In February 2019, the Parliament passed the new Heritage Conservation Act. The objectives of this Act are the preservation and diversity of cultural heritage, which is ensured with the following activities:
- preservation and protection of cultural monuments, heritage conservation areas and the environments of cultural value surrounding thereof;
- protection of archaeological finds and protected archaeological sites;
- safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.
The Heritage Conservation Act applies to the designation of monuments, heritage conservation areas, protected archaeological sites, organising the protection and preservation of monuments and archaeological finds.
The new Act balances the rights and obligations of the state with those of the owners of cultural monuments, creating for the first time a compensation system for monument owners. In the new Act, the activities of the National Heritage Board will include both heritage conservation and museum fields (see also chapter 3.1).
According to the Museums Act, museums are supported directly from the state budget, local government budgets and also from university budgets. In accordance with the General Principles of Cultural Policy, the owner of a museum collection shall ensure the basic financing for fulfilling the main tasks of a museum.
Direct support from the state budget is given to state museums. In addition to the Ministry of Culture, some state museums belong to the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of the Interior.
The basis for financing the activities of foundations with state participation, of museums operated by local governments, and of persons in public law and private persons, is the Regulation by the Minister of Culture entitled “Procedure for the application for and distribution of resources allocated to the Ministry of Culture from the state budget to support the activities of museums”. For the decision making about grants such NGOs as the Estonian Museum Society and the ICOM Estonia National Committee are involved in shaping cultural policy and the realisation of activities as well as developing and increasing their network of volunteer members and organisational capacity, increasing their quality of traditional as well as innovative activities, also internationality.
The Museums Act enables state museums and museums operating as state foundations to apply for the grant of state guarantee of compensation to cover any material damage caused to the owners of exhibition. When planning a temporary exhibition containing objects of significant artistic or historical value, the museum can apply for this specific grant. The decision regarding the guarantee of the compensation of damage to the exhibition is made by the Minister of Culture.
The scope of the Museums Act is to define a museum, but it also provides the bases for the organisation of the museum collection, activities of the museum, the insurance of a museum object and conditions for compensation by the state for the damage caused to the owner of an international exhibition. The Museums Act applies to state museums administered by the Ministry of Culture, operating as a museum and a structural unit thereof, and to a governmental authority operating as a museum in the area of government of the Ministry and the structural unit thereof, and foundation type museums – founded by the state and a structural unit thereof.
According to the Museums Act, a museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, preserves, researches and communicates the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, research and enjoyment. Upon the performance of its functions, a museum shall, among other, take account of the needs of children and disabled persons.
A museum object is an object of cultural value registered in a museum, for which records are maintained pursuant to the international principles of museum documentation. A museum collection is a collection of museum objects, which may be divided into sub-collections according to the groups or types of museum objects.
See also chapters 3.1. and 6.1.
In 2011, the Commissioning of Artworks Act came into force in Estonia, in order to bring more art into the public space. The Act regulates the obligation to commission works of art related to the construction of public buildings with the purpose to improve the public space aesthetically. Such buildings are for instance office buildings, administrative buildings, schools, healthcare buildings and social welfare buildings. The total price of an artwork without the value added tax shall be at least 1% of the construction price but not more than EUR 65 000.
The Act on the Return of Cultural Objects Unlawfully Removed from the Territory of a Member State of the European Union regulates the return to a Member State of the European Union of cultural objects which have been unlawfully removed from the territory of that state and brought to Estonia. In the Act, a cultural object means an object which is classified or defined by a Member State under national legislation, before or after its unlawful removal from the territory, as being among the national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value within the meaning of Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. State supervision upon the return of unlawfully removed cultural objects shall be exercised by the National Heritage Board. The Police and Border Guard and Tax and Customs Board shall assist, within the limits of their competence, in locating these cultural objects within the territory of Estonia.
The Intra-Community Transport, Export and Import of Cultural Objects Act provides the processing of export licenses of cultural objects; expert assessments of items and referrals of items or cultural objects to expert assessments; customs formalities upon export of cultural objects and liability for violation of this Act; and the organisation of exercise of state supervision. For the purposes of this Act, cultural objects are defined as having historical, archaeological, ethnographic, artistic, scientific or other cultural value. A few examples are:
- buildings or parts of buildings and architectural details and accessories located in Estonia which are older than 75 years;
- archaeological findings, coin treasures and parts of coin treasures originating from the time before 1721;
- works of sacramental art or sacred objects related to Estonian cultural space made before 1945 and sacred printed matter older than 100 years;
- Estonian ethnographic objects, including national costumes and the accompanying jewellery originating from the time before 1945;
- works of visual arts and applied art of Estonian artists which are unique or of limited edition made before 1945;
- films, sound recordings or other technically recorded material on original carrier media which are older than 50 years and related to Estonian cultural history;
- musical instruments made in Estonia before the year 1950.
For the purpose of this Act, a cultural object can also be something that has been declared a cultural monument on the basis of the Heritage Conservation Act or something placed under temporary protection.
A person may transport or export a cultural object out of Estonia on the basis of a license issued by the National Heritage Board, which he or she shall submit to a customs official in case of export of the cultural object. A customs official may, based on evaluation of risks, ask for an export license also in case of intra-community transport of goods. An export license is either permanent or temporary. In the case of temporary intra-community transport or export, a person is obliged to bring the cultural object back to Estonia. A monument or an item under temporary protection may be transported or exported out of Estonia only temporarily.