November 12, 2013

From Russia, With Innovation

During Natalia Dubrovskaya’s 2010 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange, she was fascinated by dynamic exhibits in outdoor museums and historical sites in the United States. Natalia noted that museum guests were not only treated to interesting artifacts and manicured outdoor spaces; but were also fully immersed in stimulating experiences that would resonate long after their visit. As the Director of the Izborsk State Historical, Architectural, and Landscape Museum, Natalia was keen to bottle the innovative American museum experience and adapt it for Russia.

Of the many innovative ideas she has implemented, one of the most noteworthy was the introduction of costumed reenactors to contextualize the historic buildings. Touch screens have been installed to grant visitors and researchers the ability to safely peruse delicate photographs and documents in historical archives. In Natalia’s estimation, both changes have made visits to her museum “more fun and educational.” With the financial and technical support of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg, Natalia commissioned a video to promote the revitalized Izborsk Museum. With an increase in guests, Natalia is now able to employ more staffers. To date, approximately 20% of local residents work directly for the Izborsk museum.

Given its standing as a leader in museum innovation, the Izborsk Museum will host a 2014 conference for regional museum specialists. Natalia intends to use the event to showcase her adoption and adaptation of American museum practices. Furthermore, the museum was recently identified as the recipient of a highly competitive U.S. Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program grant of more than $70,000. The peer-to-peer program funds joint ventures between Russian and U.S. institutions. The Izborsk Museum will be partnering with Colonial Williamsburg on a project which will provide Russian and American museum professionals opportunities to exchange best practices about managing open air museums.

As a prominent figure in the museum community, Natalia regularly attends conferences and collaborates with similar institutions. Throughout her travels, she never misses an opportunity to inform her peers of the best practices she learned during her IVLP exchange. Shortly after returning to Russia, Natalia wrote: “My experiences in the U.S. showed [me] that life in American museums is faster and more dynamic. I brought many ideas from the U.S. and the only desire I have is to realize these ideas.”

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Throughout November, Natalia Dubrovskaya is that outstanding alumna and her work will be recognized on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which caters to more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.