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Arts of Survival – Tartu 2024 Vision Book

Table of Contents

1. Arts of Survival

2024 is just about here. How much time to spare there seemed to be in the spring of 2017, as we took our first steps to becoming a European Capital of Culture! Likewise when we launched the Arts of Survival concept a year later. Its relevance was questioned by some in the city and Europe we inhabited at the time. Who could doubt it today?

In five years, quite a few awakenings into the brutally altered world. The pandemic, which put a global stranglehold on everyday life, as well as arts centres and the ECoCs at that time. The war in Ukraine has shaken the routines of those even at a safe distance. In the ongoing climate crisis, current production patterns and consumption habits are no longer viable. Arts of Survival are more needed than ever – to re-establish the mental balance, hope, thrust into the future and courage to act with tomorrow in mind.

The concept of Arts of Survival emerged from the woes of a small town: limited accessibility, dwindling population, young people leaving the city, cultural events mostly organised by our own people for our own people. We drifted into remoteness from the world at large, from the more vibrant Europe. Also, away from the attention span of Estonian media. The comfort bubble was cosy and safe but something was still lacking. In the process of creating the city cultural strategy KU30, a Pippi Longstocking-style search was on for some “spunk”: some kind of a single major attraction to make Tartu special and jolt it out of its rut. Was the ECoC endeavour and designation our “spunk”? In fact, we discovered that instead of finding one attraction, the whole mindset needed to be transformed.

That discovery arrived with a peril proving that the habitual tranquil idyll of Tartu could not last. The plan to build a pulp mill by the river Emajõgi made thousands of Tartuvians notice the domestic wildlife and care about it. Realising what was truly essential for a good life brought people onto the streets and the riverbanks, to stand up for a clean environment, defying the mockery of the supporters of large industry. Peace mattered more than money. However, there was no more languid petite bourgeois peace that had seeped into the persistent economic welfare of Tartu – now we were dealing with the alertness of a collective conscience facing the present and the future.

All at once, Tartu was in step with all those in the world who acknowledged the severity of the climate crisis. As a result, Arts of Survival became the key message of Tartu’s ECoC endeavour: we’re not just some post-Soviet small town on the edge of Europe, Tartu is aware of the whole planet. Tartu is creating the future as a city for people, a city in nature, working with other similar cities abroad. It’s significant that we launched our main ECoC concept on the very day that the political parties in the Tartu City Council made an about-face, rejecting the pulp mill development plan. It was a day that defined the future of Tartu.

Our view of the Southern Estonian region also went through changes. Even though for decades Tartu had defined itself in its developmental strategies mainly as the hub of Southern Estonia, the vision behind it was rather vague and caught flak for aiming too low. With Arts of Survival, Tartu has addressed the region with a much clearer perspective of Southern Estonia as a nature-friendly, smart and open living environment of strong communities, the needs and eagerness of which have been too scantily noticed in Tallinn-centred Estonia but which still has international reach, as well as a lasting connection with ancestral heritage. Thus, the ECoC year and what lies beyond has become the common journey of Tartu and nineteen Southern Estonian municipalities, with Arts of Survival as our shared road map.

In the early days of creating our ECoC programme and forging new European connections, nobody could foresee how many layers of meaning Arts of Survival would acquire with the new decade. It may seem now that we’ve overcome the COVID-19 crisis but at the time of enforcing lockdowns, many plans and dreams were shattered – including those of ECoCs. Arts of Survival became survival of the arts: ways needed to be found to make it through cuts and closures, to prevent a more severe cultural disruption and do something even when apparently nothing seemed possible. We had to ask ourselves if the everyday reality we used to know would ever return…

Remember that talk of a “new normality”? By and large, we continue arranging artistic activities the same way as before the pandemic. Yet the impact of the crisis lingers. The explosive spread of COVID-19 was a tough test of the integrity of cities, states and communities across the world, of the physical and mental health of millions, as well as of the courage to set long-term goals. Along with honouring doctors and scientists, fear and contempt in the “alternative reality” was fuelled by aggravation and uncertainty. Besides digital problem-solving agility, lash-outs on social media abounded, while home-schooled youth felt increasing frustration, alienation and social anxiety upon returning to ordinary life. Balanced mental health was already one of the key issues of Arts of Survival in our bidding phase; now it’s even immensely more urgent and a poignant subject for the broader public.

Even at the time when Tartu was designated as a European Capital of Culture, Europe was not exactly a joyful and peaceful place but suffering from populism and political polarisation. The Brexit process had started. Russian imperialism was not yet perceived as an acute danger for Europe, even though the Crimean annexation was a sinister omen of impending warfare against Ukraine. The warning voice of Estonia wasn’t heeded enough. Today, in the ongoing and exhausting war, Europe in its entirety has come to see itself in peril and Estonia has emerged as a vanguard of international security. Estonia lies on the Eastern border of NATO, its strength safeguarding all of Europe. Perceiving the closeness of war is frightening away many of those visitors who used to think of Tartu and Estonia as out of harm’s way. Those, too, are novel conditions under which the current cultural operators are organising the Tartu 2024 Arts of Survival programme.

