The Estonian Ministry of Culture was founded on 27 April 1953. Before that, cultural activities fell under the responsibility of the Arts Authority of the Estonian SSR together with its various departments and creative associations.
In the years 1988-1989 the ministry was called the National Culture Committee of the ESSR, and in 1989-1992 it bore the name of the Ministry of Culture of the ESSR.
In 1992-1995 the Ministry of Culture was joined with the Ministry of Education, but since 1996 Estonia has had a separate ministry of culture once more.
The Ministry of Culture is located in one of the most impressive 20th-century buildings in Estonia – a former Art Nouveau office building with traces of Romantic Nationalism and Neoclassicism in Tallinn city centre.
The building was supposed to set an example to the new business district of Tallinn in the early 20th century. The design, which won an international contest, was by a renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), and the construction, which took place in 1911-1912, was financed by Tallinn Mutual Credit Association.
The monumental 5-storey Credit Association house was erected on a narrow plot between Suur-Karja Street, Väike-Karja Street and Pärnu Road.
The limited construction area resulted in a unique architectural solution in Estonia – the courtyard is placed on three levels and connected to side-streets via ramps.
Two higher courtyards are accentuated by a joining oval opening that lets in the light. The top courtyard is made more attractive by an arcade of massive pillars and a forceful, projecting tower over the staircase.
The front facade of the building is symmetrical, its central axis emphasised by a magnificent two-storey arch, a wide set of stairs, high narrow bay windows, and an arched gable. The overall vertical appearance is balanced by the attic, lesenes between windows, and ornamental strips. A streamlined roof and rounded corners provide the outline of the house with a softness that was preferred in that era.
In 1913 the building was decorated with Egyptian-style cement sculptures made by the sculptor Jaan Koort (1883-1935), but these were removed in 1921.
On the second floor in the wing towards Suur-Karja Street, in the current rooms of the Ministry of Culture, there used to be bank offices, furnished with stylish oak panelling and furniture, private offices, and the rooms of the Credit and Deposit Association. The only part to have been preserved from the original interior nearly unchanged is the entrance and entrance hall. One of the decorative details in the hall – an image of a small boy with cornucopia as an allegory of Autumn – was made into a former symbol of the Ministry of Culture by the designer Tiit Jürna. The top floors of the building were used as apartments, the ground floor with large shop windows used to be, and still functions as, a business area.
In addition to the Ministry of Culture, the complex houses the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, the Estonian Song and Dance Festival Foundation, the Estonian Music Council, the Association of Estonian Professional Musicians, and the Estonian Theatre Agency.
Sources of the building’s history:
Eesti Arhitektuur 1 Tallinn , "Valgus" 1993 - K.Hallas, Büroohoone Pärnu mnt 10, pp. 176-177
Eesti kunsti ajalugu, "Kunst" 1977 - chapter on Estonian art from the turn of the century until 1917. L. Gens, Arhitektuur, p. 102