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Artists United, Muskie Alumna Launches Art Exchanges to Empower Independent, Critical Voices

Anna Evtiugina

Anna Evtiugina is a Russian alumna of the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program, having participated in the program in 2017 as part of her Fulbright Foreign Student Program experience. Anna studied Arts Administration at Indiana University, Bloomington, and interned at the San Jose Museum of Art during her time in the U.S. Anna tells us about her blossoming artistic career, which has influenced many artists in the region, five years later.

Anna’s experience

Art has a unique ability to foster cross-border ties and trust. It can encourage people’s innate creativity by giving them opportunities to study, explore, and participate in new artistic projects, or simply by allowing them to be part of the creative process. Art is universal—it conveys emotion in a way it speaks in different languages, and in an interconnected world, artists draw inspiration from diverse cultural traditions and histories.

Participating in international exchange programs like the Muskie Professional Fellowship allowed me to get real-world experience that supplemented and enhanced my Fulbright Program graduate studies in the United States.

Since my first student years, art was a magnetic aspiration that attracted me steadily.  I have been involved in international activities due to volunteering as a vice president of the local committee in AIESEC – the international internships organization, studying abroad in Germany and the U.S., and working as an international program coordinator at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Yekaterinburg. Later, I walked my professional path in the art world. In 2011, I joined a Moscow-based contemporary art Iragui Gallery as a manager and later took the role of the director. I loved working in a dynamic and diverse environment with an international exhibition program. I started studying how art initiatives can contribute to cultural diplomacy inspired by the speakers at the Cultural and Art Diplomacy conference in Berlin in 2012. They shared mind-blowing examples of how lives and perspectives can change through experiencing art.

When I hit the ceiling of my position at the time, the Fulbright and Muskie programs opened new doors for me. As a Fulbright scholar, I earned a master’s degree in Art Administration and Cultural Policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs of Indiana University, Bloomington. This allowed me to build a massive castle out of fresh knowledge and past expertise in the sector. Learning about the history of art policy, creative placemaking, systems for supporting the arts, and fundraising in graduate school and during my internships was essential for getting to the next level of my career. Moreover, the U.S. has been the most significant art market in the world for a long time. Therefore, it is very fruitful to be immersed in the art scene here for art professionals like me.

As a Muskie fellow, I was privileged to work in the curatorial department of the San Jose Museum of Art. I worked on research and exhibition planning for renowned artists like Rina Banerjee and The Propeller Group.

I began to see myself as a cultural entrepreneur after working as a curator and producer for various initiatives. While the entrepreneurial mentality is encouraged in the U.S., my Fulbright-Muskie experience inspired me to launch my own company to organize international exchange programs for artists. This was a way to design more opportunities for myself and others. That is something I now promote to my art and art business students. My exchange experience enriched me professionally, culturally, and personally, so I became inspired by the idea of bringing similar opportunities to others.

A fresh breeze from the art side 

Anna Evtiugina with Residency Unliimited fellows from Russia, New York, July 2019. Photo courtesy: Anna Evtiugina

Exchange programs in the arts are rare in Russia. In 2018, together with visual artist and creative producer Nikita Shokhov, we co-founded a creative studio in New York, ipureland.art. We were joined by a couple of other Fulbright alumnae, including Teona Yamanidze who is an alumna of the Muskie Program as well—I really appreciate the Muskie network and the people I met through the program.

All our projects are designed to develop and nurture the potential of creative professionals and art institutions through consulting, professional education, emerging technology, and strategic partnerships with businesses. It is crucial for us because creatives eventually define the cultural, physical, and now virtual reality we live in. And by supporting their sustainability, we contribute to a healthier art ecosystem and creative economy as a whole.

In the past three years, we launched two residency programs for artists and professionals from Russia in partnership with Residency Unlimited and the International Studio and Curatorial Program, the most prestigious residencies in New York. We do the program at ISCP in partnership with AES+F artist collective.

We work now on a unique development program for galleries in partnership with New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), a gallery accelerator that supports Russia-based galleries in participation in international art fairs. It also includes an opportunity for selected galleries to come for a short residency in New York.

We are proud of the educational program we designed and now curate at Moscow School of Contemporary Art, International Strategies in Art Business. This is a program of a new type, something like an MBA for art professionals.

It includes prominent practitioners in art and business from leading auction houses, galleries, art organizations, and logistical legal consulting firms who share their hands-on expertise. Our goal is to teach individuals who can combine cultural and business strategies and execute art projects in Russia with a global perspective.

Participant of gallery accelerator porgram Ekatherina Iragui, founder of IRAGUI Gallery, and Anna Evtiugina at NADA art fair with works by Rodion Kitaev, New York, May 2022. Photo courtesy: Anna Evtiugina

This is essential because art celebrates diversity, and its respect for difference promotes tolerance in an international environment. Art is personal, so it promotes the idea that everyone’s voice matters. Finally, art encourages people-to-people relationships between individuals in different nations, which builds a platform for international collaboration.

Art becomes even more crucial in the moment of crisis. I believe that artists and cultural workers in Russia and Ukraine and other countries can make a statement that we are united by one common goal – advocating for peace and unity in this dark moment.

With many of my colleagues in New York, curators and artists, such as AES+F, we organize initiatives to fundraise for artists in Ukraine.

With the ipureland team, we have designed two initiatives in response to the critical situation of the cultural workers in Russia and Belarus, who are silenced with new imprisonment laws and fired from their positions if they speak out against the war, and many are forced out of the country.

The first one is launching a residency program in Georgia for artists in exile who have to leave Russia and Belarus to give them the support of the international professional community. The second one is a Collective Academy supported by Cultural Vistas. It is an online forum for artist collectives and artist-run initiatives to learn from each other and their US and international colleagues and to become more self-sustainable. We invite such art groups as Tigers Strike Asteroids (USA), Big Car Collective (USA), The Propeller Group (Vietnam), Heckler (Eastern Europe), and Ruangroupa (Indonesia) to share their experience.

Danbas Theta Gender. Nikita Shokhov in collaboration with Danbas (Danila Udovenko). 2022. Still from AR performance, produced by ipureland studio. Photo courtesy: Anna Evtiugina

The influence of art in international exchange comes from visual art or music or theater and other arts sharing the beauty of human potential and cultural legacy independently of the origin of the artists and audiences. We just released an augmented reality (AR) experience Dragzina which is an American-Russian collaboration of gender play community with the same name and Nikita Shokhov. At the moment, we also are preparing to release an American-Russian-Ukrainian collaborative AR performance Danbas Thera Gender together with a noise sound artist and fashion designer Danila Udovenko.

In the future, I would like to continue building a support system that self-grows through nurturing talent and offering growth opportunities. That is why I envision my programs growing into a non-profit foundation.

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