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Memphis, Meet Russia

Russian Cultural Center opens in South Main Arts District.

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A new red, white, and blue flag waves over a storefront on South Main. But it's not the American flag.

The Russian Cultural Center (RCC) opened its doors at 509 South Main in mid-January, welcoming Memphians to learn about Russian culture. As part of the grand opening, Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell declared January 14th to be "Russian Federation Day."

"The city of Memphis wishes to strengthen our bonds with multicultural nations, such as the Russian Federation, and develop educational, scientific, cultural, and business relations with this country," Wharton wrote in his proclamation.

While the center aims to serve the local Russian and Russian-speaking population, RCC president Anna Terry said they encourage everyone to visit the center.

"The Russians have been here," Terry said, "but they haven't really had a face in Memphis. They tend to stick together, and we want them to interact with Memphians in a real way. We really want [RCC] to be more of a place where Americans can interact with Russians and vice versa, not a Russian club."

For Terry and the other founders, Memphis was an obvious choice for the new center.

"Everyone around the world loves [Memphis] culture, our food, and music," Terry said, "so we started bringing [Russian] students here in 2010 for business training programs. They just loved it. This is kind of the more real, gritty America, and a lot of Russians only know New York or maybe California. This is like the heart and soul of America."

Terry and the RCC are hoping to work with Memphians who want to travel or study in Russia and are currently working with the Russian Language Department at Rhodes College to connect students who want to study abroad with exchange programs.

"We want to [help produce] a more global economy here. We build relationships through culture, and that leads to doing business together. We want to help make Memphis a more multicultural city," Terry said.

The RCC plans to host educational events like Russian cooking classes, lectures, language courses, and biweekly Russian film screenings in their makeshift theater. There are also plans to hold craft and language courses geared toward children. Part of the RCC's efforts will focus on introducing Memphians to a more accurate image of the Russian people.

"Most people's perception of Russia and Russian culture is about 30 years outdated. There are a lot of stereotypes that need to be pulled apart," Terry said.

The RCC looked to the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., for much of their funding and the materials to renovate their South Main storefront, but they are still seeking donations through their website, newworldconnection.org.

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