Those conditions also include thousands of Ukrainian refugees relocated in Estonia and Europe, trying to find ways back into ordinary life but also trying to reclaim artistic agency. Those conditions include the exclusion of Russian creative people from cultural communication and management as well as increasing distrust towards Russian intellectuals who were previously considered liberal voices of opposition. In Tartu, Estonia and Europe, new tensions have arisen, as the pacifism characterising the counterculture is by and large no longer ethically acceptable. Differences that appear irreconcilable are eroding local communities and international networks. How is it possible to stay committed to the Ukrainian fight for freedom, indeed also Estonian and European fight, and still try to bridge those chasms?

The gaps are also widening in Southern Estonia. The growing defence needs of the state have resulted in the seizure of property from country homes built for decades, even as the accelerating Green Turn and new trans-European demands are bound to have the strongest effects on those having already suffered the most in recent and current crises, people who can no longer keep up with the changes. Grudges and alienation are expanding their hold – within minutes as can be seen on social media. How can we deal with these problems and get people to believe that “we too are Europe”? That’s another challenge we face in our Arts of Survival.

In the flood of frontline news, there could be little time for the climate concerns that initially inspired Arts of Survival – yet many tough decisions needed for the Green Turn can no longer be postponed as they’re already running late. The record-breaking heatwaves this summer gave a tough reminder that here and across Europe, we need to reassess previous notions of “the good life” and reacquire skills that have receded in the welfare society we’ve got used to. There are also voices saying that travel is evil and it can seem that there are no solid solutions for reducing the ecological footprint of cultural events. Would it be the most nature-friendly decision to cancel the ECoC programme of large international events altogether? Or do we still have hope and even the duty to keep searching for those solutions and to raise ecological awareness through the arts? We believe we do.

Those quests also have an impact on the identity searches of Tartu and the municipalities in Southern Estonia. In designing human-scale cities, we are always in the middle of debates about whether to make public space more culture-oriented or preserve green spaces. Does preferring pedestrians and cyclists over car traffic mean shutting car-dependent country people out of the cultural life of the city? Do we expand accessibility or protect wildlife around cities? Should we focus on sustainable de-growth also in smaller cities or combat “Tallinnisation” by developing second cities? Where is the golden mean, if there is one? Are we even allowed to dream big in the arts and the urban space while grappling with the climate crisis? Are we even still able to dream big? And when we turn our eyes humbly towards the earth, can we still keep in mind the stars and space out there and the perennial human aspiration to reach new heights?

We could not have foreseen how tough and riddled with questions will be the time would be when we would bear the title of a European Capital of Culture. Yet we must be up for it: we have no other choice. We have packed the right tool kit of Arts of Survival for our journey. Now much sense and long-lasting value needs to be created with it.

Kuldar Leis, Tartu 2024 CEO:

From the shore of Lake Peipsi to the Latvian border, for the last five years we’ve taken up the common beat, with focus on common values and principles for a major common goal.

Tartu 2024 is the greatest joint venture ever for Tartu and Southern Estonia.  European Capital of Culture reaches beyond the arts: it involves extensive transversal cooperation with strong contributions from local entrepreneurs.

Kati Torp, Tartu 2024 Artistic Director:

Arts of Survival are the knowledge, skills and values that will help us lead a good life in the future. The Tartu 2024 programme is diverse: international and community-based, it includes events for all age groups.

Arts of Survival draw on all artistic fields: from heritage and food culture to music, film and visual arts. It’s extraordinary how many creative people and institutions from so many countries are involved in our programme. At least half of our events will take place in unique Southern Estonian sites.

Urmas Klaas, Mayor of Tartu:

Tartu is visible around the world and Tartu will be in the heart of Europe next year, bearing the European Capital of Culture title with the concept Arts of Survival. That year and that message contains a lot. The ECoC year does not just mean just top-quality concerts, stage shows and open-air events, but also a meeting of European values, and spaces for arts and ideas. All will help us figure out who we are and how far we have reached out with our footprints and touches of fingers. The ECoC year can provide momentum and vibrancy to Tartu, the cradle of Estonian culture.

The four most important Arts of Survival featured in the Tartu 2024 programme are uniqueness, sustainability, awareness and co-creation.


Tartu 2024 is proud of the regional qualities of Tartu and Southern Estonia.

The programme explores our unique features, our engagement with Europe, and the warm welcome that visitors will receive here. This will inspire people to spend time here and to keep coming back.

As a culturally minded international city and region, we will establish new ties with the wider world and raise awareness of Tartu and Southern Estonia abroad.


We reject the notion: “after us, the flood”.

The Tartu 2024 programme seeks ways to lead a good life in the future as individuals, as a society and as an environment, both in the city and in the countryside.

Sustainable culture is socially and environmentally responsible.

This means that the events, activities and public communications of the European Capital of Culture will be environmentally friendly and accessible to people with different needs.


