What is MUSEUM INCLUSIVITY all about?

The word inclusivity goes back to Latin includo, to include. This term is in a wide use in today’s museum community. More often it is understood as simply creating a disabled-friendly environment. But real museum inclusivity only comes into being when the projects and events of the museum enable participation of most different people, especially those who never had such an opportunity before. Certainly, removing physical barriers with the help of ramps, lifts, Braille inscriptions, and knowledge of the sign language is most important. This is what is known as accessibility, and this is the first and crucial stage of creating an inclusivity environment. But inclusivity is more complicated than that. It is an inherent capability of a person to accept differences, or to be open in front of the other. Besides, this sort of relationship should be free from division into subjects and objects of care and charity (if, for example, we speak about people with disabilities). Inclusivity is not about charity. It is about a person being accepted to the public conversation, about equal opportunities and levelled-out communication between all participants of the conversation. And what is especially important, the true museum inclusivity arises where the differences are not spoken of, but where these differences, while being well understood by all participants of the conversation, enrich and empower the individual perception of all participants. This latter is perhaps the most important.


Inclusivity in the Arsenal

The Arsenal initially got an inkling of museum inclusivity in 2013 thanks to meeting two marvelous people, Anna Chigirina and Vsevolod Gichun. They offered the Arsenal team a training in interaction with blind or visually challenged people. This is how our immersion into this new world started. At that time, we held our first guided tours for blind visitors in the Arsenal.

Then another important encounter took place; that one was with the leaders of the regional department of the public organization New Opportunities Vladimir Tolmachov and Natalia Nosova. They proposed to create a special place in the Arsenal for discussing art with people who had mental issues. This was another professional challenge for us. We agreed, and together with the guys from New Opportunities started to visit our exhibitions, contemplate on what we see and feel, and on what we think about when we see the art of contemporary artists. At that moment we realized how common museum routine may help change those who lack care or communication, or understanding of how their own opinion may be valuable and significant.

Step by step the circle of those who could see the inclusivity potential of the Arsenal grew wider. Together with the gestalt therapist Natalia Kalmykova the Arsenal was visited by children with ASD and their parents. Regular meetings and conversation about art inside the space of exhibition made way to our first experience of real museum inclusivity cancelling the artificial division of people into ‘regular’ and ‘special’; it came about when several families from that group agreed to participate in our Family Weekends and our New-year promenade performance A Boy and The Moon – on equal terms with everybody else. Only actors were informed beforehand, and among them no-one was able to figure out who of the children actually had ASD. All kids were just kids.

Today, our movement The Arsenal: Inclusivity is taking shape as easy-to-understand adapted guided tours in the form of conversation at exhibitions, audio descriptions, easy-to-read texts, tactile models, video guides in the sign language, and projects open to very different people (like the inclusive school of volunteers The Place of Rendezvous). This movement is in constant development, and its curators are continuously searching for new forms of interaction with art and new methods of connecting different people.

Inclusivity project the club Together

December 2017 — November 2018

After three years of our collaboration with New Opportunities both of us came up with the idea of a large-scale joint project. We knew what the children and their curators wanted for themselves: they wanted their own exhibition in the Arsenal, and a theatrical production where they all could dance and perform. This was why we suggested an experiment: we decided to make everything in modern formats. This was how our club Together came into being; we contrived and created it together with the Volga Cultural Capital Foundation. The members of the club would have to try to become contemporary artists (the Neighbours? exhibition), actors of an immersive performance A Caucus-Race and/or a Long Tale, and stars of the documentary What a Name Means. The main point of the project was the unique worldview of each of the participants, which is far more important than any visible peculiarities or diagnoses; we left it all beyond the frame and spoke nothing about those. We put the priority on the conversation between very different people united by their strife to hear and understand each other. The place of this momentous exchange was the Arsenal; and its universal language surmounting all barriers was the contemporary art and contemporary theatre. Everything else just didn’t matter much.

The project was implemented with the use of the Grant for Development of Civil Society of President of the Russian Federation provided by the Foundation of Presidential Grants.

The club Together entered the shortlist of the national contemporary art award Innovation-2019 in the Educational Project nomination.

Exhibition Neighbours?

September 12 — December 2, 2018

curator Lera Lerner (St Petersburg)

The question mark in the name of the exhibition is significant. The participants of the project are not actual neighbours sharing a block of flats; they are young artists who for many years lived next door to modern art and now want to speak its language. Another meaning of the name is that the question is addressed to the artists, beginners and those of some renown, whose works happened to be in the neighbouring halls of the Arsenal.

