“Street Art” and “St Petersburg” are seldom heard in the same sentence. Yet, here I am in St Petersburg on my way to a Street Art Museum.
Getting to the Street Art Museum
Getting out of the city centre by public transport is the perfect way to explore a city beyond the tourist sights and experience a slice of local life.
It’s challenging but fun catching a bus in a place where spoken English is rare and signs are in Cyrillic.
I’ve been in Russia for almost two weeks, have more or less learnt the alphabet, can recognise some words and know simple greetings. The hotel receptionist has given us instructions on which metro and bus to take. My husband has Google Maps installed on his phone, so what can go wrong?
It’s a dreary wet day as we walk to the Nevsky Prospekt Metro. We alight two stops and one line change later at Chernyshevskaya. Exiting via heavy wooden doors with window panelling, we struggle with our umbrellas and look around.
Finding the Bus Stop
In spite of the light drizzle, babushkas sit on plastic sheeting on the sidewalk sheltering under brightly coloured umbrellas, their fresh produce laid out in front of them. Signs indicate numerous bus stops at intervals along the street. Which one is ours?
According to our instructions, bus number 163, leaves from a stop next to “a megaphone”. Perhaps something was lost in translation. There’s no megaphone or anything resembling an audio, electronic or music store.
No one speaks English, and the few people we approach just shake their heads. I look up to see bus number 163 driving past, spraying water from the gutter onto the sidewalk. It does a quick U-turn and glides to a stop 100 metres down the road. We run to the nearest traffic light and anxiously wait for the lights to change, willing him not to drive off before we get there.
The bus is a small white minivan. These so-called marshrutki, are privately owned and follow set routes. Hearing the words “Street Art Museum”, the young bus driver solemnly nods and beckons us aboard. We wait as more passengers arrive and after ten minutes drive off.
I stare out the window taking in my surroundings: low-rise old-style buildings, the Neva river and old, apparently historic buildings and monuments.
We turn into Shosse Revolyutslii (Revolution Highway). We’ve been told to alight here, but the busy road is long and straight. Our bus driver shows no indication that we should get off yet, so we stay put.
The Street Art Museum
Eventually he stops and tells us to get off, gesturing that we should turn left and follow the road. We’re in an industrial area feeling out of place. Besides the cars racing past there’s no one around. The light drizzle continues unabated.
After what seems an age (isn’t that always the way when you’re unsure where you are going?), “SAM” (Street Art Museum) written in large white letters on red shipping containers stacked on top of each other appear in the distance. We’ve made it.
The security guards ignore us as we walk through the gate, looking around not quite knowing where to go or what to do. We’re obviously foreign. Perhaps their lack of English stops them from approaching us.
Eventually, I ask one where to buy a ticket. He points to a room opposite their ‘guard house”.
Housed in a Working Factory
Opened in 2012, the Street Art Museum is a collaboration between artists and the owners of the Laminated Plastics Factory (SLOPLAST) that houses the museum. It is, I believe, the first (but no longer the only) Street Art Museum in the world. Another opened in Berlin more recently.
The permanent exhibition, accessible by tour only, is housed in the buildings of the active factory. Here workers ply their trade surrounded by the artworks. The outer spaces house temporary exhibitions.
Having bought our tickets, we stroll around outside inspecting the huge artworks typical of street art the world over. Then we venture into an old industrial building. From the second floor, I peer over the fence into the factory precinct, wishing it was open to the public today.
A number of people wear yellow safety vests and hard hats. I ask one why. With limited English she explains that they are a group doing an excursion. I guess it’s a student outing.
We missed the tour
Only later I realise that they were joining the museum tour of the working factory. I could kick myself. I would have joined the tour whether it was in Russian or not, just to experience viewing artworks in a working factory.
An internet search informs us that our bus, apparently the last for the day, leaves shortly. Had we joined the tour, we’d have missed the bus.
We recognise the driver, and greet him warmly. He drove us out here. We’ve enjoyed our mini adventure. Catching the bus, discovering something of the outer suburbs of St Petersburg and local street art brightened up a wet dreary afternoon.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm opening times. Tours are only on Tours only on weekends at specified times (usually around midday) and not always in English. You will need ID to do a tour.
- Address: Revolyutsii Hwy, 84AB Entrance in Industrialny Ave
- Phone: +7 812 244-14-94