Palace of Culture
Palace of Culture (Russian: Дворец культуры, dvorets kultury, Chinese: 文化宫, wénhuà gōng) or House of Culture (dom kultury) was the name for major club-houses in the Soviet Union and the rest of the Eastern bloc. It was an establishment for all kinds of recreational activities and hobbies: sports, collecting, arts, etc.; the Palace of Culture was designed to have room for multiple uses. A typical Palace contained one or several cinema halls, concert hall(s), dance studios (folk dance, ballet, ballroom dance), various do-it-yourself hobby groups, amateur-radio groups, amateur-theatre studios, amateur musical studios and bands, lectoriums (lecture halls), and many more. Groups were also subdivided by age of participants, from children to retirees. A public library may sometimes have been housed in the Palace of Culture as well. All hobby groups were free of charge until most recent times, when many hobbies with less official recognition were housed based on "self-repayment". A Palace of Culture was sometimes called a "club", but this did not mean that it was membership-based.
Palaces or Houses of Culture were introduced in the early days of the Soviet Union, inheriting the role that was earlier fulfilled by so-called "People's Houses" (Russian: народные дома). Below is an excerpt from John Dewey's Impressions of Soviet Russia and the revolutionary world (1929).
The other impression I would record came from a non-official visit to a House of Popular Culture. Here was a fine new building in the factory quarter, surrounded by recreation grounds, provided with one large theater, four smaller assembly halls, fifty rooms for club meetings, recreation and games, headquarters for trade unions, costing two million dollars, frequented daily—or rather, nightly—by five thousand persons as a daily average. Built and controlled, perhaps, by the government? No, but by the voluntary efforts of the trade unions, who tax themselves two percent of their wages to afford their collective life these facilities. The House is staffed and managed by its own elected officers. The contrast with the comparative inactivity of our own working men and with the quasi-philanthropic quality of similar enterprises in my own country left a painful impression. It is true that this House—there is already another similar one in Leningrad—has no intrinsic and necessary connection with communistic theory and practice. The like of it might exist in any large modern industrial center. But there is the fact that the like of it does not exist in the other and more highly developed industrial centers. There it is in Leningrad, as it is not there in Chicago or New York...
There were two basic categories of Palaces of Culture: those owned by the state and those owned by the enterprise. Every town, kolkhoz and sovkhoz had a central Palace or House of Culture. Major industrial enterprises had their own Palaces of Culture, managed by the corresponding trade unions.
In smaller rural settlements similar establishments of lesser scope were known as "clubs", with main activities there being dance nights and cinema.
In 1988 there were over 137,000 club establishments in the Soviet Union.
In the People's Republic of China, the best-known, and most centrally located, Palace of Culture is perhaps the "Workers' Palace of Culture" located in the former Imperial Ancestral Temple just outside the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The concept and the name of a "House of Culture" also appears in (for example) France (Maison de la culture), Belgium and Quebec.
Most Palaces of Culture continue to exist after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but their status, especially the financial one, changed significantly, for various reasons.
- Young Pioneer Palace
- Cultural center
- Institute of Culture
- Gorbunov Palace of Culture (Moscow)
- Palace of Culture (Tolyatti)
- National Palace of Culture (Sofia, Bulgaria)
- Palace of Culture (Palacio de la Cultura) in Managua, Nicaragua
- Palace of Culture (Iași) (Romania)
- Palace of Culture of Tirana (Albania)
- Palacio de Cultura Banamex (Mexico City, Mexico)
- Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science (Poland)
- Cultural Palace of Nationalities (Beijing, China)
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