In 2012, there were 245 museums in Estonia. During the past two decades, their number has grown considerably (in 1990 there were 77). Some of them belong to the state, some to the local governments, and some are private non-profit entities. Around 2.2 million visits to museums are made yearly and attendance levels have been increasing slightly. In 2012, investments in real estate and new infrastructure still remained as priorities of the Ministry of Culture. Museum buildings are old and often in poor condition, resulting in problems with depositories, exhibition halls, and working premises. The central museums with large depositories require rapid restoration. The construction works of a new Museum of Arts, Kumu began in 2002 and were finished in 2006.
Educational programmes (BA and MA curricula; ISCED97 5A level) in restoration have been established at the Estonian Academy of Arts; there are no other educational programmes specifically concerned with heritage protection. A council for the preservation of cultural heritage in libraries, museums, and archives was established in 1999. Among other things, it has the responsibility of awarding licenses for professional restaurateurs.
In the field of the built environment, an important challenge to heritage protection has been posed by the denationalisation process that began in 1993. The new owners of historic buildings sometimes lack the resources, competence, and motivation to preserve the historical uniqueness of their property.
The Heritage Conservation Act of 2002 (see also chapter 4.2.2) distinguishes between different types of historical monuments, which are registered by the National Heritage Board (Muinsuskaitseamet). Their use is subject to relatively strict regulations in order to guarantee the preservation of their historical value. According to the law, the responsibility for specifying, controlling, and administering regulations concerning cultural monuments lies with local governments, which are controlled and supervised by the National Heritage Board. In 2006, an agenda Estonian Museums of the 21 Century was adopted by the Ministry, which considers establishing stable networks between museums as one of its main policies. As part of implementing the agenda, a bilingual webpage http://www.muuseum.ee was launched by the Estonian Museum Association.
Within the Ministry of Culture, a National Heritage Council (Muinsuskaitse nõukogu) functions as a counselling body. Registration, inspecting and licensing functions are left to the National Heritage Board, while local governments are expected to inform it of any activities in the locality which may be of relevance regarding cultural monuments. The division of responsibilities has been a subject of some controversy. In comparison with the previous Heritage Conservation Act of 1994, the provisions of the present legislation (and already those of an amendment in 1997) entrust the local governments with more responsibility. It is feared that the scientific expertise required may not always be available when needed. The need for ensuring the development of basic research in heritage is stressed by the Ministry of Culture.
Both legislation and the administration for the protection of the cultural heritage are, to a great extent, geared toward monuments – archaeological, historical, artistic, architectural, and industrial. There are clearly stated regulations on the use and care of monuments, and even some resources for their restoration and renovation. However, the situation created by the processes of privatisation and denationalisation calls for a broader and more flexible view of the objectives and devices for the protection of the cultural heritage. The restoration and care of relatively few, although historically unique, monuments cannot compensate for the damage caused by the lack of care of the historic everyday environment. As one would expect, it is in the field of built-up areas where heritage protection and financial interests clash most visibly. In order to resolve the situation, the protection of the cultural heritage should, in fact, influence city planning from an early stage. In some cases, e.g. in Tallinn, the existence of districts with so-called environmental value (miljööväärtus) have been officially recognised in developmental plans, however, have not been integrated into practical city planning (see also chapter 4.2.7). At present, plans for heritage sites in towns are being adopted on an ad hoc basis, mainly on the initiative of the owners and prospective builders of these sites. As a result, planning fails to appreciate the need to preserve the unique character of historical city districts.
The digitalisation of heritage is another emerging issue. Due to the development of information technology, earlier recoded data is rapidly becoming impossible to use. The Estonian Social Sciences Data Archive, located in Tartu, was established in 1996 and has now converted to the PC format and been made available to researchers in the form of data bases containing social research projects from 1975 on. Within the Ministry of Culture, a council of experts dealing with the preservation of digital heritage was formed in November 2013. The Ministry has participated in MichaelPLUS, MinervaEC, MICHAEL Plus, Athena, DC-NET, Linked Heritage and CARARE projects and is currently participating in DCH-RP, Athenaplus and Europeana Space projects. The speedy outdating of digital technology for storing information presents a constant challenge for museums as well as libraries.
For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Estonia