Uralmash: Production of the Future
A project dedicated to the past and future of the most famous Ekaterinburg district
In 2015, the Uralmash: Production of the Future project won the competition called A Changing Museum in a Changing World and organized by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. The project was also supported by Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fund and the Netherlands Embassy in the Russian Federation, which allowed us to engage a curator of participatory projects Irina Leifer and designer Cecilia Hendricks (both from Amsterdam).
The main problem the museum was aimed at addressing by entering the Uralmash District was the following. In the Soviet times, the fame of Uralmash resounded throughout the country and in the "wild" 1990s, it earned the reputation of a gloomy and crime-prone district. The lives of the locals used to revolve around the Uralmash plant. The downfall of the plant led to the deterioration of the social and cultural infrastructure and the destruction of the image of the Soviet-style "Silicon Valley." As a result, there was a gap between the rich historical heritage and the new reputation. And even though there were available development resourses, cultural events in the Uralmash District were in short supply. This project was really important to the Ekaterinburg History Museum, as it extended the field of study (from the historical part of the city to its farther districts) and acted as a tool of a holistic analysis of the city as a cultural and historical phenomenon. In addition, the project addressed the problem of increasing the popularity of the Ekaterinburg History Museum in remote areas of the city, entering permanent local venues where the museum could initiate events, demonstrate its capabilities, and shape the corresponding demand.

The goal of the project was to change the attitude of Uralmash residents to the place where they live, unite creative people who are interested in the development of the area, and organize a collaborative search for a project management model which is suited for the local community.

The project was based on the active engagement of the local population.

The interviews with the innates of the district were the very thing that provided the basis for the Uralmash representation. First of all, these were many hours of unformalized biographical interviews where people, while telling us about themselves, allowed us to discover new facets of the territory, feel the mood and the very essence of the place. We also hosted some spontaneous street and public transport interviews, created focus groups with long-term residents of the district, and road interviews in the format of a bus trip when we followed the route mapped by the district residents themselves. All of that helped us create a multifaceted image of the place and fill it with lots of memories. We came up with the idea that the stories of the people who had built the district with their own hands and had worked at the plant could become the key to understanding the place for those who moved there recently or are too young to remember the pre-criminal Uralmash. At the same time, those interviews turned out to be a kind of therapy for old timers, an opportunity to talk about their own Uralmash: the one they devoted their whole lives to and which no longer exists.

The specific nature of the materials defined the forms in which they are presented. That is how our Bus Route No. 33 was invented. It is a performance tour that reveals ten places inspired by stories of certain Uralmash families and residents. Each story is a fragment of an interview prepared by playwright Polina Borodina and voiced by professional actors, residents of Uralmash, and project curators. All the audio stories are interspersed with the guide's story of the engineering, architectural, social, and cultural aspects of local life. We also plan a visit to the Ordzhonikidzevsky Cultural Center as part of the route. This is an iconic "old-school" community center, the heart and home of the local cultural life. At each stop, our Uralmash passengers share their personal memories, creating a unique atmosphere. The picture is completed by the bus lighting, special signs with the names of the stops put up around the district, souvenir bus tickets, and a real museum artefact at the end point of the route: a legendary Malyutka washing machine produced by the Uralmash plant.
Creating our Bus Route No. 33, we hoped that personal stories would help us and other people see the Uralmash District with the eyes of its residents. We did realize that everyone would perceive the district their own way and so we didn't pretend to give any cold, objective evaluation. Our goal was rather to demonstrate that Uralmash can be different for everyone. We wanted to give the participants the opportunity to feel and understand Uralmash. These ten stories, with their individuality and subjectiveness, reflect the unique character of the "universe of the Uralmash District." They reveal those specific things that make up the district. Ample opportunities, engineering and working dynasties, so called clubness/collectiveness/community of people, isolated comfort of a communal district, well-developed social infrastructure, streetwise traditions, unauthorized construction, etc.
The documentary performance UralmashGO was based solely on the scripts of interviews with the district residents. To turn it into reality, we asked Dmitry Zimin, a talented director from Ekaterinburg, to join us. Polina Borodina, who worked on our Bus Route No. 33, was the playwright. The performance was staged in two different formats: as a promenade along the interior of the old Uralmash community center (an idiosyncratic symbol of the local cultural life) and as a classical performance staged in the building of the Ekaterinburg History Museum. It is based on thoughts and insights of "Uralmashevites" (Uralmash residents) from different generations related to their home district: its essence, its myths, its forgotten history, and foggy future. In a sense, the performance served as a farewell to Uralmash, the Uralmash that no longer exists.

Both Bus Route No. 33 and UralmashGO became a sort of a tool of communication between "new" and "old" residents of the district, an opportunity for new settlers and young people to unveil it, discover its rich, multi-layered past, and establish an emotional contact with it through personal stories of the indigenous.

