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Theatre House and Volunteer Grants: Rich Life in Polyus' Regions

Victoria Vasilyeva, director of public relations of the company, told TASS about how Polyus supports contemporary art, how to find a room for a regional theater and what volunteer projects are implemented by ordinary employees.

– Victoria, hello. Attention to sustainability is a good practice for modern companies, and social responsibility issues are increasingly integrated into corporate programs and strategies. Polyus holds contemporary art festivals in the regions where it operates. Recently, the event was successfully held in Krasnoyarsk. Why did you choose contemporary art and this direction of support?

— At one time, when we had to decide on our own large image project in the regions of presence, we went through all the areas. Classic, which relate to a healthy lifestyle, sports and so on, the company has been developing for a long time, I wanted to find something new. Polyus successfully conducts professional training and development of its employees, as well as supports specialized university and secondary specialized education, organizes career guidance programs for schoolchildren and young people. We understood that something third was needed, so to speak, to balance efforts.

We carefully analyzed the socio-cultural maps of all four regions of our presence and tried to understand how we can be useful. As you understand, the most important task of business in interaction with the regions is not to try to replace state power, this is quite obvious. Therefore, we decided to look for something that will have the most positive impact on the development of the social environment in the regions of our presence, but at the same time is, let’s say, not in the priority of state financing.

We work in Eastern Siberia and the Far East. These are the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Irkutsk, Magadan Regions and Yakutia. Regions that in Central Russia are considered to be the “Siberian Pantry”: they are somewhere far away, solid natural resources and minerals, nothing more. Everyone forgets that wonderful, intelligent, talented, interesting people live here, who not only work, but also have different areas of interest in addition to their direct activities.

So, we tried to understand where such points of attraction are located in cities, and we were also interested in small towns – district centers. Because without them, the social landscape of the regions is wrong. The regions are huge in their territory: Yakutia is the first, the Krasnoyarsk Territory is the second in area, the Irkutsk Region is also among the five largest subjects of Russia, Magadan – in the top ten. Therefore, we tried to understand what “holds” this huge space, makes it holistic. After looking carefully, we realized that, no matter how paradoxical it may sound, this is culture and theater as an integral part of it. Moreover, in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, in Yakutia, and in the Irkutsk Region, there are many theaters outside the capitals of the constituent entities of the Federation.

– You have decided on the direction. And how did the idea of the project develop?

“We saw a huge number of theaters in the regions of our presence, conducted expert interviews with these people and tried to understand what they lack. If we abstract from direct “money”, they said that most of all there is a lack of communication in a professional environment and the opportunity to go somewhere from their city with performances. Theater is a living art, and it becomes interesting to others, including if it is watched by all new viewers. For example, in Lesosibirsk there is a wonderful theater “Search”, one of my favorites. The city has a little more than 60 thousand inhabitants; the theater, by and large, is federal level in terms of the quality of productions and acting works, and few people know about it.

And now we have launched the contest “Polyus. Golden Season”, which this year was held for the sixth time. The competition involves the collection of applications with performances created in the last year, as modern as possible in form, from all theaters, including independent and popular ones. Then – the selection of the best performances in the short list by a professional jury, and already for them (we believed that there should be 7-8 winners in order to observe a certain parity between the regions) – the opportunity to go to the festival, show their performances and, most importantly, immerse themselves in a professional environment. Because theatre workers in our regions said that they lack professional communication, understanding of current trends, and sometimes even just managerial skills in terms of fundraising, development and so on.

Going back to your basic question about why contemporary art. Because, oddly enough, the plots have not changed in the last couple of thousand years since the time of the ancient Greek theater. Mainly the form, presentation, interpretation of eternal themes changes. This is what contemporary art is all about. It is in demand by a modern person, understandable and close to him.

— And how did your joint project with the Territory festival, which has been held in the regions of your presence for several years, appear?

— First, we launched Polyus. Golden Season”, and then we were introduced very timely to colleagues from the international festival-school of contemporary art “Territory”. This project attracted us, among other things, for its multi-genre nature: not only classical theater is presented here, but also immersive performances, verbatims, performances in museum spaces, exhibitions and much more. In addition, “Territory” at that time was already doing projects in the regions, but very point-by-point, for example, creating verbatim performances with “Sibur” in the cities of the company’s presence.

And we offered them a kind of adventure. We understood that three weeks of the Moscow festival in the regions is difficult, and we suggested that they compress the format of the “Territory” into one week. The idea was to include in the program, along with the performances of famous theaters that they are ready to bring, several works of our winners of the contest “Polyus. Golden Season”, to make a powerful educational program, to present an exhibition. That is, in fact, to take the festival “Territory” in miniature to one of our regions.

– Sounds pretty ambitious. When was the first festival held?

