Mayor, Arts Leaders Optimistic on Festival After Russian’s Visit

San Diego County Arts Writer

Irina Mikheyeva, the official representing Soviet cultural exchange programs with the United States, wrapped up a whirlwind four days of talks with San Diego arts leaders Tuesday, but she was unable to confirm the specific attractions and performers for the San Diego Soviet Arts Festival proposed for October, 1989.

A spokesman for Mayor Maureen O’Connor and some of the arts leaders said they were nevertheless encouraged by Mikheyeva’s visit and expect to have details worked out by Christmas.

More than 100 local arts movers and shakers attended a mayoral reception for Mikheyeva on Monday evening at the Timken Art Gallery, where O’Connor announced the appointment of attorney J. Stacey Sullivan as chairman of the festival committee. The committee will act as the festival board of directors.

In a related matter, Bruce Joseph, who served as coordinator of last year’s UK/LA Festival in Los Angeles, has been sitting in on festival discussions, and a source close to the talks says it’s “95%" certain that Joseph will be the festival arts coordinator.


Mikheyeva would not compare the San Diego festival, titled “Treasures of the Soviet Union,” with recent or planned Soviet arts celebrations in other cities, such as Boston and Seattle.

“It’s very difficult to estimate a festival when it’s all on the paper,” said Mikheyeva, adding that the San Diego event is designed to appeal to “the broadest audience.”

At the reception, Mikheyeva read a letter to O’Connor from Vasily Zakharov, the Soviet minister of culture, in which Zakharov praised O’Connor and described the event as unique for the West Coast and the United States.

Mikheyeva called the festival’s planned performances and exhibits firsts for the United States--the Tbilisi Marionettes, the 10th- and 11th-Century icons from Tbilisi, the combined exhibit of Faberge eggs from Moscow’s Armory Museum and publisher Malcolm Forbes’ private collection, and a theater program yet to be chosen.


The San Diego Soviet Arts Festival has 19 potential individual elements, including the icons and decorative eggs, demonstrations by craftsmen and children, and jazz and symphony performances. For almost every element, details such as venue, exhibition space or musical performers remain unconfirmed. Nevertheless, arts leaders who had been visited by Mikheyeva said they were encouraged at the prospects for the festival.

“There has been some progress,” said Ian Campbell, general director of San Diego Opera. Campbell, who visited the Soviet Union with O’Connor and other arts leaders and city officials last summer, plans to return there later this month. “We talked specifics, but, until I nail down deals in Moscow, we won’t know the details.”

Arthur Ollman, director of the Museum of Photographic Arts, said Mikheyeva “listened, she nodded,” and also suggested that he consider including children’s cinema in his plans for a series of films and an exhibition of contemporary Russian photography.

In turn, Ollman gave Mikheyeva a list of 10 photographers he would like to visit in the Soviet Union in order to organize a photographic exhibit for the festival.

“I’ve been given no reason to doubt I can get what I need to get,” Ollman said.

The Old Globe Theatre hopes to bring in the mammoth production of “Brothers and Sisters” by Leningrad’s Maly Theater for the festival, Globe general manager Thomas Hall said.

“My orders were to get the best,” said Hall, who called “Brothers and Sisters” the “premiere production extant” in the U.S.S.R. “If we get the Maly, with the eggs and the icons, that will put (the festival) in the big leagues,” he said.

Hall said he expects to know within a week if the Maly is a viable choice, but meanwhile is looking at five or six other top Soviet theater companies should the Maly deal not pan out.


On Sunday, Mikheyeva took a helicopter tour of San Diego with City Manager John Lockwood and visited the San Diego Zoo with O’Connor. She also spoke with Campbell and Jane Rice, San Diego Museum of Art deputy director, and board president Joseph Hibben.

On Monday, she talked with Hall, Ollman and Martha Longenecker of the Mingei Museum of folk arts. Tuesday, she was scheduled to meet with San Diego Symphony executive director Wesley O. Brustad, California Ballet director Maxine Mahon and La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art public relations officer Diane Maxwell.

Paul Downey, Mayor O’Connor’s press secretary, said Mikheyeva’s San Diego visit had accomplished “essentially everything we wanted.” He said the plans are to send several San Diego arts managers back to the Soviet Union this month or in December to firm up plans.

“The idea is to go back to Moscow to get some contracts by Christmas,” Downey said.

He said O’Connor is working “behind the scenes” to raise the added $2.25 million needed for the festival’s $6.25-million budget. The city is setting aside $3 million in transient occupancy tax money. Philanthropist Joan Kroc has contributed $1 million.

Arts leaders say remaining elements for the festival must be sewn up soon. If they come up with signed contracts before Christmas, that will leave 10 months for planning and marketing before the festival’s scheduled opening Oct. 21.

Asked about the time constraints facing the festival, Mikheyeva said: “I’m very confident all will be in time.”