People's Universities 2.0

A project where citizens explore their city themselves and talk about it in different formats.

Chief curator - Sergey Kamenskiy

It is not difficult to imagine how our surroundings can change if we accept the following simple and essential truth: "A city is not about houses, a city is about people." We are all different. Everyone has their own values, traditions, views, and opportunities. However, we all live in—and shape—the same city. We are all neighbors—in the broadest sense. To develop a common environment, we need to pay more attention to each other, engage in a conversation, and make decisions together.
The People's Universities 2.0 project aims to form a community of caring and competent citizens willing to work together to bring creative urban projects into life. The project provides each participant with an opportunity to feel like a part of the place: a house, a street, a district. And to achieve this, they need to actively immerse themselves in the study of the city, its phenomena, images, symbols, and places. What they also need to do is reinterpret and present the found stories through various creative practices.

In technical terms, People's Universities 2.0 is an alliance of unique educational initiatives. The project consists of laboratories, schools, and workshops designed by various practitiones: historians, tour guides, researchers, filmmakers, artists, curators, writers. Training takes one to three months. During this time, the participants enhance their competencies and gain practical skills, develop—individually or as part of a team—creative city-dedicated projects. A project can be a signature tour, a book of memoirs, a souvenir line, a play sketch, or even a film.

The project was launched in spring 2020 with the support of the Presidential Grant Foundation and brought together several current programs of the Ekaterinburg History Museum and the Volunteer Society of the Sverdlovsk Region: the Memory Lab, the School of Urban Routes, and the Art Workshop. The People's Universities 2.0 project has grown since then. Today the project has over 15 areas of activity, with some of them being recurrent. In 2021, the project was fortified by such local projects as the School of Anthropology and Family History, the Souvenir Factory Workshop, the School of Naturalist Guides, and tthe Urban Studies Lab. In the next season, these projects were followed by the City Interview School, the Street Photography and Urban Sketching Lab, and the creative program titled The Art of Photo Archives.
Any citizen who passes a competitive exam can become a participant. During the applicant campaign that generally starts in spring, one needs to choose a field of work, fill out a questionnaire, and compose a motivation letter. At this stage, you can already tell what story you would like to address Since 2020, over 500 people have taken part in the project, and three times as many applications have been received from willing participants. It was technically possible to engage experts and audience from other cities. Eventually, grant support allowed us to conduct in 2021 an online course in cooperation with British artists and curators. The course was titled Arts Territory in the Urals: Connecting cities, places, and stories. About 200 people have expressed a desire to become trainees of this program.

There are a lot of interesting cases in the collection of People's Universities 2.0 creative projects, including over 30 urban and naturalistic routes, 12 voluminous books about residents and events of Ekaterinburg, art exhibitions and festivals, 6 souvenir lines designed for real customers, public theatrical readings, a series of interviews with citizens, studies of family archives, movie shorts, and more.

One of the main areas of focus is the Memory Lab. The Memory Lab is a writing course. Participants learn how to conduct historical research and collect materials for their future book; write their first chapters under supervision of our experts. The best works receive a grant for a limited edition. In 2020, "Explosion" by Vyacheslav Soldatov was published as part of the Memory Lab and immediately caught the public eye. The book tells the real story that happened on October 4, 1988 at the Sverdlovsk-Sortirovochny station: A runaway freight train carrying tons of explosives slammed into a train loaded with coal. The largest man-made disaster in the city led to the destruction of dozens of houses and human losses. The author told the story from different perspectives: from vivid childhood impressions and witness recollections to investigation details and journalistic accounts.
The second season of the project gave us the Souvenir Factory Workshop, a unique practice-oriented program where students learn how to make souvenirs and original branded products. For example, the program graduates developed a special collection for the project Ekaterinburg, the City of Seven Districts. The souvenirs they made reflected what the districts are made of. The main visual element is a care label showing the composition and recommendations for use (similar to those you noticed in garments). Three microdistricts of the city—Uralmash, Pionersky, and Zarechny—got their own hand-drawn icons referring to local symbols and associations. Here is the contents of the souvenir line: T-shirts, "custom packs" (badges, patches), temporary tattoos, car stickers, and passport covers.

In fall 2022, the exhibition Forget Me Not was opened at the Mart Center for Contemporary Photography. It was the key accomplishment of the creative and educational program The Art of Photo Archives, another focus area of the People's Universities 2.0 project. The project idea was to reinterpret family photo albums: to remove the "veil of oblivion" they are wrapped in, to tell a story, to convey values and the most important memories through photographs, and sometimes even to contrive moments that never existed in reality. Works of 15 finalists were featured, each of them being totally unique. Their creators put their personal memories and experiences into them, sharing history of their family with the audience.

«Народные университеты 2.0» – проект, который существует для людей и благодаря людям. Каждый участник получает свой опыт: кто-то находит новую профессию, кто-то встречает единомышленников, кто-то начинает смотреть на город иначе. Отзывы выпускников и связь с ними играют большую роль для развития проекта. Пока есть увлечённые люди, он будет продолжаться.
"The project helped me make my long-held dream of becoming a guide come true. Now I can share my love for my hometown with visitors. I discovered some of my talents. It turned out that I can write guide books and even draw. Ccreators of People's Universities amaze me with their ability to generate ideas that allow citizens to prove themselves in a variety of fields to enrich Ekaterinburg's information, historical, and tourism infrastructure.

Svetlana Gotsulenko, a graduate of several faculties of People's Universities 2.0
"I was finally able to get back to what I did before and approach it with a great pool of knowledge and a lot of help and support from the curators that offered me great support. I can now address things wisely, from different angles—not from one side as it was before."

Alisa Zaitseva, a graduate of the Events Lab
"Being part of the School of Anthropology and Family History gave me inspiration and ideas for further investigation of family history. It also helped me gain a new look at the documents from my personal archive. I was inspired to visit the city archives myself and got some insights. I began systematizing my own photo archive and now I am still working on it. I started pondering over the subject of my research and sharing the results with my relatives."

Yulia Golyak, a graduate of several faculties of People's Universities 2.0.
"Studying helped me change my attitude toward the city and its residents. It helped me realize that we are the city! If we don't make it better and help other people learn more about their city and the fates of its residents, who will? I would be happy if this wonderful project attracted as many caring citizens as possible, especially young people who can make our life and surroundings better."

Svetlana Komarova, a graduate of the Memory Lab