Restrictions due to the pandemic have not stopped the work of the Nabokov Museum at St Petersburg University this year. On the contrary, the lockdown triggered it to move forward. Andrei Astvatsaturov, Director of the Museum, writer, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University said that the Museum managed to expand its audience and that now it is considering international development.

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What was this year like for the Nabokov Museum?

As all the museums in Russia, we had to close down for some time, and when we reopened, we could only allow a limited number of visitors at a time. Although unfortunately we had fewer visitors this year, we continued working and managed to expand our audience significantly. We moved most of our work online and organised successful online activity. The Museum has pushed on to the next level with a considerably bigger outreach. 

As for the numbers, how big is your audience now?

Before the pandemic, we had around 60 to 70 visitors a day. Approximately the same number of people used to attend our events, because we could not seat more people. Now our online events get 10, 20, 30 thousand views. On average, one video gets more than 10,000 views. Some events get 20,000, others get one and a half, two, five, six thousand, which is also substantial, especially if compared with the actual seating capacity of the Museum.  Overall, this year we have got as many as around 184,000 views.

Tell us please how you managed to achieve so much this year? Did you have any especially memorable projects that allowed you to move to a new level?

We continued working and due to objective circumstances we put more efforts in developing online areas. First of all, we launched a virtual tour around the Museum. Second, we revitalised our work in social media networks such as Facebook, VKontakte, Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok. With the help of social media networks online visitors can see different exhibits of the Museum and learn the facts of the life and work of Vladimir Nabokov.

Also, we continued our exhibition activity. However, it was also moved online. Exhibitions are a crucial part of the work of the Museum for it to be kept alive during the lockdown. We started cooperating with different online platforms. And now we arrange our exhibitions there. This year we have held eight online exhibitions.

Finally, we have not discontinued our work in the sphere of education. We started developing this area last year and consider it very important. We regularly hold panel discussions, open access lectures and seminars. We did not use to have more than 60 visitors. This is because of the seating capacity of the Nabokov library where we hold such events. However, now we have grown significantly and continue to carry out educational projects through our social networks. All our meetings are now held online. During the pandemic we have arranged 14 events online.

What topics have become most popular with the public?

Since last year we have been developing several main subject areas. These are the life and works of Vladimir Nabokov and Russian literature, foreign literature and contemporary Russian literature and translation studies. This year we decided to add history, as we believe it might spark interest with our audience. It is safe to say that it was the right choice. The rest of the subjects still attract our online visitors.

For example, the lecture of a famous turkologist, translator, and Associate Professor of the University Apollinariia Avrutina ‘Orhan Pamuk and Vladimir Nabokov’ got 33,000 views and was reposted many times on different social media networks. My lecture about Henry Miller that was one of the first to be released had more than 30,000 views. The lecture about Lolita by Aleksandr Bolshev, Professor in the Department of History of Russian Literature got around 15,000 views. And the presentation of Nina Shcherbak, Associate Professor in the Department of English Philology and Cultural Linguistics at the University, about the novel ‘Ada’ was watched more than 10,000 times.

Not only researchers of Nabokov and the University teachers work with us. This year a range of open access lectures by prominent specialists from other universities of Russia were given on our platform. For some of them the online format was a unique possibility, as they were not able to come to St Petersburg. 

Online development is without a doubt very important. However, is offline work still worth developing? How can it function, if we take into consideration this year’s experience?

All our exhibitions are held both online and offline. Despite the fact that the visiting capacity of the Museum is very limited, not only do we continue offline activities, but we also develop this area. Moreover, we hope that when the pandemic is finally over, we will be able to arrange our events both online and offline.

We will combine online and offline formats: it is great that we managed to attract a new audience. People are not now confined to the Museum working hours, they can attend our events whenever they want. However, nothing can replace real-life communication, real-life interaction between visitors and the Museum, as well as between lecturers and audience. Inperson lectures can get immediate feedback from people; they are different from numbers, likes or hearts that pop up on the screen to encourage the lecturer. Of course, those are also important, especially in today’s situation, but technologies are no substitute for real-life communication and real-life contact with the audience.

It is obvious for us that we can easily lose the audience that we have just gained. For example, we will definitely continue holding exhibitions both in-person and online for those who cannot come to the Museum for some reasons; for example, if a person lives in a different city or a different country. The same applies to our educational activity. I hope we will be able to move our lectures back offline and stream them on our social networks. 

Is it true that this year enabled you to reconsider the mission of the Nabokov Museum? The Museum has become cross-border and your projects have become available to those who live far away from St Petersburg. How will it influence the development of the Museum and its mission?

Yes, of course, we will continue to expand. We have understood that we are much-in-demand. Today, our mission is to become famous all over Russia, and we are working on it. We are getting more and more visitors, some of which come to our platform on a regular basis. The internet coverage has reached 184,000 views. This is a lot if we remember the capacity of the Museum.

Our next aim is to try to make the Museum international. We are thinking about ways of achieving it. Nabokov is popular all over the World. He is one of the few figures of the Russian literature that are famous outside Russia. So we need to find possibilities of attracting foreign visitors to the Museum.

We are analysing the data and though it is not always accurate, we can see that our pages are viewed form the CIS countries, Western Europe, the USA, China and Turkey. Visitors are likely to be either the Russian emigrants or people who are interested in the Russian culture, know the language and study Nabokov professionally. However, we would like the Museum to become truly international and to attract not only a narrow circle of the foreign public. This year has shown that we must focus on international development, and we will try to do so.

What are the prospects of the development of the Museum for the next year? Are there any ideas or projects yet?

We will definitely continue our current work in the area of exhibitions and education. We have a few interesting ideas for development in the next year, but our main concern at the moment is modernisation of the Museum. In order to make it international a tremendous amount of work needs to be done. We have to attract human resources and funds. We will do our best to make the Museum more modern, accessible, advanced and attractive not only for the citizens of St Petersburg and Russia but also from around the World.