Towson's Russia connection

May 17, 1994

When St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak recently received an honorary doctorate from Towson State University, it was the latest manifestation of that institution's growing links with Russia's second city. Indeed, few American colleges have embarked on a bridge-building mission with greater vigor than Towson.

It started five years ago when 27 students from the TSU Dance Company, faculty and staff members gave two concerts and master classes at what then was called the Leningrad State Conservatory. They were accompanied by a news team from a Baltimore television station, which did a four-part series on the trip, fanning enthusiasm among those who had not been able to go.

Since those days, a long list of exchanges has been arranged. What started as a project for musicians and dancers has now developed into a wide-ranging exchange program which also includes swapping language teachers. A heavy emphasis is on advancing mass communications instruction at the St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University, where a new public relations department was modeled after Towson State's.

The idea for these cultural links came from Helen Breazeale, pTC associate dean in Towson State's College of Fine Arts and Communications, who met Nikita Dolgushin, a leading Russian dancer and instructor, in 1986. Mr. Dolgushin, an admirer of Jose Limon, was ecstatic when he heard Dr. Breazeale had once danced with the Limon company and could give advice on Limon movements.

In the waning days of communism, red tape often hampered exchange programs. In today's free-wheeling atmosphere the problem is money. Americans may have it, but few Russians invited to the United States can find enough for air tickets.

Towson State is a leading member of a consortium of 10 American colleges that are linking up with nine St. Petersburg institutions of higher learning, hoping to extend academic and financial assistance. "We have a moral obligation to help those people," says Dr. Breazeale. "If we don't do it, who will?"

For his part, Mayor Sobchak is intrigued by what Maryland can offer. He dreams of the day when St. Petersburg can do something like Baltimore's Harborplace to revitalize its underused waterfront. The Maryland Port Authority already is working on ways to make St. Petersburg's port facilities more efficient. As Russia rebuilds itself, such joint efforts will be good for Maryland.

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