Capitals by Design: Architecture, the Arts, and Public Spectacle in St. Petersburg & Washington, D.C. 1703-2003
This two-day symposium was co-organized by the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES); Department of Art, Music, and Theater at Georgetown University; Hillwood Museum and Gardens; and the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center.
Keynote speaker, James Cracraft, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago, began the symposium by noting the significance of St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C. as capital cities. He explained that St. Petersburg has remained close to its architect, Peter the Great, and shares many similar traits to the "purposefully built" Washington, D.C.
Following Cracraft's remarks, Blair A. Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute, chaired a panel with Howard Gillette, Professor of History, Rutgers University and Ewa Berard, Research Scholar, National Center for Scientific Research, Paris, which examined the designing and building process of the two capitals. Gillette posited that "beyond the basic functions buildings serve, they have at times in American history been looked to as a means to enhance and shape desirable civic values." Gillette described Washington's building process and how efforts have "sought to convey both at home and abroad messages about America's republican experiment." Berard's remarks focused on the similarities between the remodeling of the each cities as they, "were solicited to catch up with new urban models, to reshape their monumental layout, and to beautify." Berard explained how both the Senate Park Commission's plan for Washington and the "revitalist" project in St. Petersburg turned to a "neoclassic imperial forms and symbols" in their rebuilding project. She discussed the meaningfulness of this coincidence and its impact in the further development of cities and architecture in the United States and Russia.
The second panel of the symposium, which was chaired by Karen L. Kettering, Associate Curator of Russian Art, Hillwood Museum and Gardens and included panelist Richard Stites, Professor of History and School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Stites described the role of various Russian cultural institutions namely, the Academy of Fine Arts, the Imperial Theater system, and Philharmonia. He explained the significance of these three "centers of culture" and discussed the physical properties of buildings, social relations within and the cultural styles and practices associated with each.
The third panel of the symposium, "Defining New Cultures in the Modern Era" was chaired by Alison Hilton, Professor of Art History, and Chair of the Department of Art, Music, and Theater, Georgetown University and featured presentations by James A. Miller, Professor of English and American Studies, George Washington University and Alla Rosenfeld, Curator of Russian and Soviet nonconformist art, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University. Miller briefly discussed the role of Washington, D.C. in 19th century African-American literature, and noted the influence of Washington, D.C. writers and intellectuals in "constructing Harlem as the mythical center of African-American life." Rosenfeld explained the numerous alternative art movements in Leningrad from the 1920s through the 1980s. Rosenfeld focused her presentation on the tensions that existed between the Soviet official art establishment and the experimental institutions.
Following this, a lively roundtable discussion involving all participants and chairs allowed participants to make their final points and chairs to draw together common themes comparing and contrasting the capital cities of St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C.. The conference concluded as participants were invited to attend the photography exhibit, "Time Standing Still: St. Petersburg Photography" organized by Nailya Alexander, Guest Curator, Georgetown University.