The idea of this exhibition emerged almost immediately after the participants met the curator Lera Lerner. It turned out that an entry section to a block of flats was a subject the contemplation of which would be interesting to everyone. What kind of place is that? What’s it like? What do we make of it and want it to be? The answer was the idea to modernize the entry section by extending its functions.

Altogether there were 20 original artistic locutions created. Among the art works are recognizable practices of exchange and creation of communal which are habitual to the inhabitants of today’s high-rise blocks: decorative installations of plants, paintings, or poetry.

But the more obvious is the trope, the more attention it requires from the viewer to unveil its uniqueness. Thus, the Door Phone by Andrei Nosov has turned from a normal communication system between the landowner and the visitor into a universal generator of answers to any types of questions.

The Pink Door isn’t an entrance to a flat, but a sound installation in which we hear the voice of the artist. The creator Natalia Tolmachova united in her song the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata and her own poetry of romantic love: the waning dreams of love of the aging composer are resonating with the rhymes of a beginner artist and open the door leading into the space of internal freedom.

This entry section invented by the artists featured some entirely new approaches to breaking-in and appropriating of the public space: a high-tech monster armchair, a sandbox as a horizontal monument, orange aroma, and video art.

Many of the exhibits of this entry-section project are interactive and aimed at the viewer getting involved and starting to collaborate.

All that was seen by the viewers had been made with love, and evoked mutuality, response, or conversation. This is where the artists were a success. Viewers admitted that the place was the one that made you want to come back again getting glad because of a chance meeting and sharing your ideas, either in a conversation or through messages to the artists left in the drop-boxes.

Performance A Caucus-Race and/or a Long Tale

Directed by Leo Kharlamov

The idea of this performance was conceived by the Theatrical Studio of the inclusivity project. The conversation between the director and the participants helped find the keywords of the concept: communication, dialogue, interaction, and internal freedom. These became the foundation of all creative pursuits and internal transformations of those involved.

From the start of the Studio’s operation we widened the circle of the ‘conversation partners’: it included the 4th year students of the Nizhny Novgorod Theatrical School and some staff of the Arsenal. The starter to the conversation during the acting training were diverse literary texts. Among them was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The book was chosen unanimously as the best one for acting exercise and performance. The outline and the name of the production were found in the chapter A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale.

A long table. Some thirty people are gathered around it, actors and spectators mixed up. At the top of the table is the place of the Hatter. At the opposite end is the place of the Dormouse: he is the only one who can interrupt the conversation by ringing the bell. Ringing of the bell is also the signal to move round, so that new persons could have the roles of the Dormouse and the Hatter. The Hatter will take out of the hat another episode of the thirty, and this will become the subject of a new conversation, personal stories, and contemplation about one’s own hidden ‘peculiarities’, and disparities and consonances with so different conversation partners.

The duration of the performance depends on the actions of the participants: the time becomes an artistic device. The main idea of the performance was that the people getting at one table would not know who is who and get impression of one another without labelling relying only on one’s immediate perception of the developments both around and inside oneself.

Documentary What a Name Means

Directed by Katia Magus’kina

This film helps you see, hear, and feel what the club Together was like from the inside, and what the people were like in it. The film covers a lot of different people, names, and stories. Among them is Rose; that’s the name of the heroine. Rose is an artist, philosopher, and philanthropist. She can be harshly straightforward, but she’s always honest and sincere in what she says. This is an amazing story of an amazing person.

This film is a discussion of sorts of the notion of the norm in the contemporary society, and of what love and responsibility are. This film is about how similar we all are and how different. And, as is often the case with documentaries, it’s a film about me. We shot it for half a year. We filmed more than 100 hours of footage and it was a tremendously trying task to choose what should stay or go. A 50-minute footage that came out in the end was an enormous bit of work.


Katia Magus’kina

Inclusivity Project Inclusion

November 2018 — November 2019

The keyword of this project is synthesis. It’s everywhere. In the unity between contemporary art and contemporary theatre. In a jumble of different genres and artistic methods. In co-creativity of theatre directors and contemporary artists, professional actors and musicians, museum workers and participants of the Together club. In the unification of people of different generations and those who speak two different languages, Russian and sign Russian.

The project was implemented with the use of the Grant for Development of Civil Society of President of the Russian Federation provided by the Foundation of Presidential Grants.

