In 1996, the Parliament approved The Act on Non-Profit Organisations and Foundations, which gives NGOs, associations and foundations a clear legislative framework. The adoption in 2002 by the Parliament of the document The Conception for the Development of Civil Society in Estonia was expected to have the effect of making the project-funding and grant-making practices of the central and local governments more transparent and, thus, reducing the possibility of arbitrary decisions. The law requires for a NGO to have at least two founders or members. Since the 2000s, the number of NGOs started to grow rapidly and a non-governmental organisation is the most popular form in the field of culture, sport or social sphere. During last 15 years, non-governmental organisations have got credibility and visibility in Estonian society.
Main non-governmental partners in the field of the arts are the Creative Artistic Associations, which have been officially recognised by the Ministry of Culture. The General Principles of Cultural Policy state that the shaping and realising of cultural policy is open and transparent, involving artistic associations, development centres and other partner organisations of both the field as well as representing communities and the third sector. The objectives in the field of culture are formulated as cooperation between the field and the state, based on strategies that are updated on a regular basis.
The Creative Persons and Artistic Associations Act was adopted in November 2004. An artistic association is a non-profit association that is recognised by the Ministry of Culture as pursuant to the procedure provided for in the Act, the purpose of which is to promote one artistic field and support the creative activities of creative persons who are members of the artistic association. These 17 artistic associations have been officially recognised by the Ministry of Culture: Estonian Writers’ Union, Estonian Performers Association, The Estonian Artists’ Association, Estonian Filmmaker’s Union, The Estonian Association of Architects, Estonian Association of Designers, Association of Estonian Scenographers, Association of Estonian Professional Musicians, Association of Estonian Actors, Estonian Graphic Designers’ Association, The Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators, The Estonian Theatre Directors’ Union, Estonian Ballet Union, Estonian Landscape Architects’ Union, Estonian Association of Interior Architects, Estonian Dance Art and Dance Education Union, and Estonian Composers Union.
An artistic association shall comprise of at least 50 natural persons, who have been engaged in creative activities in the corresponding artistic field for at least the last three years and whose works have been published during the period or performed publicly. The unions have increasingly started to act as trade unions too, representing social and financial interests of their members.
The Conception for the Development of Civil Society in Estonia was adopted by the Parliament on 2002. This document is aimed at highlighting good practices between public and non-governmental sectors. It has served as a basis for the planning of governments’ policies towards the non-governmental sector. These policies are coordinated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
In 2011, the Estonian Cultural Chamber was established, whose aim is also to cooperate with and consult the Ministry of Culture.
Since the second half of 2000s, creative industries development centres in several cultural fields were established and supported by Enterprise Estonia first and the Ministry of Culture thereafter. These development centres are private legal entities (NGOs) active in the creative industries. They aim to boost cooperation between creative companies and their joint projects with other sectors of the economy. These centres are in the fields of architecture, audiovisual (including film and video, broadcasting), design, performing arts, publishing, visual art, entertainment software (including games and entertainment environments) and music.
One key issue is how to involve different organisations of civil society in policy-making. There are no united practices on how to consult with non-governmental partners (including artistic associations and development centres), what the procedure is and to what extent these organisations are to be involved in policy-making. There is, however, a tendency among ministries as well as local governments to involve those organisations in various discussions, meetings and seminars. For example, the creation of the document General Principles of Cultural Policy up to 2030 began in 2019 with broad-based seminars and meetings involving more than 100 non-governmental organisations, local community centres and creative persons.