creating the future

Natalia Virtuozova: "There has never been anything like the RUSSIA EXPO in history"

Natalia Virtuozova: "There has never been anything like the RUSSIA EXPO in history"
Expo News
Photo: provided by the editorial team of CongressTime magazine

On November 4, 2023, the largest project in the country, the RUSSIA EXPO, opened its doors to visitors at VDNH. It was initially planned to run until April and to showcase the achievements of the country and its regions. The event became so popular that it was decided to extend the RUSSIA EXPO until July 8, 2024. Natalia Virtuosova, Director General of the ANO «Directorate of the Exhibition of Achievements "Russia"», told the editor-in-chief of CongressTime magazine, Daria Ostrovskaya, how this project was created, the concepts behind it and what to expect after its conclusion.

Natalia Sergeevna, do you remember how you were offered to lead this project? Did you agree right away?

Immediately. It was a logical continuation of my professional activities. While working in the government of the Moscow region, I oversaw information policy, culture and tourism. Of course, it was somewhat unusual to start working in the directorate, because I had never directly managed events before. But the RUSSIA EXPO was meant to be unique, so I instantly agreed. And now I can confidently say that it is a great honor for me to be involved in such a project.

Did your expectations match reality?

They definitely did not. Neither I nor anyone else thought we would make such an exposition. It exceeded all expectations. This is because absolutely everyone contributed to the project. The exposition is constantly growing, and I feel that now it is leading us and setting the pace that we strive to keep up with.

What event or meeting within the exposition program stood out to you the most and why?

Undoubtedly, such an event is always the visit of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, because it was his idea and decision. We were very anxious not to let him down, understanding the support and efforts invested in the project from across the country. Overall, there are many bright moments. For example, when the Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army named after A. V. Alexandrov performs and the entire hall sings along standing, or when scenes from the beloved film "At Home Among Strangers, a Stranger Among His Own" are shown to the music of Eduard Artemyev. In such moments, unity arises in the hall because people see something very important and dear to them.

I will share a few personal stories. Once at the exposition, I saw four wonderful women sitting together. I approached them and asked where they had come from. It turned out they were from Yaroslavl. After retiring, they travel a lot, and our exposition became one of their trips. We walked around the exposition together, and I invited them to come again. They have visited me three times already! Each time with protective charm gifts. We constantly keep in touch. I am now expecting them at the "Future in Flowers" festival at VDNH.

I believe that the RUSSIA EXPO is primarily a project about love and human relationships.

Yes. Imagine, these travelers come from Yaroslavl, spending several hours each time to visit our exposition and learn something new about their country.

Another memorable moment happened when a delegation from Italy visited us. They spent a long time at the exposition and enjoyed everything. I always try to accompany foreign guests to convince them that our country has a different image than the one being portrayed in the West. At the end of the visit, one of the delegation members approached me and said he wanted to scold us. I was a bit taken aback, but he continued, "You behave terribly! You are too modest, and that is a crime. You should tell the whole world what a wonderful country you have!"

These are perhaps some of the most striking episodes.

Whose evaluation of the RUSSIA EXPO was the most important to you?

This might sound pretentious, but it’s the evaluation of the people. I start my day by touring the exposition and talking a lot with visitors. Of course, some people criticize. Recently, a visitor reproached me for talking a lot about Kamchatka, saying that in reality, the infrastructure and services there are not as great. I agree that not all our regions meet service expectations, but that will change as we ourselves start traveling more within the country, thereby helping to create the conditions and infrastructure we need. It's always a two-way street.

A Muscovite recently told me that our Telegram channel is not very clear and is difficult to navigate. They suggested creating a news channel where information about upcoming events at the exposition could be easily and quickly accessed. And we launched it.

I saw that there is now a separate channel with the program of exposition events.

Yes, we listen to our guests. Most of the feedback is positive, and everyone enjoys the exposition. Many express their gratitude, and these emotions are invaluable.

By the way, how many people have visited the RUSSIA EXPO so far?

