, as well as a list of nearly 100 structures, which meet our criteria. We have collected a valuable set of archive materials and relevant photographic materials filmed on purpose; and
– A crucial role in assessing and analysing the materials collected was played by two community meetings attended by the stakeholders, local NGO and local authority representatives, as well as by some persons with specific professional interests, such as architects, musicians, managers, etc. The meeting format was used to discuss the current Vanadzor heritage conditions, possible actions to be taken, as well as opinions and proposals related to a further project implementation. These discussions have provided evidence that the community’s will to get engaged in preserving the modern intangible cultural patrimony of the city is very strong.
The meetings were held in the lounge of the city’s puppet theatre building. The building can boast of a long history of supporting the local rock music, having provided a platform for many rock concerts, as well as represents a unique example of the Soviet architecture in the city. The above-mentioned two giant industrial compounds situated at the entrance to Vanadzor may be seen as a critical visual identification of the city.
Following the results of the two meetings, we have put on the online map, which was created ad hoc, 20 architectural heritage sites of the city (accessible on our organisation’s website www.urbanlab.am), as well as released a short documentary film based on expert interviews and “urban stories” (after several official demonstrations now accessible on YouTube). A similar process of archive research and interview video filming was also applied in respect of the Vanadzor rock music scene and, upon a round of consultations with the local music amateurs, during the second community meeting.
A majestic rock concert was held on the 25th of September 2016 in a park adjacent to the Vanadzor Chemical Factory Community Centre, which park is surrounded by great many industrial and modernist sites. Six Yerevan and Vanadzor performers took part in a public 5‑hour long concert and they were seen by about 3,000 persons, including competing parties’ nominees at the local elections.
The electoral campaign has had, on the whole, little influence on the project roll-out, not to mention difficulties related to the concert date and place selection. However, the discourse on rock music as a vital aspect of the local cultural image and heritage, which we have initiated, was beneficial and used by politicians in their rivalry (which we estimate to be a positive, albeit unexpected effect). A fresh and differing point of view on the sites, which the local community saw as obsolete and unworthy of attention, has caused a certain commotion, but also provided an opportunity to establish a dialogue with the local authorities. By and large, against the background of a bitter electoral campaigning and disputes initiated by some parties, the local authorities have provided to us their support to the fullest extent. The concert was held on Armenia’s European Heritage Days and was included on the list of the events promoted also by the Ministry of Culture of Armenia, Council of Europe and the Delegation of the European Union in Armenia.
Project Extension Needed
The final project presentation was held in November 2016 for more than a hundred persons, who are not indifferent to the quality of the local cultural environment; the presentation opportunity was used for the short documentary film preview. The positive response was, undoubtedly, important, but our project has only brushed against the iceberg top. No one worked before us in a relatively young industrial city with the issues related to the cultural resources needed for the urban development or to the significance of its cultural and creative identity. We have succeeded in identifying the range of topics and the amount of work to be done in the future.
Our general common objective was to raise awareness about the modern tangible or intangible phenomenon, which may be perceived as heritage. We do believe that the project has achieved its intended result from the viewpoint of awareness-raising. Other effects dealing with the strategic use of heritage as a development resource either are long-term in their essence and therefore will in reality be assessed later, or need new cycles of systematic activities; in fact, drafting an action programme or advocacy campaign, while ignoring importance of cultural heritage.
One of our priority objectives to remain in the future will be represented by promotion of a participatory decision-making process, public at large being involved. Achieving this goal will serve to ensure the human practice in respect of their democratic rights for participation within the processes of community building and governance. However, for any continuation and guaranteeing our actions’ sustainability at the early stages we shall need some outside assistance: cultural and intellectual communities (whose loyalties we have won) and the local authorities.
We are grateful to all those, who were involved in the project implementation: volunteers and invited team members, who used to help with the archive work, and to the organisations, which have ensured the best possible quality of live sound and video or audio materials. A weighty contribution has been made by the city’s other NGOs: Rafael, Vanadzor and Peace and Dialogue, which are active in the cultural heritage, community capacity building or local democracy. We have gained some significant contacts with representatives of other spheres, local authorities and donors, which contacts we shall be only too glad to use for any would-be interdisciplinary projects.