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U.S. Russian cultural organizations fear boycotts over the war

The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis painted a banner on its building the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Michelle Massey
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TMORA
The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis painted a banner on its building the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

U.S. organizations that feature Russian and Eastern European artists and arts are concerned about a possible backlash from people who might mistakenly associate them with Vladimir Putin's government. Some have publicly declared their outrage over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Sunday, Russian-born actor Costa Ronin, who starred in the FX series The Americans tweeted, "As we watch the news and try to make sense of what is going on, be patient and respectful. Remember that there is a difference between the people and the state!"

Latvian-born dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union in 1974. On the website of the Manhattan arts center that bears his name he writes, "The Baryshnikov Arts Center stands in support of the brave citizens of Ukraine. They fight for their country and their sovereignty in the face of naked aggression from Russia's governing powers."

Russian Matryoshka dolls are displayed at Marky's Gourmet Market where Russian products are sold, in Miami, Fla., on Feb. 24.
Giorgio Viera / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Russian Matryoshka dolls are displayed at Marky's Gourmet Market where Russian products are sold, in Miami, Fla., on Feb. 24.

Whether it's Swan Lake or Faberge eggs, the U.S. performing and fine arts worlds have embraced Russian culture for decades. With cultural boycotts in progress, some arts administrators wonder if their organizations will find themselves guilty by association.

Mark Meister, executive director and president of The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis (TMORA) says, so far, the institution has not felt any negative effects. Still, when Putin launched a military attack on Ukraine, Meister met with the museum's board of directors and "they felt that we should make a statement, partially for people who don't understand what we do and who we are."

TMORA is dedicated to "the art, people and culture of Muscovite Russia, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, its former republics, and post-Soviet Russia." It is also home to the largest collection of art from Soviet-era Ukraine in the U.S. The museum stated on its website, "The Museum of Russian Art stands with the people of Ukraine and urges Russia to cease hostilities immediately and withdraw." Yesterday, staff displayed the colors of the Ukrainian flag outside its building.

This weekend in New York, some 40 artists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries met at Fragment Gallery to talk about how they might support Ukrainians and each other. With galleries in both Moscow and New York, "There's no way to disassociate from our Russian identity," says Fragment's managing partner Anton Svyatsky.

Fragment shows work by queer Russian artists who've been unable to express their identity in their work at home because of the country's anti-gay legislation. Now Svyatsky is concerned about how the West's anger toward Russia will affect them. "I do think that we are going to start seeing a lot more boycotts affecting Russian artists, and it's going to be like sweeping blanket measures that don't differentiate whether an artist was repressed in Russia or not," he says. "Creating a cultural gulag out of Russia is not, in any way, a solution. That's actually just contributing to the problem."

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