– In 2017, we brought the “Territory” to Magadan, it was an interesting experience. As we joked afterwards, contemporary art has never flown so far. Nevertheless, in Magadan, the festival was held with a resounding success, it turned out to be very popular with the audience. It is clear that every time we choose performances, we try to take into account the specifics and preparedness of the audience in the region. Not everything that can be taken to Krasnoyarsk will be of interest to the Magadan viewer. But in Magadan it turned out to be an interesting and rich program. We also organized an exhibition of works by Vasily Shukhaev – one of the strongest artists of the middle of the twentieth century. It was a project of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) in the Magadan Regional Museum of Local Lore. Shukhaev spent 10 years in Magadan, as you know, not of his own free will, but he was saved by the fact that he was the chief artist of the Magadan Regional Theater. Thanks to this, among other things, some of his works have been preserved there. As a result, the MMOMA collection, the collections of Moscow collectors and the Magadan Regional Museum of Local Lore turned out to be a wonderful exposition.

Now, together with the “Territory”, we are moving around the regions of our presence. We have been to Magadan twice, krasnoyarsk twice. In 2020, the competition was held in absentia, and the festival itself, for obvious reasons, we had to move to May 2021, it was held in Irkutsk. In 2022, we plan to hold a festival in Yakutsk, they have a big date – one hundred years since the formation of the Yakut ASSR.

— Can he take part in the contest “Polyus. Golden Season” a theater group without official status? Under what conditions do teams submit applications?

– To participate in the competition, you only need an application submitted through the company “Polylog” (it acts as an operator), a questionnaire and a video of the performance created over the past year. By and large, that’s it. This does not require any costs from the teams. Accordingly, among those who are included in the shortlist, our grant fund of 6 million rubles is distributed. This money is partly used for the trip of collectives to the festival, partly for their needs (costumes, scenery, props, repair of premises, etc.).

We do not pay any attention to the status of the team. For example, on “Polyus. Golden Season” in 2020, two or three folk theaters from the Irkutsk region applied. We understood that in terms of the level of productions, they could not compete with professional theaters. Nevertheless, we invited them to the “Territory”, paid for travel and stay at the festival, providing an opportunity to watch performances and participate in the educational program.

— How far has the festival progressed over the years? What can you be proud of?

— Our festival has several great achievements. First, we have already held five festivals in the regions where we operate, each of which was attended by 3,000–3,500 spectators. Secondly, the exhibition that opens as part of the festival together with the Moscow Museum of Modern Art usually lasts 1.5-2 months, that is, the region has an aftertaste when there is an opportunity to see something in the local museum. This is how we popularize the host venues, because few people can afford to bring an exhibition of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

The third point, which is very important, is a rich educational program. The priority, of course, is the participants and winners of Polyus. Golden Season”, but in fact all the teams of the city and the region, their actors and directors are also always invited and have the opportunity to participate in a professional educational program.

— Is the level of regional troupes, say, very different from the theaters of Moscow?

— All the winners of “Polyus. Golden Season”, even if they are from small towns, of the highest level. For example, in 2020, our competition was won by a theater from Sharypovo with the play “I Hired a Murderer” based on the works of Aki Kaurismäki. In May 2021, we brought this performance to Irkutsk, and in April the troupe received the Golden Mask. The theater “Poisk” from Lesosibirsk also has “Golden Masks”. That is, the highest level. The performance is an alternative opera “Bogatyrs”, which was made by the Krasnoyarsk Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. D. A. Hvorostovsky and which was also shown on “Territory. Krasnoyarsk”, now in several nominations for the “Golden Mask”.

This story is about the fact that theatres from our regions of presence, by and large, simply needed a new venue, an additional incentive to develop and to be recognized.

— Have there been any cases when the theater was noticed thanks to your festival?

– In Irkutsk, in addition to the official academic drama theater. N. P. Okhlopkova, there is a theater called “New Drama”. But for a long time they did not have their own premises, the team played in some DC literally under the stairs, and this is not a euphemism. So, they began to regularly participate in our competition, to be shortlisted, to come to our festivals. And then they were noticed by Irkutsk patrons, built and presented them with a room.

– That’s very cool. I think if they themselves went to patrons, perhaps no one would listen to them.

– Quite right. They wouldn’t have been looked at. Now they have a name, they have received recognition, their performances were seen by the audience, including in other regions. And those people who were going to build this building in the historic center of the city, thought, why not make a theater, for which they will be deeply grateful. By the way, part of the festival program “Territory. Irkutsk” in 2021 was already held in the building of the “New Drama”.

I have one more question about theatre. Were there any precedents when collectives from other regions of Russia came to the festival? Do you plan to make it all-Russian in the future?

