Today’s network of public cultural institutions of the Republic of Armenia, generally founded back in the Soviet 1920-30s, have been perpetually undergoing semantic and morphological changes, which became dramatic especially in the post-Soviet period. Although in the post-soviet period new cultural and educational structures and institutions began to emerge, the old ones also proved to be viable after some more or less significant changes. In the post-soviet period, most of the cultural institutions underwent structural and legal status changes. Since 2002, museums, libraries, and performance organisations (theatres and concert-halls) have been reorganised into state non-profit organisations. Large cultural organisations were awarded “National” status (The National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, The National Gallery of Armenia, The National Library, The National Television, The National Book Chamber). Only the State Academic Theatre, named after G. Sundukyan, was not awarded national status, although it continued to be considered the main theatre of the country (“Mother-theatre”). The local networks of Soviet cultural institutions were rather large; they included museums, libraries, theatres, houses of culture, clubs, creative unions, cinemas and other institutions. In the post-Soviet period, they got rid of socialist ideology, but most of the cultural centres such as houses of culture, clubs, creative unions, some theatres and cinemas were cut off from state institutional and financial support, and in accordance with the Local Government Law adopted in 1996, were passed under the control of municipal governments. Some institutions like most of the cinema theatres, some houses of culture and libraries were alienated from community budgets (sometimes illegally), privatized and ceased operating. Alternatively, new types of cultural organizations and structures emerged such as private theatres, church-managed cultural houses with an accent on religious topics, private art and dance schools, etc., which tried to fill the gap.
Although the Local Government Law was the first step in the decentralization of cultural policies and institutions, it must be noted that the newly formed municipal governments did not have adequate resources to maintain these structures and simply closed some of them or at best just provided minimal means to sustain their formal existence. In relation to the renovation of cultural institutions, their institutional “revival” began only in the 2000s, in connection with the internal and external stabilization of RA, with the establishment of the legislative field, active international cooperation, and the signing of many conventions and declarations. However, the “revival” appeared to be just superficial, and no serious reformation or big financial investments into qualitative development of cultural institutions had not been made until recently. Similarly, in the sphere of cultural politics no innovative strategies, alternative solutions or new standards and values had been developed. On the contrary, in the 2010’s, a period of restoration of the soviet-like statuses, hierarchies, privileges and ideological functions under the patronage of the ruling party (The Republican party of Armenia) began and went deeper and deeper.
After the “Velvet” revolution (2018), the process of revising cultural institutions was launched. Despite the political instability, pandemics and war, the cultural sphere has demonstrated increasing trends of quantitative and qualitative development. There were no budgetary reductions for the state cultural organisations; on the contrary, there is a tendency for growth, also due to larger access to grants’ programmes run by different funds. The Ministry of Culture continues to finance the state cultural institutions, which, in their turn, are free to cooperate with any local and foreign donor organisations. Institutionalised structures of the Armenian Diaspora (political parties, cultural unions, benevolent foundations, etc) and individuals also provide financial sources for cultural institutions. The local sponsors contribute mainly to popular culture and show business. A number of NGOs, CJSCs and funds established in recent years are actively implementing regional and international cooperation in the cultural sphere. They are also partnering with local and state government, different educational institutions and other NGOs. Approximately 900 NGOs are registered in the cultural sphere, making up to 33% of all registered NGOs. In the provinces, one cultural organisation is counted per 1 334 residents (the total population in provinces (except Yerevan) is 2 116 300, and the total number of cultural organisations is 1 586).
Projects on infrastructural renovation and development, cultural creativity grants, the optimization of management and structure of cultural institutions were implemented or planned for implementation. The repertoires of some state theatres such as the Opera Theatre, the State Dramatic Theatre have significantly improved and the number of performances has doubled and even tripled. This created larger opportunities for self-sustainability. However, not all transformations were understood and approved by the beneficiaries. Thus, the project of merging two theatres, the State Chamber Musical Theatre and the State Musical Comedy Theatre evoked much dissatisfaction, debates, protests and struggle. As a result, the process of merging was temporarily frozen. In general, however, despite a lot of structural and qualitative improvements, the post-revolutionary government is much criticized for its uncertain or maldeveloped cultural strategies and politics, and especially for the structural transformations and personnel politics of public cultural institutions.