Ulyanovsk is Russia’s literary flagship

Ulyanovsk is the cradle of great writers and historic personalities. Nikolay Karamzin, a historiographer who studied the history of the Russian state, author of fairy tales Sergey Aksakov, and Ivan Goncharov, the author of the world-famous novel “Oblomov”, were born in Simbirsk (renamed Ulyanovsk). Today, too, the city on the Volga has its fair share of creative talents.

In 2015, Ulyanovsk became the first Russian city to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Literature. The membership in the Network opened up new opportunities for the Ulyanovsk literary community and creative city residents by allowing them to communicate and share experiences with peers and like-minded people from other countries.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was launched in 2004 and currently includes 295 cities from 93 countries. The project aims to promote communication between member cities committed to invest in creativity as a driver for sustainable social and economic development.

“Think globally, act locally”. This is the motto of the Ulyanovsk creative team who strives to integrate Russia’s contemporary literary process into the global agenda and makes constant efforts to improve the city infrastructure in order to build a solid brand “Creative Ulyanovsk”.

Ulyanovsk’s membership in the Creative Cities Network opens up new opportunities for cross-cultural communication. This is evidenced by projects which allow for increased international visibility and help promote the country’s positive image.

Since 2019 Ulyanovsk has been implementing the International Literary Residency Program open to poets and writers from the UNESCO Cities of Literature. Literary artists from around the world are welcome to stay in Ulyanovsk in order get to know its residents and explore the local history and traditions and create a literary work about Ulyanovsk based on their findings. Poet Andrej Hočevar from Slovenia and writer David Howard from New Zealand were the first guests of the program. They explored Ulyanovsk and shared their experiences with their readers. The project received a lot of attention from the international literary community.

In 2021, Ulyanovsk was invited to take part in the chain poem launched by Utrecht (the Netherlands) City of Literature. The project started on March 21, the World Poetry Day, and ended in 2022. 16 poets from 11 UNESCO Cities of Literature came together to compose a poem entitled “These Are Waiting Days”. The project helped the artists overcome COVID-19 restrictions and continue their creative dialogue online.

During the Big City Reads campaign launched by Nottingham (Great Britain) City of Literature, Ulyanovsk exchanged books about young people with other member countries. Foreign readers were introduced to eight Russian authors and their works.

City of Literature Ulyanovsk initiated the international project “The Only Question”, with 40 writers from 18 UNESCO Cities of Literature asking each other questions about creative work. As a result of the project, an online anthology with questions and answers which matter to creative people around the world was released.

In September 2022, Ulyanovsk hosted the UNESCO Creative Cities Festival “Crossroads”, which brought together four Russian cities: St. Petersburg (Cuisine), Kazan (Music), Kargopol in Arkhangelsk Oblast (Crafts and Folk Art), and Ulyanovsk (Literature). Each of the cities presented its art and received a warm welcome from city residents and guests. The festival brought together 1,500 participants and is expected to draw even more attendees in 2023, including those from CIS and Creative Cities of the BRICS countries.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network is represented by 41 cities in the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This paved the way for a new project initiated by the Fund of Creative Industries of Ulyanovsk Oblast — the creative cooperation program “UNESCO Creative Cities of the BRICS Countries: Art Together”. The project ran from July to December 2022 and included six online sessions during which 42 speakers from 28 UNESCO Creative Cities of the BRICS countries explained how their city became a UNESCO Creative City, how authorities support the creative community, and what the cultural symbol of their city is. It is noteworthy that 400 participants came not only from the BRICS countries but also from two dozen other countries where art is a driver for the development of generations. Dozens of ideas presented at the closing session will be implemented by multinational teams, including the idea to create an open air museum on UNESCO Emerald Alley in Ulyanovsk where all UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Russia will be presented, as well as a major photo exhibition, plein air workshops, festivals, and creative collaborations.

Ulyanovsk is rich in talent. The UNESCO City of Literature ship is on course, the wind is fair, and the crew is strong and creative.

Diana Kovela, the Fund of Creative Industries of the Ulyanovsk Region
Elena Cherkas, the administration of “Ulyanovsk Is a UNESCO Creative City”