Since the beginning of its operation, more than 15 million people have visited it. On a daily basis, we receive 100-120 thousand guests, although we initially planned for 60-70 thousand.

That sounds very large-scale. How many companies were involved in preparing the exposition? It was organized in record time.

Yes, we had very little time. At the start of the project, we reached out to almost all professional companies in the market, asking them to participate in preparing the exposition. Not all agreed for various reasons: some had too many orders, some did not believe in the idea, and some were not ready for such deadlines. Today, we have 450 companies working with us, including more than 120 in pavilion construction and maintenance.

How is the coordination of so many contractors managed? It seems to me that the key to any project is to ensure that everyone works smoothly like clockwork.

It was very challenging, including forming the team. When we started assembling the directorate, many said the project was temporary and were not ready to join. You know well that there are leaders in our market, including the Roscongress Foundation, which we look up to. Such large companies always have many people involved, considering the scale and regularity of their events. Our situation is different. Convincing people to work with us was not easy. I think our team came together when everyone began to believe in the project.

Our exposition is constantly changing and growing. Initially, there was the winter season, then the summer season. Many temporary projects take place on the venue. To coordinate all of this, we developed unified requirements for the expositions, which are outlined in the technical specifications for participants and their contractors. Within the directorate, there are several functional areas, each headed by one person. For example, there are cultural and business programs, among others. There are also directions dedicated for specific projects, such as the "Future in Flowers" festival. All people are interconnected.

Is it a classic matrix structure?

Yes, the subordination of employees is organized both functionally and by project. No key decision regarding the development of the exposition is made without the participation of all sectors.

How many people are currently working in the directorate?

A total of 321 people. When we launched the exposition on November 4, 2023, there were 150 of us. But as I mentioned, the project is growing and developing.

Do I understand correctly that the directorate's functionality involves ideology and key requirements? What powers do the participants, including the regions, have?

The head of the sector controls the implementation of the technical specifications developed for a particular section of the exposition. They pass it on to the participants and involved contractors. Additionally, for some sections, such as the cultural program, we send everyone a matrix of planned events and their formats, and the exhibitors then decide which formats they are ready to integrate into. This is how we work with our 132 participants. Of course, there can be exceptions, but overall, our program represents a unified matrix.

The technical specifications and event matrix are determined by the concept of the exposition. How was it created? The RUSSIA EXPO is often compared to the World Expo.

There has never been anything like the RUSSIA EXPO in history. I constantly emphasize that the exposition was created by the whole country. It’s true. It's utopian to believe that such a project was conceived by a few specific people. The exposition had several tasks. Firstly, it had to be about pride and love for one's country. Secondly, this project had to embody a dream. Thirdly, the exposition was created for people, and the most important guests are children. You can deceive an adult, you can force a child, but you cannot deceive them. We wanted to genuinely and sincerely captivate the children's audience. I think we succeeded. Children come back to us more than once. Also, our exposition is a territory of gratitude.

How is this expressed?

Our country has a big, kind, compassionate and open heart. We even chose this image for the official symbol of the exposition. It was important to us that people coming to the exposition feel a sense of gratitude to the country, to the people who created this exposition, and to those who are experiencing it with them. We managed to create an atmosphere of mutual gratitude. All our visitors always smile. Paper hearts are laid out everywhere on the site, where anyone can leave their feedback. People write in different languages and thank us for the exposition.

By the way, the heart in the event's official symbol consists of fonts that were prevalent at different times. You can find letters from the era of Alexei Mikhailovich, Peter I, our time and others. Each such script is documented. The idea belongs to the incredibly talented artist Andrei Sheluto. It is based on the unification of all eras in the big heart of Russia. This is also a kind of gratitude - to our history and our ancestors. It was very important for us to talk about pride, dreams and the future at the exposition.

Is the new stage that the RUSSIA EXPO is entering dedicated to the future?