Memories of the Fair That Never Was

Promenade performance after the exhibition by Ivan Plushh Immortality Mechanism for children 3 to 12 y. o. and their parents

Performed in two languages, Russian and sign Russian

Directed by Varvara Obidor

“Where have I seen this merry-go-round? Was it a dream? Or maybe at a fair when a child? May it be my memory adorned with pictures from other people’s tales, films, and books? I recall how I met a girl at a fair right next to a merry-go-round like this, and couldn’t start a conversation.” This is a story of love, friendship, and tricks life can play on us. Here, at the fair that pitched its tents right at Ivan Plushh’s exhibition wishes come true and miracles happen all the time.

Play Video

Production team:

Director: Varvara Obidor

Playwright: Katia Magus’kina

Sign language adaptation: Andrei Savushkin, Mitia Morovov

Costumes: Yelena Kondratyeva, Yelena Shilova

Light and sound: Alexander Neganov


Varvara Obidor, Andrei Savushkin, Yekaterina Beliayeva, Nikita Namakonov, Olga Misiukevich, Mitia Morovov

Filmed version by:

Andrei Skvortsov

Inarticulable Anthropology, or A Strange White Bird Presenting How Useless Words Are

Performance in the installation Burden by Andrei Olenev.

Directed by Leo Kharlamov

This performance is all about synthesis; synthesis of genres, subjects, ideas, artistic methods and approaches, generations and worldviews, historical epochs, social groups, and sources of inspiration.

‘The theatre for the solo artist’ or the unification of modern art and modern theatre is the central idea of the project. The large-scale installation Burden by Andrei Olenev helped the creative team get a foothold to go on with their contemplation. Around it all the acting takes place where also images and characters from the artist’s earlier art emerge.

This project is not the first Arsenal’s experience of making a performance inside an installation. [1]. The space of the museum wherein the acting is going on opens a vista of new possibilities for the theatre that quit its stage boundaries.

Synthesis takes place also between the participants of the project. Here, those whom the public remember as the makers of Leo Kharlamov’s production A Caucus-Race and/or a Long Tale (the Club Together project) met with the new participants of the theatrical studio Inclusion, professional actors and musicians, and the Arsenal professional staff. Almost a year was spent in training of acting, dancing, and speaking, learning of the sign language, and talking about contemporary art. The main results of this creative process were the mutual exchange of creative skills, discoveries of new talents in everyone, and a wide spectrum of questions such as is bound to appear in an inclusivity project like that. Difference in age and experience of the participants of the production team guaranteed a view wider than the one limited by the worldview of a particular generation.

In the performance fights are interspersed by choreography, improvisation by thoroughly detailed score, rock by mini-opera, sign language by runway show; and the text is based on the poems by Vasily Kandinsky from his collection Sounds. This choice, more offhand than deliberate, brought back the initial idea of the ‘theatre for a solo artist’. This performance is largely an experiment, of course. It’s a search for the language, or for the conversation; it’s a thought of a person, about their social evolvement, about difficulties arising on the way, and about that burden of our personal life experience and the experience of the entire humankind we all carry. But this thought is rather ‘reckless’, ‘non-mandatory’, and partly ‘irresponsible’, like all gatherings of a large creative party of adult, loud, and so different people united in the territory of contemporary art.


Leo Kharlamov

Play Video

Production team:

Director: Leo Kharlamov

Scene designers: Pavel Plokhov, Olga Druzhkova

Costumes: Marina Pechekladova

Stage props: Olga Druzhkova, Pavel Plokhov

Music: Innokenty Kharlamov

Choreographers: Darya Tkachenko, Anna Pomysukhina

Musician: Alexander Varvorkin

Sound and light: Alexander Neganov


Anna Pomysukhina, Darya Tkachenko, Arina Makunina, Olga Misiukevich, Kirill Kustov, Vladimir Khokhlov, Olga Balusheva, Tatyana Didenko, Marina Averina, Marina Belonogova, Andrei Nosov, Alexei Starkov, Mitia Morovov.

1. From 2016 to 2019 in the Arsenal we produced five performances within the project The Theatre for a Solo Artist: A Suit Woven of Family’s Clothes and A Boy and the Moon (directed by Leo Kharlamov) at Leonid Tishkov’s exhibition Look Homeward; A Kingdom in a Chest (directed by Varvara Obidor) at Dmitry Tsvetkov’s exhibition of the same name; an interactive journey performance Tales from the Universe (directed by Dmitry Markov) after Rostan Tavasiev’s exhibition Spaceport Strigino 3; Memories of a Fair That Never Was (directed by Varvara Obidor) at Ivan Plushh’s exhibition Immortality Mechanism. Only professional actors did the parts of all these productions.