New Sounds of the Old Stage

Gyumri will have a public open-air stage for young artists in the reconstructed Friendship Park

Gyumri's Charles Aznavour Square is one of the busiest areas of the city. One could clearly see the traces of the devastating earthquake here until recently.
Before the start of the Gyumri Friendship Park reconstruction project, only a few young people in Gyumri could answer the question where the Friendship Park or "Antari Sad" ("the park of the forest") – as dubbed by Gyumri's senior residents - was located.

"One can say the whole Gyumri was in a weird chaotic state in our childhood years. Perhaps, some mentioned the park, but I cannot memorise it. Over the years, we started loving more what we have and being more attentive, and we found out that this area was a park," says co-founder of "Gyumri is Our Home" initiative Arsen Vardanyan.

It was owing to the renovation and reconstruction started in the past 2 years that the young people discovered the past of this area equal to 10 professional football fields. As for the older generation, every mention of the park sparks vivid memories.
Armine Petrosyan
Karen Khachatryan,
actor and stage director
Zhanna Eduardovna
Almost all those present mentioned that the stage of the park and the adjacent dance floor had unique acoustics. Both famous and beginning musicians performed on the stage.

In 1981, Mkrtich Simonyan performed as part of "Ilyona" bank on the stage of the Friendship Park almost every week. The band was created in 1977 and mostly played on the stages of the centers of culture under factories. At first, they were called "Sparkling Stars," then the band was re-named to "Ilyona," in honor of the girlfriend of one of the guys. Through their connections, the young people met the long-running director of the stage – Khachik Azaryan famous for his strictness – who listening to their performance offered them to play in the new concert season in the park.
The concerts took place on weekends. The stage and dance floor were separated from the park and tickets were sold for entrance. We played "Deep Purple" and "Smokie," as well as our interpretations of national songs. At that time, there was almost no one knowing English in the city, and it was impossible to find the original lyrics of the songs. We performed as much as we heard our favorite songs not even knowing the meaning of the words," says Mkrtich Simonyan.
The quartet got 60-80 rubles for each concert. According to Mkrtich Simonyan, they were not motivated by money but the music and opportunity to self-express. The young guys liked passers-by saying: "Oh, these are the guys performing in the park." That year they even managed to record the only CD of the band featuring the songs authored by the band musicians. However, at the end of the year many of the guys left for army service and the band stopped existing.
The park ceased to sound after the 1988 earthquake. The structure of the stage was damaged and the area for a long time housed the temporary shelters of the people deprived of their homes due to the collapse of the neighbouring buildings.

Today, the Friendship Park is being reconstructed by Tourism and Urbanism Charitable Foundation (TUF) within the public-private partnership format.
The design concept of the Friendship Park has been developed by Pomp & circumstance lab (P&C Lab) bureau of architects. Team leader of the design concept development Margarita Asiryan says the project is participatory and research of the location and people's memories hinted to the architects about the importance of the former stage.
Margarita Asiryan
Head of the Friendship Park Design Concept Development Team
According to Lilit Tovmasyan, Head of Culture and Youth Affairs Department at Gyumri Municipality, the city has only a few public stages and there is no open-air public stage at all.

"The city does not have a platform where events can be organised without negotiating with the private sector and with no commercial content. These events will become platforms for young artists and performers. The reconstruction of the stage will greatly contribute to holding of music events in Gyumri and will be additional motivation for young artists and music bands," says Lilit Tovmasyan.

Taking into account the needs of the community and the fact that Gyumri people's most vivid memories are connected to the stage of the park and the concerts held here TUF decided to preserve and reconstruct the stage starting a public campaign on the reArmenia collaboration platform.
The goal of the campaign is to raise funds at the amount of USD 100 000. Every person from Armenia, the Diaspora and the entire world can join the fundraising campaign and contribute to restoration of Gyumri's historical and cultural heritage.

"The restoration of the stage will not only contribute to fostering the cultural life but also will boost tourist flow and attractiveness of Gyumri. We decided to announce a public fundraising campaign as it is important to invoke the feeling of ownership in people. The feeling that it is their own park, their stage and each contribution is important for showing their special care toward the park of their memories," says Yelena Muradyan noting that the amount is not important; the engagement and participation in preservation and restoration of culture and history of their own city is what is key.
Arik Grigoryan
Head of the folk-rock band "TmbaTa"
Emma Baghdasaryan
The coordinator of the Friendship Park reconstruction project in Gyumri
The best start of announcing the need for reconstruction of the stage was "Gyumri – City of Friendship" initiative. When the world was closed due to the quarantine and the young artists could not perform on stages due to the pandemic, "Gyumri – City of Friendship" initiative kicked off. Within the initiative, twenty concerts performed on the dilapidated stage of the Friendship Park were shot. Young artists took part in several international festivals and contests with these videos.
Polyline architectural studio is the author of the reconstruction project of the stage. The project is based on the design concept developed by P&C Lab.

Founding director of the architectural studio Lusine Martirosyan has taken part in the studies and projects for Gyumri reconstruction since student years. The architect notes that considering the technical state of the stage built in the 1970s it would be preferred by many to tear it down and build a new one.

"We were tasked to preserve the building by all means. It will be done by the Italian method – the reconstructed segments will largely differ from the preserved parts. And to strengthen the roof of the building, pillars will be installed and the stage will be carefully "covered" by a metal mesh to hide the pillars", explains Lusine Martirosyan stressing that people from different corners of the world strive to come, see and touch the cultural heritage, what has history behind it – and this Soviet post-modernistic stage is a vivid example.
In the initial stage, the concrete roof and the very stage will be strengthened. The walls will be covered with acrylic water dispersion paint. After the fixing, a delicate mesh "curtain" will be installed on the stage. "Flowing" from the roof it will emphasize the fragility of the dilapidated stage. The mesh will be illuminated at night.

"The special illumination of the area will allow lighting either the stage or the mesh depending on the purpose. For instance, it will be possible to illuminate the stage during concerts and on average days, the mesh "curtain" will be lighted turning it into a unique art object in the park," says coordinator of the construction works of the Friendship Park Mushegh Gonchoyan.
According to the initiators of the fundraising campaign there is a huge psychological difference between the users of the fully donated area or an object and people who contribute to reconstruction or creation of the area or object.

"The stage of the Friendship Park occupies large space in the memories of the locals. It was decided to raise funds for its reconstruction allowing people to turn from a consumer to a contributor in restoration of the historical and cultural heritage and creation of the public open-air stage in the city. This way, every person will help beginning musicians and Gyumri people to have a free platform for self-expression," noted Lusine Martirosyan.
Preserving its historical exterior, the stage will become more modern and innovative enticing even passers-by. After the reconstruction, numerous concerts, performances, meetings, and events will be organized here and one can attend them with their friends, family, guests of the city and tourists.
The article has been written in the scope of cooperation with Tourism and Urbanism Charitable Foundation (TUF).