— We have a strict selection condition: only teams from the regions where Polyus operates can participate in the competition and then in the festival. “Territory” can offer us theaters from other cities in the program. For example, we brought the famous Novosibirsk “Red Torch” to Krasnoyarsk. As for competitive participation, our target audience is still our four regions of presence. There is no task to become an all-Russian festival yet.

— Are there any other projects that you are implementing in the regions as part of the corporate and social responsibility program? Are there any areas that have appeared or been adjusted after the appearance of the company’s ESG strategy?

—After the emergence of ESG as one of the most important topics, including business maturity, we have made environmental projects more systematic. In particular, the reforestation project, which we are conducting in all our regions, has received a completely new scale. For the last time, it has acquired a large scale and is being implemented jointly with state authorities. Secondly, we have continued and expanded a powerful project to support and develop biodiversity. If before that we were engaged in the release of fry into the rivers of the regions of presence, now there are such programs as support for the Vitimsky Reserve in the Irkutsk Region, the reserve on Talan Island in the Magadan Region, where migratory birds stop. This work has become more ambitious.

— What projects do you implement in the field of sports? Are these only corporate programs, or, again, there are similar programs for residents of the regions?

– You won’t believe it, third way. We managed to find him (laughs). As for corporate sports, we are all right with this, every year we hold Spartakiads, which bring together more and more people. This year, for example, we held a Spartakiad in Sochi. Usually, Spartakiads were held in the regions of presence, but this year it was decided to take all participants tired of the pandemic to Sochi. As spectators, those who distinguished themselves and received awards for the Metallurgist’s Day flew to the Spartakiad.

In support of sports, the projects are very diverse and depend on the needs of the region. For example, Polyus has a running team. But it began to develop more actively after we began to systematically support the Krasnoyarsk Half Marathon “Heat”. We have been supporting it for several years, and now more than a hundred participants have come out of our running team “Polyus”, which already has more than 400 people, for the last “Heat”.

We are pleased to support the sport that is most developed in specific territories. In Magadan, for example, we support the Russian Ski School and a number of other sports competitions and initiatives, similarly in the Aldan district of Yakutia and the Bodaibo district of the Irkutsk region.

Another direction is the support of the athletes themselves. We help pay for their trips to competitions. For example, for young athletes from Bodaibo, it is a big problem to travel outside the area, it is a really expensive story. We support them. They return with prizes from federal competitions.

We are also investing in the development of infrastructure, including repairing swimming pools, as we did in Bodaibo, Nizhny Kuranakh, the North Yenisei district, and giving them the opportunity to use them both for our employees and residents of the region.

We are also developing the sports infrastructure of our rotational camps. Moreover, we build both sports halls (this is preferable for summer sports, we often have bears in the immediate vicinity of our production facilities), as well as open areas and trails for practicing in winter.

— Does the company have projects in terms of healthcare?

We have always supported local district hospitals, because we work far from the centers of the constituent entities of the Federation. We provide medical facilities with new equipment, but the pandemic has forced us to focus on ventilators, test devices, CT machines, premises for them. Here we are tough pragmatists: our employees are treated in these hospitals. If someone falls ill or injured at a manufacturing site, the nearest place to be taken is the district hospital. And our task is to maintain them at such a level that the bulk of the problems that have arisen are solved there. This is a system support that was modified in terms of equipment during the pandemic, but existed before the coronavirus epidemic and will continue after.

— Another very interesting direction. You support volunteering among employees, in particular, Polyus has launched a grant system. Tell us in more detail what it is about, what is the amount of the grant and for what the brightest projects your employees received funds.

— You are right, we pay great attention to corporate volunteering, it is developing both in the management company and in all business units. These are completely diverse forms – from cleaning the territory in our cities and visits to orphanages to organizing sports trips and city holidays. For example, employees of the management company in Moscow, among other things, go to shelters for homeless animals, are engaged in forest plantations in Yasnaya Polyana.

As one of the directions of support for the volunteer movement, it was decided to launch a grant competition for projects. Any employee of the company has the right to implement the project in the region where he lives. In three of our four mining business units there is a watch, that is, people come from all over Russia. If you are an employee of Polyus, you can describe what is missing in your hometown and apply for a grant. The amount of grant support is about 100 thousand rubles per project (sometimes more). An application can be submitted to the competition every year, there can be several projects, and with the proper level of their elaboration, it is possible to receive funding for each.

Applications are very diverse. From teaching students safe life skills to, for example, supporting search and rescue groups and systemic assistance to shelters for homeless animals. For example, this year among the winners was a project to build safe children’s playgrounds in one of the Ural cities.

We support completely different directions, the main condition is the thoughtfulness of the project and its long-term. It is important for us that after our support, the project continues to exist. In addition, we pay attention to the greatest possible coverage of beneficiaries.