Dnipro-based Illicha House of Culture: to sell or to save? – discussion

An example of constructivist architecture, Dnipro-based House of Culture has been put on auction to cover for the assets of an insolvent bank. Activists and art experts speak on why it is important to preserve it as a cultural site.

Ukraine needs a mechanism to protect cultural monuments and sites that came to be privately owned and are facing the threat of being ruined. The idea was presented by activists and art experts while discussing the situation around the Illicha House of Culture in Dnipro.

10 million hryvnias bid at an auction

The abovementioned House of Culture can be sold at the upcoming auction on April 14 through the “ProZorro.Sale” platform as assets of an insolvent bank. The starting bid amounts to 10 million hryvnias. The auction will be valid if there is a minimum of two buyers registered by 8 p.m. on April 13, said Oleksii Sobolev, head of “ProZorro.Sale” project. The auction will be held online in three rounds, according to the standard procedure of “ProZorro.Sale”. The House of Culture is being placed up for auction for the tenth time. In the first auction the starting bid was 16 million hryvnia, it was later decreased to 10 as no buyers showed up.

Dnipro-based Illicha House of Culture – masterpiece of constructivist architecture

The project of the Dnipro-based Illicha House of Culture was designed by architect Oleksandr Krasnoselsky in 1932. According to Yevhenia Ukhilevych, member of Ukraine’s National Union of Architects, it stands as a unique example of constructivist architecture “alongside with the Kharkiv-based Gosprom building (Derzhprom in Ukrainian) or even exceeds it”. The style did not exist for long, and these pieces are quite few. The Illicha House of Culture once belonged to the Petrovsky factory and was a notable cultural life center of the city, in the 90s it started declining. Currently it is a site that attracts the visitors anxious to see impressive monumentalism of the building and take pictures of it. Last year it hosted the “Konstruktsiya” (construction) festival organized by artists.

The situation around the status of the building is very controversial. According to the resolution of the Council of Ministers (Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) of 1974 it was granted the status of a cultural site of local importance. In 2007 it was still part of the list of protected sites. In 2010 it became known that it had been somehow stripped off the cultural site status. It still remains unclear how it happened, as to do so the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers was required. Following these developments in 2013 civic activists filed the documents required to acknowledge it a newly discovered cultural monument and then a cultural monument of national importance. Despite the fact that the process was supposed to take a year, it has not been yet granted the status, said Yevhenia Moliar, art expert, participant of the “De Ne De” initiative. The documents reached the culture department of Dnipropetrovsk region, and it was at this stage that they either got lost, or forgotten. Last week responding to the request by Yevhenia Moliar the Ministry of Culture said they will start clarifying the situation.

Next steps

All these years activists from Dnipro have been looking for ways to save the building and preserve its cultural function. The main challenge is to create a business model that will allow to repair the building and register it as state-owned property, otherwise the city authorities will refuse to include it in the asset list. “We would like to make it an art center and fill it up exclusively with cultural content. But it would probably be economically unfeasible. That’s why we suggest a hybrid model that will comprise the elements of a trade facility and a cultural center. There is already a preliminary agreement with potential lessees who are ready to lease the premises there,” said Yulianna Pakhniy, representative of the “Potik Chasu” NGO, producer at Raketa Film agency. Two museums and several more NGOs are ready to join the reconstruction initiative. It is quite possible to also involve the donor money. Pakhniy also added that they started polling on the site of their NGO on how people see the future of the House of Culture. All interested are suggested to join the voting and suggest their ideas on reconstruction and the financing model. According to Yevhenia Molyar, the House of Culture can be turned into public space and a place for artistic initiatives.

If the building is sold at an auction its future will be vague as charity funds are ready to invest in its reconstruction only if the building stays within the city’s property. If the auction is not to happen, it becomes unclear how to return it back to the city’s asset list without payment as it is expected that the money that could be potentially obtained from its sales would be used to pay the clients of an insolvent bank.

Leonid Marushchak, curator of the Arts Department at Ukraine Crisis Media Center, made a suggestion, in case the auction is not going to happen, to hold a day or a month of open doors in order to attract public attention to the House of Culture and possibly find best solution for both the civil society and the state.

The case requires action on the part of the state

A model needs to be worked out suggesting how to save cultural monuments and sites under similar circumstances, emphasized Yevhenia Moliar. Institutions the functions of which are to preserve the cultural sites need to be more proactive. There are about 20 similar declining buildings in Dnipro only. “Stigmatizing Soviet heritage leads to depreciation of such objects. As a result, we have the cases of ‘Burevisnyk’ cinema house in Mariupol sold for 600 thousand hryvnias (approx. 21 thousand euros), and now the unique constructivist piece on sale for 10 million hryvnias (approx. 350 thousand euros) while we do not have the instruments that would allow us to preserve its initial look. For now I do not see other ways to control it than grassroots initiatives that are taking the action voluntarily and on unpaid basis,” she noted. The cases when private owners are buying such objects and do nothing to preserve them need to be regulated by law.