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Tõnis Lukas: Estonian culture is emerging from the crisis as strong as when it entered it

10. August 2020 - 11:33
Heimtali muuseumi eksponaadid. Foto: Kultuuriministeerium
Heimtali muuseumi eksponaadid. Foto: Kultuuriministeerium

The COVID-19 pandemic, which is re-emerging, is causing concern for cultural and sports organisers. The experience in the spring, when the value chains of many sectors simultaneously ceased to function overnight, is still very fresh in our minds. And the recovery has yet to be completed, even under the restrictions that continue to apply.

Tõnis Lukas, Minister of Culture

The crisis package provided by the Ministry of Culture to ensure that cultural and sports institutions could continue their work and hold events totalled €25 million. With the supplementary budget, we tried to ensure the sustainability of cultural organisations, and to cover their essential costs. We needed to support unemployed freelance creative people, coaches and leaders of folk culture groups.

There has been a great deal of discussion and argumentation regarding whom the aid package should definitely reach. At the same time, the cultural organisers had to keep their heads above water, look for new innovative solutions for reaching their audience, in order to survive. After all, the state budget cannot pay for one’s entire future. And in the digital age, these new approaches have been well received by the public. New innovative ways of working have been introduced and entire new online environments have been developed.

From the outset, it was clear to the Ministry of Culture that the criterion for the distribution of crisis aid, for example, in the case of institutions, could not be based only their form of ownership or administrative jurisdiction. Culture is created everywhere. The impact of some smaller events on a community or on the economic life of a region as a whole can be extremely significant. And yet, choices had to be made, since those in need included both cultural organisations set up by the state, and at the other end of the scale, freelance creative people, such as musicians, actors, artists composer and writers. The former received around €20 million in support, the latter €5 million, with the government increasing its budget for creative people several times after the true scale of the crisis became apparent.

I would hereby like to thank our creative associations for their extremely fast action and smooth cooperation in processing the creative grants and delivering them to the applicants. I would also like to thank the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, whose endowments responded quickly and also allocated their own activity-scholarships.

The crisis package grants have now been disbursed. The preparation of these kinds of measures was a first for Estonia. Despite intense and sometimes pointed exchange of views with the representatives of different areas of activity, all the needs could still not be foreseen. Sensing the budgetary limits, we had to start rather conservatively. Thus, in some areas a surplus developed, which could partially be expected.

This money – and we are talking about €2.5 million – will not be lost to culture and sport. In the near future, the Ministry of Culture will announce additional funding rounds. One of them will definitely deal with the field of folk culture. Excluded from the initial appropriation were the makers and preservers of national handicrafts, as well as our community centres, i.e. the gathering places of community cultural life. In addition, we want to provide additional support to the organisers of large musical events, for whom financial uncertainty is particularly high due to the cancelled events. We can provide even stronger support for our film industry, the different sectors of which employ people from all walks of life, and not to mention the importance of the international dimension of filmmaking. The exact terms of the new funding rounds will be worked out and the applicants will be informed in a timely manner.

In addition to the aforementioned €25 million, the state also supported the home delivery of publications, and especially county newspapers, as well as helped sports clubs pay for the maintenance of sports infrastructure. The VAT on publications, as well as digital books, was reduced from 20% to 9%. The Ministry of Culture will initiate a similar tax reduction on concert tickets, in order to help safeguard Estonian concert activity, which is in strong competition with Riga and Helsinki.

The crisis had been kind of a paradoxical. And although the lockdown was so complete in the spring, that at times it seemed that even the birds were not flying, these weeks and months have been exceptionally intensive for both cultural institutions and organisers, as well as the ministry. Uncertainty will certainly continue for some time and even now planning for the future is still impacted by a feeling in the back of one’s mind that everything can change again. At the same time, everyone must be commended for their good and accurate actions under these special conditions because, despite the fact that public cultural life became very active and diverse during the summer, no infections were recorded so far at these concerts, theatre performances and even festivals. Thank you for a safe Estonia!

What should we learn from the current crisis? After all, there must be some hope. Perhaps the fact that the crisis has helped to clarify what we are doing, why we are doing it, and who benefits from it. In all fields of activity. Of course, the crisis also tested the relationships between the state and the creators, carriers and preservers of culture, as well as everyone with each other. But we managed and we have proven that we are all standing together for the good of the entire field of culture and its continuity. Estonian cultural life will emerge from this crisis at least as strong as when it entered it.

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