The project allowed us not just to demonstrate the unique character of the Uralmash District, but also contribute to its new identity. And the new district is no longer seen as an industrial or crime-prone one. Instead, it becomes a tourist area offering a variety of interesting places and exciting stories.
Another part of the project consisted of various project sessions and a fair of ideas. These events let us ponder over the district's future. We were looking for fresh ideas that could drive a cultural reboot of the district. We held a contest of ideas for the Uralmash festival and received over 70 applications. Within three days, these applications got a few finishing touches and turned into serious projects. Some of them were later implemented.

We also held a fair of ideas for Uralmash among local leaders of urban cultural projects. This enabled us to bring into being the concept of a cultural and touristic reboot of the Boulevard of Culture, a significant open walk. The fair was supported by the head of the district, and eventually the ideas were partially translated into action.

During the project, we achieved a shift in the attitude toward Uralmash among different target groups the Ekaterinburg History Museum worked with:

  • Residents of Uralmash of the 21st century got acquainted with the rich past of their district, experienced the unique nature and power of the place, felt a sense of belonging.

  • Long-term residents of the district, whose memories laid the foundation for tours, exhibitions, and a performance—all dedicated to Uralmash,—felt a thrill of pride for once being the creators of an outstanding era. For many respondents, the opportunity to share their stories with other people became a kind of therapy that helped them get over the loss of their former life. They felt respected and heard. They got a chance to speak their mind. They realized that their district still has a future and that they can be part of it.

  • For residents of other districts of Ekaterinburg, exploring Uralmash through various products of our project was largely a way to dispell myths and discover the district as a unique, bright, multi-layered cultural space of the city that is worth visiting.

  • For guests of the city, especially foreign tourists, the crucial part was meeting Uralmash through the stories of its residents (Bus Route No. 33, UralmashGO). This human-generated, routine, and multi-layered image of the district turned out to be easily understandable and familiar to people who first heard of Uralmash.

  • The Administration of the city and the district also benefited from the established series of cultural products. Our projects helped them see Uralmash's prospects as a cultural and tourist cluster.

  • For urban cultural traders, event managers, artists, Uralmash became one of the full-fledged urban sites where they can bring various cultural projects into life.
The project has received a number of awards and recognitions:

  • It joined the ranks of the best projects of A Changing Museum in a Changing World; became the winner of the Intermuseum international festival in the category "Project aimed at social interaction", and became the best project of the Intermuseum festival according to the youth jury.

  • Bus Route No. 33 became one of the cases in the Excursions: Business Model course by the Vector Online School of Urban Entrepreneurs of the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design; received the Best Tourist Route of the Year Award from the Committee for External Relations of the Administration of Ekaterinburg, and attracted the attention of the prestigious city award, annually held by the Sobaka Magazine. Project curator Sergey Kamensky was named among 50 famous citizens of Ekaterinburg.

  • An Uralmash guide, which was published later on the basis of all the collected materials, received the Award of the Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region.
During the project, we developed a model for a full-speed study of a city microdistrict. It includes analyzing the following components:

  • Initial conditions of the district formation;

  • Ideology and history of the development of the district, its topography and toponymy;

  • History of key enterprises, organizations, public spaces;

  • Local identity, the mood of the place;

  • Key personalities, iconic characters;

  • Demographic structure of the district, migration map;

  • Internal transportation, transport system;

  • Interactions with the outside world;

The purpose of the study is to find a formula of the place, specifically the key factors of the unique nature of the territory, elements of the population identity, key phenomena, and social practices that represent the district's features.

The hallmark of the study is a mix of macrohistory (analysis of the place in the context of economic, social, technological, and other factors in the development of a city, country, world) and microhistory (the study of industrial, domestic, social, and cultural practices through the personal experience of residents of the district representing different social strata).

This way we can build a multi-dimensional, multi-level picture of the district, and distinguish the key features of the place that could become the basis for the activation of the cultural space and cultural life of the area.

In addition to the area study matrix, various technologies for collecting private stories of residents were tested during the project. For example, interviewing several old-timers at a time proved very efficient. Such interviews had a form of a bus trip along the route that the district livers chose. This method helped us collect a series of materials that weren't discovered during tête-à-tête or in-room interviews. On the other hand, non-personal communication turned out to be a weak method to collect materials. The so called "memory map" placed in the leading district library attracted little more than 30 stories related to various places of the district, while the historical photography contest had only one participant. Most of the data was obtained within the framework of in-depth, unformalized interviews.

As a result, this experience in Uralmash formed the basis of The City of Seven Districts project that has been being developed by the Ekaterinburg History Museum from 2016.