Q&A | ‘Preserving and restoring Ukraine's cultural institutions is critical’ - Museums Association

Q&A | ‘Preserving and restoring Ukraine’s cultural institutions is critical’

Entrepreneur Tatiana Fokina introduces Save the Spot, a new initiative for supporting Ukraine's cultural sector
Tatiana Fokina is the CEO of the Hedonism Group and founder of the Michelin-starred restaurant, HIDE
Tatiana Fokina is the CEO of the Hedonism Group and founder of the Michelin-starred restaurant, HIDE

Save the Spot is a new charitable initiative that aims to support Ukraine’s cultural sector during the war. Established by the Russian-born hospitality and wine entrepreneur Tatiana Fokina – a long-time critic of Putin's regime – the not-for-profit scheme aims to raise awareness and funds for Ukraine’s cultural institutions by selling £5 virtual “tickets” to Ukrainian venues. All contributions go directly to the chosen institution.

Museums Journal spoke to Fokina about why she set up the initiative and how Ukraine’s cultural institutions have been affected by the war.

What is the situation like for Ukraine’s cultural institutions and their workers at present?

Incredibly challenging. With the ongoing war, many museums, galleries, and other cultural establishments have been severely damaged or completely destroyed by shelling and military action. Those that haven’t been affected directly have had to evacuate the collections and close indefinitely, as it is unsafe for both workers and visitors.

There are numerous other challenges besides the immediate physical threat to the buildings and collections. The workers in these institutions may be displaced, many facing personal loss or dealing with trauma, making it difficult for them to continue their work or even plan for the future. Financial resources are also scarce, as the focus of aid understandably is humanitarian relief and helping the armed forces, leaving the cultural sector often overlooked.

Moreover, the loss of cultural artefacts and heritage sites is a devastating blow to Ukraine's national identity and historical legacy. Preserving and restoring these institutions is critical not only for the country's cultural scene but also for maintaining a sense of continuity, pride and hope for the future.

What were your reasons for setting up Save the Spot?

Just like anyone else, I was completely shocked and devastated by the full-scale military operation in Ukraine by Putin’s troops. As a passionate supporter of arts and culture and having visited Ukraine on numerous occasions and being in awe of the cultural scene there, to me it seemed a natural focus.

Having tested several approaches, we arrived at the idea of Save the Spot, a platform that would allow people from all over the world to make direct contributions to institutions that hold Ukraine's history, art and cultural identity. The idea of buying a ticket to a venue you will not visit to help it survive came from the times of the pandemic, when many hospitality venues offered buying gift vouchers for future dates to help them stay afloat. 

What inspired the name of the scheme?

The name "Save the Spot" was inspired by the idea of saving the physical locations and institutions that represent the heart and soul of Ukrainian culture. Our message was that that these venues are essential "spots”, crucial locations where people can come together to experience, appreciate, and celebrate.

By saving these "spots," we are not only preserving the infrastructure of the cultural sector but also safeguarding the intangible connections, memories, and emotions that are intertwined with these places. Ultimately, Save the Spot represents a collective effort to protect and cherish the cultural legacy.

How does the scheme work?

Save the Spot functions as an online platform that allows supporters to provide targeted financial aid to cultural venues. We are not a fund, so we do not collect or distribute the money ourselves. This is a horizontal structure, anyone can visit our platform, select an institution they would like to help, and make a donation in the form of purchasing a "ticket". The entire amount of donation goes directly to the chosen venue. The donation amount can be adjusted with an option of buying a number of tickets or golden tickets for those willing to give more. There is also an option of setting up a recurrent monthly payment at the checkout.

Our team at Save the Spot operates on a voluntary basis, and we do not make any profit.

Are there other ways museum and culture professionals here might be able to support colleagues in Ukraine?

At the outset of our journey, we had an idea of pairing UK cultural venues with a Ukrainian counterpart, so that visitors of UK museums, theatres, etc could donate to their “twins” in Ukraine. But it has proven extremely challenging to set up. Possibly offering to store parts of Ukrainian art collections in safety and suitable conditions, or spreading the word about those endangered institutions, as I am sure there are plenty of philanthropists out there who might be willing to offer aid.

How have Ukrainian cultural institutions been finding ways to engage with the public during the war?

Thanks to social media it is now much easier to communicate with the public all over the globe. Lots of institutions are making good use of this.

There has been an incredible amount of good will towards Ukraine in the past year that has spread across all fields. Terrifying cases of looting of museums and churches by the Russian army have been reported by the international media. During the war, Unesco has taken on board several sites in Ukraine; that has definitely helped raise awareness of the precarious conditions and dangers to the sector.

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