That's right. It began after April 12, 2024. Its general theme is "Creating the Future". When we were planning the new stage, an artist told us, "Why do people love the Soviet past? Because it had a future". What is happening in the world today? The present is destroying both the past and the future. Our task is precisely to create a future without breaking the past. I believe we are succeeding in this.

What future awaits the exposition itself after July 8? What ideas are there for preserving the accumulated experience?

We have a directive from the president to create the Russia National Centre and its branches in the regions. Work in this direction has begun. It's not an easy task. Currently, together with the Moscow government, we are looking for a place to house such a centre. Similar work is being done in the regions. Some will create a branch in existing spaces, some will provide land, and some have sites similar to VDNH.

A similar centre has already been launched in St. Petersburg.

Yes, that's the first project. But we are already working with many regions in this direction. By the way, the RUSSIA EXPO has sparked healthy competition. Each region strives to continuously update and develop its exposition. I think this will continue. Within the directorate, we have introduced a new section called "Legacy". Work is currently underway to systematize and describe the Russia National Centre.

Will the exposition's branding be updated considering these plans?

We have already introduced a new symbol. It’s a lion.

Why was such an image chosen? After all, legacy is about the future, and a lion seems like a symbol from the past.

The lion symbolizes strong authority and the revival of culture. Many ask us why Russia uses lions and why we borrowed this symbol from European heraldry. The lion is a biblical symbol and has always been present in our country. You can see it on Alexander Nevsky's sword, encounter it in folklore and so on. Lions appear on the coats of arms of Russian cities like Vladimir, Belgorod and Krasnoyarsk. Our lion design draws inspiration from the tiles of the cathedral in Vladimir. Take note of the depiction: it seems as if the animal is smiling. This is a distinctly Russian and authentic history.

Speaking of legacy, can you foresee an event of this format and scale being repeated?

No. The exposition is a unique event. It appeared precisely at this time, in this place, with the current mood and sentiment that exist in the country today. It was created by people who incredibly believe in and are proud of Russia. The event will undoubtedly influence the entire congress and exhibition industry, but a repetition is impossible.

In your opinion, what impact has the exposition had on the congress and exhibition industry as a whole?

The RUSSIA EXPO has elevated the industry to a new qualitative level. Not because we are so remarkable, but because the project involves the best representatives of the market. The collaboration and joint efforts have set a high standard not only for the Russian exhibition movement but also globally. Many foreign delegations visiting us are impressed by the quality of the exhibits - not only their technical level but also their conceptual depth. The cultural and business program within the exposition framework also provides an incredible effect.

Are there any preliminary assessments of how the exposition has impacted the country's economy, specifically Moscow's?

I think it's difficult to assess, but we see certain small victories. For example, there's a department store at the exposition where goods from across the country are gathered - 602 producers in total. Today, there are brands that people line up for, such as Sarapul marshmallow, Luhansk corn sticks coated in chocolate and home textiles with Yelets lace. I'd also like to add that four Russian cosmetics brands, after being presented in the department store, gained placement in chain store shelves, and two more manufacturers opened branches in Moscow. Overall, another achievement is the fact that a huge number of people plan their vacations to coincide with visiting the RUSSIA EXPO, which involves tickets, hotels, restaurants and so on.

So, is this effect nationwide?

Yes. The tourism industry will undoubtedly also feel the effect of the exposition. People will travel around the country. Governors and representatives of regions tell us that tourists are visiting thanks to the project. We're now at the beginning of the summer tourist season. I believe that by the end of the year, there will be even more such visitors. The most important thing is for the on-site service to be able to respond quickly to the influx of visitors. But, as I mentioned earlier, this is a two-way street and mutual work. It results in such a delayed economic effect. Our team definitely has a lot to be proud of.

Flash Poll:

What are three places on the map of Russia that are on your agenda for visiting in the near future?

I really want to visit the Arkhangelsk region. I know little about the Caucasus and definitely want to visit the regions located there. And I haven't been to Kamchatka.

What helps you stay in the resource?

Home, loved ones and love.

Your favorite proverb/saying?

It's just the beginning.

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