Raising the Curtain on the State Theater Budget

A corruption schemes in theaters which investigators haven’t noticed  

The criminal case of the Gogol Center drew attention to the mechanisms of financing state theaters. Can state theaters earn their own money? How much does the Ministry of Culture give for the performances? Mikhail Shubin found out.

Most theaters receive money from the Ministry of Culture, state programs and subsidies. There is one exception, the Bolshoi Theater of Russia, expenses for it are included directly into the federal budget. In 2017, it received 4.3 billion rubles, as listed official documents.

The Ministry of Culture directly supports 21 theaters. The Ministry could not promptly answer how much and on what terms the money is allocated to these theaters.

Theaters that receive support from the Ministry of Culture often do not disclose the accounts on the "Official Portal for posting information on state (municipal) institutions." In the ministry itself, this information was also not disclosed.

The only public information is the salaries of directors and art directors of the theaters. In 2016, artistic director and director of the Mariinsky Theater Valery Gergiev earned income amounting to 154.4 million rubles.


Valery Gergiev is both the the general director and art director of the Mariinsky Theater. He is one of the most successful directors in all of Russia. In 2016, Gergiev declared income of 154.4 million rubles.

Valery Gergiev is co-founder of nine operating campaigns, according to the "Contour. Focus". One of them has exactly the same name as the music festival (ANO) “Music Festival ‘Stars of the White Nights.’” From 2011 to 2016, this structure won 11 state purchases for 86 million rubles.

Its clients customers were regional theaters and philharmonic societies, the contracts concerned the organization of performances of the symphonic orchestra under the direction of the head of the Mariinsky Theater. The Samara Academic Opera and Ballet Theater took seven contracts for 68.4 million rubles was the biggest client. The most expensive state purchase of this theater (14.4 million rubles) from the ANO "Music Festival ‘Stars of the White Nights’" occurred in 2015. For this amount, the regional theater purchased four concert programs and a documentary for the organization and holding of the XIV Moscow Easter Festival.

The history of the Easter festival in Moscow is closely connected with the head of the Mariinsky Theater. This musical festival was also organized by Gergiev in 2002. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II supported him. From the very beginning, RZD was one of the sponsors of the Easter Festival, the head of the company, Vladimir Yakunin, announced back then.

In the same year, Gergiev became one of the co-directors of ZAO "Moscow Easter Festival." Since 2014, Gergiev is the sole owner of this company.

Despite the name, the event is held not only in Moscow. Actors travel across Russia on a charter train, covering 123 cities around the country. The main priorities of the festival are "charity, education and enlightenment". The program consists of four parts, symphonic, chamber, choral and ringing.

However, in 2015, there was no "Stars of the White Nights" in Samara.

Patriarch Kirill at the opening ceremony for choral program of XV Moscow Easter Festival

There is nothing prejudicial about the fact that the head of the theater has non-commercial funds that act as a "purse" for major music festivals. Until their contracts begin to have inconsistencies.

In 2003, Gergiev established the Valery Gergiev charitable foundation, with Sergei Mazanov as its director, who also heads the ANO "Music festival" Stars of the White Nights."

From 2013 to July 2017, the Gergiev Charitable Foundation won 59 state contracts for 269 million rubles. The main customers are theater and philharmonic societies of Russia, which employ the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra. Why these contracts go through the charity fund of the theater director, and not through the theater itself is not clear.

Also, this fund received a contract for the Easter Festival from the Ministry of Culture (50 million rubles). And another 15 state contracts from different theaters for 58.8 million rubles total.


The Mariinsky Theater and its director’s charitable foundation are not the only ones who participate in such a budget allocation scheme.

Vladimir Kekhman was appointed general director of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater in March 2015, after a scandal with the opera Tannhauser. Representatives of the ROC considered that the performance offended the image of Jesus Christ. Kekhman banned the opera. A little more than two years later - on July 13, 2017, Kekhman left the post of general director.

