Inna Hovhannisyan: Navigating Armenia's Artistic Odyssey
February 05, 2024
In an exclusive interview with h-pem, Inna shares her insights on the evolving art management landscape, her role in shaping Armenia's cultural future, and the exciting prospects on the horizon.
Armenia, a land steeped in rich history and tradition, is undergoing a transformative artistic renaissance. Among the individuals at the heart of this burgeoning cultural awakening stands Inna Hovhannisyan, the dynamic Executive Director of the Tovmasyan Foundation, a driving force for developing contemporary arts in Armenia. In an exclusive interview with h-pem, Inna shares her insights on the evolving art management landscape, her role in shaping Armenia's cultural future, and the exciting prospects on the horizon.
Art Management in Armenia: A Work in Progress
On the intersection of Pushkin and Yeznik Koghbatsi streets, I meet up with Inna for lunch on a breezy spring afternoon. The intersection seems to be the cradle of Inna’s favorite spots in town, and I can’t help but understand why; it’s full of green spaces, slow paces, and smiling faces.
Since I met Inna not too long ago, she’s had quite a few opinions on the art scene in Armenia. As someone with a Master of Arts in Arts & Cultural Management from King’s College, London, and someone who’s worked in Armenia’s art scene for over three years, her opinion matters to me. I messaged her one day and asked if she’d agree to do an interview with h-pem, and she automatically okayed it.
Art management may not have been a household term in Armenia three years ago, but folks like Inna Hovhannisyan are determined to change that narrative. She acknowledges the challenges they face: "The problem was the absence of art management as a player in the process of creation and distribution of art. In a few words, art management is currently not a thing, but it’s getting there. The market is not as functional as in other countries." Yet, with international interest and creative businesses arriving on the scene, Armenia's art market is inching toward maturation.
Cultural Bridge Building: Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation
Inna's journey into the Armenian private sector art scene began at the Yerevan Biennial Art Foundation, where she initially served as a PR manager. Her elevation to the role of Director highlights her contribution to the development of contemporary art in Armenia: "It was fruitful because it developed locally, and more people showed up." The Foundation's efforts have garnered local support and established global connections.
Hovhannisyan’s enthusiasm for innovation is palpable. I semi-jokingly ask her who she’d pick for a dream collaboration. She chuckles and automatically mentions the phenomenal Tigran Hamasyan. "He's one person who's as eclectic as anyone can get with music and innovation based on Armenian traditional music and art." It’s a match made in artistic heaven, indeed.
Post-Conflict Cultural Policy: Creating Bridges Through Art
In her role as an expert working for the Armenian government, Inna was instrumental in crafting Armenia's Post-Conflict Cultural Policy. Through the iGorts program, a team within the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports was formed, bringing together diverse expertise to address Armenia's needs in the post-war reality. "It was successful, offered a lot of concepts, and adapted it to the Armenian market and mentality," she reflects, emphasizing the importance of using culture as a tool for economic development.
The recent political events and conflicts in Armenia have deeply impacted its artists. They have channeled their trauma into powerful works of art, a testament to the resilience and strength of Armenia's creative community. “The best art has often come from pain,” Hovhannisyan tells me.
Fun and Quirky Moments: "Yesim"
Inna's journey has been dotted with memorable moments, like when an artist she interviewed replied with a nonchalant "yesim" (եսիմ | how would I know?) to all of her questions. She also recounts the frenetic night before a Fashion Award event when hair and makeup confirmations were missing — creative chaos at its best.
Traditional vs. Contemporary Art in Armenia
Despite Armenia's deep-rooted traditions, Inna observes that contemporary art is forging its own path: "They're not connected; they're not necessarily linked." Artists like Gayane Avetissian and Mary Badalian are modernizing traditional art forms with unique presentations.
Hovhannisyan is thrilled about initiatives like Google Arts & Culture’s Saryan project — which she helped organize — as well as Akneye, which sells sculptures mainly by Armenian artists phygitally (physically and digitally), and the SoftConstruct project, ftNFT, which sells NFTs mainly featuring Armenian art. These developments offer unique opportunities for artists to gain international exposure, like a phygital NFT store at Dubai Mall, the first of its kind.
As Armenia leaps from analog to digital, Inna acknowledges the challenges. The art market in Armenia has yet to fully take shape, leaving questions about how artists will adapt to digital platforms.
To make Armenian art globally relevant, Inna advises balancing traditional and modern elements. Embracing the uniqueness of Armenian culture while presenting it in a contemporary way is key to international success. “People are looking for uniqueness now, Western culture is not as hegemonic as it used to be; think of the rise of K-pop, the rise of Balkan music in Europe, the rise of Spanish music served worldwide through artists like Rosalía. Think of the expansion of Indian dramas into Netflix. People want different and authentic, and trying hard to look globalized is only going to push audiences away.”
Freedom of Artistic Expression
Inna is quick to dismiss any notion of censorship or restrictions on artistic expression in Armenia: "Never happened in my personal career; if the issue exists, it’s not that apparent.” Armenia's artists enjoy the freedom to create, and the government maintains and has mostly always maintained a hands-off approach. The hands-off approach, though, could also be a red flag. According to her, governments should collaborate with the private art sector and not fully let it float off. She gives examples of Kazakhstan and Ukraine in the post-Soviet world, where governments do not limit artistic expression but also help foster its growth across genres and beyond.
Making art more accessible to the general public is also crucial, she tells me. Inna often advocates for more cultural programs on various media platforms and discourse on art's role in Armenian society and the economy. The more artistic interest among the masses, the merrier.
Artsakh Armenians in Armenia's Art Scene
"A month ago, I organized a painting master class for children from Artsakh, which we later showcased in an exhibition-sale format at the Dvin Music Hall," Inna tells me.
The money raised through that and all future exhibitions of those paintings are directed towards the reopening of Stepanakert Children’s Creative Center in Yerevan. "It’s a tough job but a cause worth fighting for and we’re trying to support it with our foundation."
The best way to help, according to her, is by creating opportunities for the younger generation to learn and by preserving the cultural heritage and talent of Artsakh.
For the older generation of more established artists from Artsakh? "It is our responsibility to ensure they have a strong presence in the cultural life of Armenia, otherwise, we’ll face yet another cultural retention. It is also our responsibility to ensure they have a presence outside of Armenia too, cause we are, unfortunately, in a position where we have to prove to the rest of the world that we are the masters (owners) of our culture."
Vital (Missing) Links for Armenia's Art
The active role of the diaspora is crucial, especially in recent times, when Russian-Armenian involvement has grown. She believes that with better organization, the diaspora can play a significant role in promoting Armenian art and culture globally.
Inna also recognizes the vital role of education in nurturing Armenia's artistic talent. She advocates for programs that qualify directors of cultural institutions and for greater exchange of professionals from abroad to impart necessary skills.
Inna Hovhannisyan, the driving force behind Armenia's evolving art scene, promotes Armenian artists and culture and ensures they remain relevant and competitive globally. With her wit, wisdom, and unwavering commitment to art, Inna is truly one of the artistic trailblazers in the heart of Armenia.
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