Minsk

Cultural life

Material prepared by The Village Belarus online newspaper. This publication is about the news of Minsk, its architecture, places, problems, successes and people.

Museums and galleries

Classics is showcased at the National Art Museum (20 Lenin Str.). Their collection of ancient Belarusian and medieval art is the most interesting section: sculptures and carving, icon painting, portraits of the Radzivils, local noble family. This short cheerful guide will ensure quick understanding of our painting and get you walking around the Museum like a connoisseur. You’ll also enjoy this Museum if your interest is social realism. About a third of the entire collection are works of the post-revolutionary era.

Save yourselves an extra trip and drop by another place densely saturated with Soviet art: Azgur Museum (8 Azgur Street). This is the former workshop of the leading Belarusian sculptor and muralist of the Soviet time. A superatmospheric place with the highest concentration of leaders’ busts per square meter—435 sculptures, Churchill, Mao Zedong and Kim Il-sung among them. The modern cultural elite has taken fancy to the museum and turned it into an art space where non-pop concerts, creative meetings, performances and film screenings are constantly held. It is exactly the Azgur Museum where young people are raving hard in the popular Belarusian movie Crystal. This link is a convenient way to follow the events.

The biggest hit among foreigners is the Great Patriotic War Museum (8 Pobediteley Avenue), established back in 1944.

If you enjoy overcoming difficulties and passing quests, here’s a selection of Minsk museums one cannot simply get into.

If you find yourself on the city’s main party street of Zybitskaya in the daytime (well, things happen), check out ‘Groshi,’ Museum of Money (6 Zybitskaya Street). It’s a numismatist’s paradise. Only the original Belarusian money from the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the present day is exhibited here. There is a souvenir shop—some coins and banknotes can become yours.

And a couple of words about museum security rules. If you plan on going there armed with a selfie stick, we advise you should read how that might pan out.

Eugene Attsetski

Theaters

Theater is among the things that Belarusians are largely not ashamed of. We definitely advise starting your acquaintance with Belarus Free Theater,  the main freedom-loving theater venue in Minsk that isn’t afraid of raising burning social issues, insisting on the respect for human rights and experimenting with the genre. This is what the New York Times wrote about it in 2013: “One of the strongest underground companies on the planet.” In 2017, they named the Free Theater’s Burning Doors play among the season’s top ten. Here’s more details on why this production became a success. A year ago, the theater founders shot and publicly posted a documentary about Minsk’s cult drinking place—the “Tsentralny” Department Store; check it out here.

Another recommendation is the Republican Theater of Belarusian Drama, 44 Kropotkin Street. They stage exclusively modern Belarusian playwrights, both renowned (Svetlana Alexievich, Viktor Martinovich) and beginners. The repertoire includes dramas, comedies and documentary plays. There is a caveat: most of the productions are in Belarusian, but Russian-language ones are also staged.

Good performances on topical issues are also staged at the Belarusian National Center for Contemporary Arts (NCSM/НЦСМ, 3 Nekrasov Street; 47 Independence Avenue). While at it, you can also check out the museum’s collection of modern paintings, posters, photographs, sculptures, graphics.

HomoCosmos (19 Oktyabrskaya Street) is a chamber theater project doing a good job depicting the familiar topics of relationships, sex and self-realization from a new angle. “About a person. For a person. No taboos.”—this motto reflects how the theater positions itself.

Fans of hardcore productions on tough topics with complex plots are recommended to follow the activities of the Center for Experimental Directing. For example, their repertoire features plays by Ivan Vyrypaev.

This list will definitely be incomplete without the Yanka Kupala Theater (7 Engels Street). It is the oldest and perhaps also the boldest of the state-run theaters. The building housing it was erected over than century ago and went through the recent reconstruction fairly successfully—when inside, you can still feel the era and (given your imagination is all right) hear the hoopskirts rustle. Tuteishyia (The Locals), Pinsk Gentry and The Black Lady of Niasvizh are timeless classics for which the Belarusians love the Yanka Kupala Theater dearly—as well as for its new productions that also have every chance to become iconic: Radziva Prudok, Shabany, Tolerantnost. Most performances are in the literary Belarusian language, but on certain dates simultaneous interpretation into Russian and English is available to the audience.

JFuture

Cultural centers and art spaces

Minsk has several main cultural venues with bustling creative life—as in any normal European country. Follow the announcements and dive in.

KORPUS Cultural Center (9 Masherov Avenue), an art venue in the building of the “Horizont” plant—the very one that made USSR’s first color TV sets 50 years ago. It hosts permanent exhibitions of contemporary art, concerts, parties, festivals, lectures, public discussions, film screenings and theatrical performances. Its premises also house several showrooms of Belarusian designers (for example, little.sister.store with garments and cosmetics; Killtoday—bags and accessories; Elvira Basko lingerie—underwear, pajamas and negligees).

Minsk was yet to have the Zybitskaya ‘party street,’ Zara store and a high-speed Stadler train to Vilnius when the “Ў” Gallery (Oktyabrskaya street, 19), the first private contemporary art gallery in Belarus, was already there and united the creative and intellectual Minskers. Granted, it had a different location back then—the former building of glass containers collection not far from Victory Square. Read this to learn about its emergence and story of living on in a country where even classical art is not in high popular demand. Having moved to the trendy Oktyabrskaya Street (the former laundry building), it became more spacious, got 7-meter-high ceilings—but preserved its essence otherwise. It still hosts exhibitions of contemporary artists that can be enjoyed in the company of awesome tour guides, film screenings, creative discussions, poetry readings and even flea markets. An important option is a gallery bar with prosecco, whisky and cognac.

OK16 cultural hub (16 Oktyabrskaya Street) was deployed in three empty buildings of another Minsk plant—the machine-tool one. Pop in here to find a fashionable hangout spot with neon leggings and crimson jackets, watch an 18+ arthouse performance, listen to the poems by repressed poets and throw back a couple of proletarian cocktails at the local bar: for example, “9-to-5”, “Back from a Business Trip” or “Sex on the Shop Floor.”

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Key book stores

“Gogol’s Dream” (15 Lenin Street) is an atmospheric modern bookstore across the road from the National Art Museum. Here, you can browse through the autobiography of Ingmar Bergman and texts by young Belarusian authors to the sound of vinyl records, have a coffee, or even find yourself at some chamber concert.

“Znanie” (Knowledge) Book House (36 Karl Marx Street) is the city’s main second-hand bookstore.

“Knigarnya Lohvinau” (Lohvinau Bookstore, 22 Korolya Street) is a book store of the most famous private publishing house in Belarus that meticulously collects under its roof the works of young and venerable Belarusian prose writers and poets, but not only.

Eugene Attsetski

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