The year 1995 was a banner year for Russian culture in the Tampa Bay area. A blockbuster exhibit known as “Treasures of the Czars” came to the Florida International Museum from the Museums of the Kremlin in Moscow, and the entire area began to find ways to connect with the theme of Russia and its cultural past. The Fine Arts Museum had a special exhibit on Russian art; the History Museum featured a temporary exhibit devoted to Peter Demens; and Eckerd College and USF had a special course offered on Russia, built around a public lecture series that brought world renown scholars to the campuses, including Suzanne Massie, Nicholas Riasanovsky, Richard Pipes, George Gibian, and poets like Joseph Brodsky and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The public schools developed units of study on Russia, arranged field trips to the Museum, and in some cases facilitated contacts with students in Russia. It was an exciting time for people who had a strong interest in Russia!
During the summer of 1995, after the Exhibit closed, a number of local residents, some of Russian background, and some who simply had a genuine interest in Russia and Russian culture, met to discuss ways to continue the momentum begun by the excitement of the exhibit. The result was the founding of cultural, educational, and philanthropic organization named Russian Heritage. According to our Articles of Incorporation, “The purpose of Russian Heritage is to preserve and promote Russian heritage, history, and culture, and to educate the general public through such activities as, but not limited to, social events, films festivals, artistic venues, and educational programs.” We are a non-profit organization that raises funds to support educational and cultural programs.
In an analysis of our membership statistics, it has become clear that about two thirds of our members are of Russian background, and that about half of the people in that group were born in the former Soviet Union. The others were second and third generation Russians born to Russian emigrants in Europe, Asia, or America. Of the third of our members who are not of Russian background, many have visited Russia or studied the Russian language. At least 12 couples in the group involve marriages with one spouse Russian and one non-Russian, in most cases Americans. In recent years the members and friends of Russian Heritage number well over 200, and the breakdown of membership categories seems to be about the same as before.
As we enter our 20th year, we will be updating our archives with reports on the highlights of our first 20 years. The programs that we have sponsored include film series, symposia, lectures, concerts, and a number of student exchange programs. Topics range from Peter Demens and the relationship between the two St. Petersburgs, the Anniversary of the siege of Leningrad, Russian poets, including Pushkin, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, and Yevtushenko. One of the highlights of each year’s programming has been the celebration of the Old Russian New Year on or around January 13. We are planning a very special celebration in 2016 on Saturday, January 16 for our twentieth anniversary.