She examined both ‘older’ cultural institutions, established in Soviet times and supported today mainly by local authorities, and ‘newer’ ones which sustain themselves, e.g. by selling advertising.
Kuleva’s paper is based on data from the study A Creative City: Reformatting the Public Space, conducted in St. Petersburg between 2012 and 2014.
Kuleva analysed 25 in-depth interviews with employees of cultural institutions, including ten respondents from ‘old’ institutions, such as public libraries, museums, film studios, a creative union, a cultural centre and art centres—all financed by the either district or city authorities, and 15 respondents from 'new' institutions, such as multipurpose cultural venues (combining a theatre, exhibition space, studio and café), art galleries, a bookstore and publishing house, a cultural centre, a theatre, a dance studio and an urban design centre; 19 of the 25 respondents were women aged 25 to 30.
Cultural production has become a focus of media attention both in Russia and worldwide, as creative professions are perceived as representing the neo-liberal 'new world of work' where an individual’s life path is not restricted to just one occupation, and long-term jobs are replaced by 'intermittent' forms of employment. In addition to that, creative industries are seen by many as an important resource for urban development.
However, available jobs in creative industries rarely fit the outdated stereotype of 'bohemian freedom', and creative workers often face problems such as unpaid overtime and unstable employment.
In fact, some experts today describe creative work as a form of entrepreneurship characterized by blurred boundaries between work and leisure (e.g. networking during social events), high competition, short-term employment contracts and unequal distribution of resources ('stars' vs. most others).
According to many respondents from both 'old' and 'new' cultural institutions, they started work as undergraduates, the only apparent difference being that in the former case the university referred the undergraduate to their prospective employer, while in the latter case they found the job independently.
Their careers began in a similar way—young interns or volunteers were quickly promoted to higher positions—one respondent reported being promoted from a receptionist to deputy director within just one year. However, their career advancement often came at a cost.
As young and enthusiastic employees get promoted, they often cause an overall attitude change in the workplace, making it impossible for others to slack off. One respondent, manager of a creative union, described the change as a workplace revolution, saying that before her arrival, "a few women were just sitting there having tea from morning till the end of day... doing nothing. I hired younger staff, trained them and we started working together as a team." Thus, within just a few months, she got promoted and changed the way things worked in her organisation.
Respondents from 'older' institutions financed by government report spending considerable time and effort on red tape and having to combine cultural production with bureaucratic procedures. In contrast, employees of 'newer' organisations have to focus more on public relations, advertising, crowdsourcing, and dealing with household tasks such as repairs.
While both groups of respondents mention 'flexible work schedules', this term appears to mean different things to different people and includes descriptions such as ‘fixed start time and flexible end time’; ‘eight-hour workday with flexible start time’ and even ‘flexible workday lasting ten hours or so’. In many cases, what the respondents describe as a flexible working schedule effectively means unscheduled overtime allowing the employee only illusory flexibility.
In addition to that, 'flexible' work schedules come with increased emphasis on performance as opposed to time spent in the workplace; as a result, work tends to consume the rest of the employee’s life, according to Kuleva.
Thus, many respondents are forced to take their work home and describe working on holidays, weekends and even at night, taking fewer hours of sleep. One respondent, founder of a creative cluster, reported often spending nights at the office and being woken up by business phone calls. However, respondents rarely see it as an issue affecting their rights as employees.
Another respondent employed by a publisher reported what Kuleva describes as a 'dual normative framework' where the employee is required to start and finish work on time (she admits lacking self-discipline and being sometimes late for work) and to maintain a certain performance standard which determines her pay.