Legislative power belongs to the Parliament (Riigikogu) who decides on:
- the allocation of budget resources for cultural purposes;
- on specific laws regulating the functions of state cultural institutions; and
- on other legislation having an impact on cultural life.
A Parliamentary Cultural Committee, which has members from both the governing and opposition parties, and a Financial Committee respectively have the tasks of reviewing legislative proposals and setting the budgetary limits.
The Ministry of Culture is responsible for:
- the organisation of national cultural, athletic, sports and heritage activities and the advancement of arts. This is carried out by governing a set of state institutions and by granting support to other cultural activities;
- participation in the planning of national media activities;
- supervising the enforcement of copyright legislation;
- coordinating policies for cultural diversity and for the integration of ethnic and immigrant minorities; and
- the compilation of corresponding draft legislation.
The state-run institutions offering arts and culture education are administered by the Ministry of Education, which accredits, grants licenses and sets the educational standards for all institutions including those which are independent or privately run.
Outside the Ministry of Culture, the main institution distributing state money for cultural purposes is the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. It was founded by the Parliament in 1994, based on the model of its predecessor originally established in 1925, but abolished by the Soviet authorities after Estonia’s occupation in 1940. It receives a fixed share of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling duties and uses them for the benefit of culture and sports. The Endowment is divided between departments for Architecture, Film, Fine Arts, Theatre, Music, Literature, Folk Art, Sports, and Inter-disciplinary Culture. The Councils of the different departments are free to decide how to allocate their share of the resources and have adopted different practices in dividing the grants. In addition, a certain share of the money is distributed by the regional expert groups that work in every one of the 15 counties (maakonnad). Among the activities supported are studies, travels, specific projects, in the form of individual grants that are given four times per year. In addition, prizes for outstanding creative activity have been given (since 1997, eight prizes yearly), as well as additional pensions for retired artists. The Endowment’s total income in 2013 amounted to 23.4 million EUR. The Board of the Endowment is chaired by the Minister of Culture, but it lacks any other form of official subordination to the Ministry or to other political bodies. Another arm’s length body is the Council for Gambling Taxes, which is, however, smaller. It distributes grants to other fields besides culture and does not have an elaborate administrative structure.
The Law on Local Self-Governance gives the 30 towns and 185 municipalities the responsibility for the educational and cultural needs of their inhabitants. They are, however, essentially dependent on support from the state budget, from which their main resource requirements are received as subsidies. The small financial resources of most towns and municipalities do not leave them much freedom in designing their own cultural policies. Plans to reform the system of local administration have been discussed actively for several years. This reform would, among other things, include a decrease in the number of local governments and a corresponding growth of their average size (at present, their number is 215, of which 111 had less than 2 000 inhabitants on 1 January 2014). Hopefully, that would enhance the functioning capacity of the remaining municipalities. The reform plan has also aroused opposition as it would lead to some of the municipal services to be geographically located further away from the smallest localities.
There are 15 counties (maakonnad) which are representatives of the state in different regions. Their primary function is to control the work of the local self-governments. The 15 county museums are governed by the county governments.
On the state level, decision-making in cultural policy has remained relatively centralised within the Ministry of Culture. The Parliament has not played an active role here; on the other hand, the local governments’ share of cultural expenses amounted to as much as 52.2% of the total public expenditure on culture in 2012. The institutional structure of cultural life has remained quite heavy, which leaves little room for new initiatives. The Cultural Endowment of Estonia was originally designed as a channel for supporting separate cultural projects. However, starting from 2002, the Endowment also financed the construction works of the Art Museum of Estonia (Kumu) and the National Museum. In practice, it has also participated in the financing of regular activities by established cultural institutions and the pressure for doing so is continuing, perhaps even growing.