The Cultural-Educational Establishment “Vitsiebsk For Me”

Location: Vitsiebsk, Belarus

Implementation period: April 2016 – May 2017

Project coordinator: Valiantsina Kirylava


Context: Problems Solved by the Project

The world-wide recognized founders of the Vitsiebsk national art school – Marc Chagall, Kazimir Malevich, and El Lisitsky – created almost a century ago the association UNOVIS (“The Champions of the New Art”) that changed the aesthetic-philosophical model of the visual world. UNOVIS influenced much fine arts and the art theory, philosophy, literature, polygraphic industry, theater, cinema, architecture, and city planning. Documentary and art values of UNOVIS heritage are in museums of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, Amsterdam, Strasbourg, Cologne, and New York. Meanwhile, Vitsiebsk, the city that is known for its powerful art school, is only getting started to recognize its heroes.

It is attested by the appearance of the Vitsiebsk Contemporary Art Center, as well as by scientific readings and plein airs, street art, and the shooting of the film “Chagall. Malevich”. All these events formed the need of heads and townsfolk of Vitsiebsk, international organizations, to revitalize the heritage of UNOVIS at national and international levels – after all, only the external recognition will allow us to include our pride of such names in townspeople’s consciousness.

In this project, we pursued two purposes: 1) to lobby the inclusion of the world famous heritage of UNOVIS vanguard art (1920-1922) in the list of historical-cultural values of Belarus and the list of objects of UNESCO world heritage; 2) to involve city communities in the formation of the cultural code of Vitsiebsk by actualizing its heritage – to use spatial, dynamic, and plastic principles of UNOVIS for the restoration of historical buildings, the conceptual development of territories and concrete objects. All these are called to reveal the true historical-cultural value of UNOVIS for Vitsiebsk, which practically can serve as a socio-cultural, touristic, and investment appeal of the city.


Project Implementation

We have carried out a whole complex of events/actions of different character and complexity.

We invited 7 best experts on the history and heritage of UNOVIS from Belarus; 2 experts came from Russia. All of them worked with archival documents and museum artifacts in the funds of the Vitsiebsk State Regional Museum and the Marc Chagall Museum; the results of their researches are:

– “New graphics, sculpture, and documents of D. Yakerson from VOK funds” (V. A. Shyshanava);

– “UNOVIS Almanac” in the funds of the Marc Chagall Museum” (Y. M. Stsepanets);

– “Artefacts from Henry Mandel’s collection in the Marc Chagall Museum – reflection of the topic of the creative association UNOVIS” (A. M. Shyrokava);

– “Documents and artefacts of the creative association UNOVIS in VGOKM funds” (A. P. Lyutsko);

– “Yudel Pen – the final defender of UNOVIS” (L. S. Radavaya);

– “New documents of GAVO on the history of the creative association UNOVIS” (T. V. Buyevich);

– “History and chronicle of UNOVIS in the Almanac and its author” (V. S. Haleyeu).

These works, as well as electronic presentations on the basis of scanned materials, were used by UNOVIS ACADEMY and meetings of the club UNOVIS-DIALOGUE on the basis of the partner art club “Torvald”. This club (lectures and discussions) united many professionals, art workers, archivists, young designers, teachers, and students.

Thanks to the researches, we prepared a text of the proposal to include the heritage of UNOVIS in the list of national values and a corresponding set of documents that were submitted to the commission on historical-cultural heritage at the Ministry of Culture of Belarus.

There was a special social effect among inhabitants of Vitsiebsk caused by the actions connected with the restoration of sketches of paintings on 2 trams and 1 trolleybus made by K. Malevich, N. Kogan, and N. Suyetin in 1920. In June 2016, a group of designers (S. Drazdou, I. Hurko, and A. Konanau) started to work and in September 2016 the trams and the trolleybus with the historically valuable paintings were seen in the city. We carried out a special press conference to celebrate it. This event became exclusive not only for Vitsiebsk, but also for the whole country – TUT.BY statistics said this news had more than 19,000 views. For a year already, the trams have been working as social advertising – they are free-of-charge.

In January-March 2017, we had a contest of sketches “UNOVIS Alphabet” to create playgrounds for children, youth, and recreational zones “Quay UNOVIS”. There were 36 applications from 54 participants from 4 countries: Belarus, Israel, the Netherlands, and Russia. The professional jury chose 10 authors whose works were presented in the second round. In each of three nominations, there were authors of three projects. In each nomination, the jury defined the winner who received the right to implement his/her project in Vitsiebsk at the expense of means of the city budget.

A separate part of the project was the work on 2 guidebooks of special excursion routes and 4 demonstrational street stands dedicated to the heritage of UNOVIS. Senior lecturers of Vitsiebsk Technological University – N. Tarabuko and V. V. Vasiliev – became authors of the texts and design.

Results and Effects of the Project

Despite the steady skepticism of a narrow group of officials and creative experts concerning abstract art and new forms of communities’ development, we managed to implement the concept of space “UNOVIS-FORUM”. We were fully and unprecedentedly supported by the Vitsiebsk Regional and City Executive Committees, rectors and directors of educational institutions, employees of chairs and departments, and children’s art schools. Our events were covered in the mass media and we received many positive responses from inhabitants of Vitsiebsk.

As a result of our joint work with the collective of the depot of the Vitsiebsk Tram and Trolleybus Department, its director V. M. Paulyuchkou created a separate section in the Vitsiebsk Tram Museum. The VTTD fully financed the design and now these trams are free-of-charge.

Our efforts were recognized at the international level – the “UNOVIS” topic was included in the program and materials of the Days of European cultural heritage in Belarus. 10 professional art organizations and establishments supported with their written statements the idea of including the heritage of UNOVIS in the list of historical-cultural heritage of Belarus. The Ministry of Culture is going to consider this question in the near future.

Our communication with other participants of the CHOICE project was very important. During club meetings of the project, as well as international seminars, there appeared a platform of sharing information and best practices in the field of heritage in the Eastern Partnership countries. The feeling that there are adherents inspires and helps us to keep working.

We are immensely grateful to all partners – separate experts and organizations that helped us at each stage. Although the project is formally over, in the future there will necessarily be some continuation as we have launched all the necessary details of the mechanism.

Historical and Cultural Heritage of UNOVIS – the Cultural Code of Vitsiebsk City Development