Vladimir Kekhman

Prior to his appointment to Novosibirsk, Kehman served as director of the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg for eight years. Back in 2007, Kekhman, together with Zorina Myskova, established the Imperial Mikhailovsky Theater Foundation. Myskova, ex-adviser to the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation and top manager of BDO Unicon North-West, is now director of the Center for Applied Research and Development of St. Petersburg State University and editor-in-chief of the Hermitage magazine. She also co-founded two more funds: "The Hermitage XXI century. Target Capital" and "Hermitage XXI Century."

In 2012, a foundation established by Kekhman won a state contract for 971,000 rubles to provide stage props to the Mikhalovsky Theater. He also won another state contract of Mikhailovsky Theater for the provision of auxiliary theatrical services for 1.4 million rubles. All this took place at a time when Kekhman was in charge of the theater and was the founder of a non-profit organization at the same time.

After Kekhman left the post of director of the Mikhailovsky Theater, the foundation ceased to receive state contracts from this cultural institution. But there was a lot of orders from the Novosibirsk theater.

In 2016, the Mikhailovsky Theater Fund took five state contracts of the Novosibirsk Theater for a total of 32.1 million rubles. All of them concerned rental of scenery and props to various performances. The most expensive contract was 17 million rubles for the supply of stage design elements for the performance "Romeo and Juliet." It turns out that all this time the director of the theater conducted state contracts through his fund.


Theaters that receive such impressive funding from the state budget also fulfill state orders and can be divided into three groups: the wholesale of tickets to budget institutions, staging new performances, to which the Ministry of Culture allocates money separately, and participation in various festivals and tours abroad. But there are also several cases that seems to be out of the general series of public procurements.

In 2014, the Bank of Moscow (in May 2016 joined VTB - editorial note) as an official sponsor of the Bolshoi Theater ordered advertisement from the theater for 14.7 million rubles. And in 2015 the Bank of Moscow bought a season pass from the theater for six tickets in the box of the left side's benoir for the 240th theatrical season (2015-2016) for 13.2 million rubles.

Season passes to the theater were bought by VTB as well. In 2015, the bank bought eight tickets in the box of the mezzanine of the right side for 240th theatrica season for 8.2 million rubles as well as six more season passes for the same season in the box of the left side's benoir for 13.2 million rubles. VTB also ordered similar season passes in 2016: eight season passes in the mezzanine box on the right side for the 241st theatrical season (8.2 million rubles); six season passes in the box of the benoir on the left side for the 241 season (13.2 million rubles).

Seating scheme in Bolshoi theater

Representatives of Russian state-owned company Rosoboronexport turned out to also be big fans of the theater. In 2014, the state company purchased from the Bolshoi six season passes for a box of the left side benoir for the 239th theatrical season. According to the state purchases website, the theater received 132 million rubles for this contract, but all official documents feature an only 13.2 million rubles.

The following year, Rosoboronexport bought six more season tickets for the new season in the same box for 13.2 million rubles. In 2016 the state corporation made a similar purchase.

Thus, six season passes in the left box of the left side's benoir cost 13.2 million rubles, that is, 2.2 million rubles for one place.

There are also those who buy just cardboard for tickets: the prefecture of the South-Western administrative district of Moscow does this. In 2012, the local administration concluded 14 state contracts with various cultural institutions. Among them, there were the Children's Musical Theater named after N. I. Sats and the Moscow Drama Theater named after AS Pushkin. The subject of all contracts: "Cardboard for tickets."

None of the contracts’ technical assignments and texts of the agreement are listed on the official procurement website. The only information about the contract is the customer, the executor and the cost of the goods unit. For one unit of cardboard for tickets, from the budget of the city of Moscow, from 200 to 2,100 rubles was paid. In total, in 2012 the prefecture of the South-Western Administrative District of Moscow purchased cardboard for tickets for 16 million rubles.

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