Amateur arts and folk culture
Estonia has a long tradition of associational activities. Some of the most important cultural institutions (notably the Estonia Theatre) were originally launched as private initiatives. During Soviet rule, cultural associations and amateur arts groups played an important role in the preservation of cultural traditions and as an opposition against foreign rule. The Act on Non-Profit Organisations and Foundations (1996) provides associations with a clear legislative framework. They have the right to apply for a public benefit status with the corresponding tax benefits (see also chapter 4.1.4). The adoption in 2002 by the Parliament of a document called the Conception for the Development of Civil Society in Estonia (see also chapter 1.3.3) is 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.
It is difficult to calculate the number of arts and cultural associations in Estonia. Research evidence suggests that the NGO sector is less focused on cultural activities than before. On 1 January 2014, a total of 6 081 NGOs (5 946 associations, 135 foundations) dealing with culture, sports, and recreation were registered in Estonia. However, experiences from organisational surveys indicate that the real number of organisations active is much lower. The Cultural Endowment has a separate department to support folk culture. In general, direct state financing for folk culture activities is channelled through 7 umbrella organisations. While the funds are easier to administer via these umbrella organisations, there are questions being raised about the possibility of those “non-member” associations to receive project grants. A possibility that has been recently discussed between NGO representatives and the government is the establishment of an arm’s length body, possibly a state-owned foundation, with the task of administering financial support for NGOs.
Estonia’s largest cultural event in 2014 was the National Song and Dance Festival held in Tallinn, with the participation of 1 046 choirs and orchestras, more than 33 000 singers and musicians, and 10 082 dancers. Altogether 153 000 concert tickets were sold for the three days of the event. The next National Song and Dance Festival is planned to take place in 2019. A Youth Song and Dance Festival was organised in 2011 as a part of the events in connection with Tallinn’s year as European Capital of Culture.
Cultural houses and community cultural clubs
The role of community cultural centres is rather unclear at the moment. During the Soviet regime they were mostly maintained by collective farms and state-owned employers. The privatisation of the economy and agriculture in the early 1990s caused some of the cultural centres to be closed down while others were turned over to the municipalities. Local governments have varying economic resources and are not always able to maintain the buildings and furnish them with activities. That means that the cultural centres have been forced to become economically more self-reliant and to introduce higher fees for participation in their activities. They have often adopted the legal form of a foundation or a non-profit association. There is a tendency of establishing “cultural factories” (clusters established in previous factory buildings and run by non-profit organisations, which are transformed into working and performing places for artists, musicians, craftsmen, printing houses, recording studios, etc.), to meet better the needs of interdisciplinary arts and engage young audiences. Two cultural factories, Kultuurikatel and Cultural Factory Polymer in Tallinn, are both in their initial phase of development and have been generously supported by the City of Tallinn. Two other cultural factories are planned for Tartu and Viljandi.
The state-initiated programme to renovate schools located in historical manor buildings supports the re-creation of multi-functional centres for local cultural life. The practice of creating official co-operation between friendship municipalities in Estonia and the Nordic countries has provided Estonian local governments with new ideas and often with material support.