As they take in the art, visitors will have no inkling of the foundation work that went on, the digging out of basements, installation of utilities, fire and burglar alarms, and other important—but hidden upgrades.
"This is the second largest project (we have worked on.) It would be impossible without financing," says Dmitry Sokolov, deputy director of general contractor JSC Intarsia, referring to a World Bank loan that has supported the project.
The World Bank is supporting this multi-million dollar restoration as it is expected to draw more visitors who will pump money into the local economy. It's part of a loan not just to preserve St. Petersburg's culture, a UN World Heritage Site, but also to develop the city and support its economic growth over the long term.
As tourism is a big part of St. Petersburg's economy, the World Bank has supported renovation and restoration of nine major cultural landmarks, including the iconic Peter and Paul Fortress, St. George Hall at the Mikhailovsky Castle of the Russian Museum, and the Turkish Baths and Hermitage Pavilion in Tsarskoe Selo.
Restoring facades and exhibition halls of cultural institutions is important, but it's not enough. Making what's inside more enticing and accessible to the general public, both national and international—and preserving it for the future, is important.
Under the World Bank supported project, museums, libraries, archives, operas, ballets, and orchestras located in St. Petersburg competed for grants to showcase their work based on their priorities. With the funds, museum entrance areas and visitor welcome centers were built, security systems installed and multimedia exhibits developed.
"Terminals are installed in almost every room of the museum, enabling adults to take a virtual tour and children to play games, answer quizzes and learn about fairy tales from different countries," says Tatyana Bogomazova, who works for the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.
Russia's oldest theater, the Alexandrinsky, used its grant from the project to catalogue, properly store, and attractively exhibit its trove of a quarter of a million historical theater costumes, furniture, and props with new lights and displays.
"We give tours to artists, students, and school children—wide audiences interested in Russian theater culture, and to specialists," says the head of the theater's department for creative work and research Alexander Chepurov.
Air conditioning, which the Dostoyevsky Museum installed with their grant, preserves artifacts in exhibits and in storage, and entices more tourists during the city's hallowed white nights of summer.
"The numbers of people eager to get to know Dostoeyevsky's work are ever increasing," says the museum's technical director Tatyana Stanina.
The success of the project in St. Petersburg laid the foundation for a new World Bank project to preserve and promote cultural heritage in four Russian regions.
"The attention paid to the cultural heritage sites in these regions makes the authorities pay closer attention to cultural heritage. They develop a better understanding of the fact that investing in memorial sites means investing in tourism, creating new jobs, and the social and economic development of their territories," says Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Andrei Busygin.
Building on know-how acquired in St. Petersburg , regional governments will manage their cultural heritage so as to better develop their economies and improve the lives of their citizens.