As a European Capital of Culture, we will display the traits of education and ingenuity that characterise Tartu and Southern Estonia.

Critically aware, we will explore the relationships between people and technology, information, knowledge and sciences through the arts.

With entrepreneurial awareness, we will promote participation in culture by creating new experiences and environments.

We believe that it is precisely the awareness engendered by culture that connects young people to Tartu, Southern Estonia and Europe.


The Tartu 2024 approach involves cross-generational, cross-sectional and transnational co-creation.

Tartu 2024 is the European Capital of Culture for grandparents, mothers, fathers and children. By creating together, we can create a more connected society.

This co-creating European Capital of Culture will be realised through networks by mutually supportive cultural event organisers working with Estonian and European partners in the arts, sciences and business.


2. Programme lines

Tartu with Earth

The main challenge of this century is adaptation to human-induced climate change, mitigation of its devastating impacts by restoring biodiversity and achieving carbon neutrality. Thought and lifestyle patterns are not easily transformed. Culture and a European Capital of Culture have ample and diverse space for action. Co-creation linking the arts to other fields of life can educate, provoke and inspire people to care and react, and make sense of cities in clearer unison with the nature in and around them.

Future cities and regions must be able to integrate human wellbeing, social openness and accessibility to culture with the preservation of abundant biodiversity and the strength of traditions (growing your own food, reuse and repair, and applying local survival skills in major crises). Shared concern for the environment helps to overcome cultural breakdowns between online generations and ancestral folklore by also awakening heritage in digital and tech art.

At the same time, we keep giving causes for taking it to the streets forest paths, meeting eye to eye. Street art, sustainable architecture and creative movement in urban space feed cultural biodiversity, just as enriching biodiversity in the city is itself part of 21st-century street art. Tartu with Earth explicates and educates people on how to be more nature-friendly not just by creating and experiencing works of arts but also in daily urban existence, in creating and maintaining homes and gardens, and in choices of food and clothing.

Tartu with Humanity

How do we define being human in the 21st century? What kinds of joy, pain and questions do we encounter in 2024?

The COVID-19 crisis led to a boost to people’s digital skills but also intensified negative aspects: screen fatigue, lack of movement, mental health problems and social anxiety for many. Tartu with Humanity is the Tartu 2024 programme line aiming to restore trust and security in human closeness and intimate contact through transgenerational learning and co-creation.

The projects involve learning new and old manual and physical skills as well as improving people skills through drama, music and art. Together we create the caring and supportive culture of speaking about mental health, improve children’s social skills and mutual understanding, bring the potential of special people out of the shadows and amplify the voices of those who are often left unheard in the society.

Rejected youth and people with special needs, the elderly and outsider artists all deserve better than being mere consumers or victims; they deserve to be co-creators of European Capital of Culture. So do those severely traumatised refugees who as the consequence of the raging war have been scattered across the whole Europe – they are still traversing between cultures, searching and finding their home and identity in a new environment. Tartu with Humanity lends them a supporting hand.

Tartu with Europe

On the political map, we’re at the edge of the European Union and that can intensify the sense of being sidelined. With the arts we can get to the heart of Europe if Europe is in our hearts. The programme line seeks ways to bring the European dimension of Tartu 2024 to the minds of everyone in Tartu and Southern Estonia while making Europe aware that we are also part of its diversity with our local languages and customs.

We have special traits to share with Europe and beyond in Modernist art as well as the night culture of the new millennium, in sciences as well as in theatre. We are also open to new knowledge and experience. The threat of grudges and alienation must be anticipated and dealt with by listening to local voices, concerns and wishes, as well as European public intellectuals, in order to find common solutions also of use to similar European cities and regions.

Tartu 2024 will also create a homely feeling for those from the rest of the world who have arrived here and must adapt to European values. Their arts and traditions are welcome in Estonia, which is not afraid of the diversity of identities and is able to preserve and renew its specific local customs in dialogue with other cultures.

Tartu with Universe

In times full of crises, technocracy is bound to rule, underrating the perspective of the humanities. As a result, the arts and social studies can in their turn become unnecessarily distanced from the natural and exact sciences. Tartu 2024 sees and expands common ground in an attempt to deal with the big questions concerning humanity, our planet and our future.

The Tartu with Universe programme line shows how futurist images in arts have fed R&D and thus have become or are about to become everyday reality. Yet the arts also highlight the perils of rapid changes to human consciousness and the difficulty of remaining human. From manipulating DNA nanostructures in gene technology to AI processing big data in machine learning, there have been human efforts to go deeper, higher and further, but without cultural assessment and criticism they might end up pushing people out of their share of the world.

We must be able to unite the arts and sciences to look up to the stars as well as inside the human body and mind, to ask people living here and now what kind of future they long for or if they even dare to dream of the future. With their help, we can now model futures for the better or worse through artistic creation.


3. Valdur Mikita: Suschangeable World

One of the symbols of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 could be the Estonian map turned upside down. The north-up depiction of geographical maps was implemented by the Hellenist scholar Claudius Ptolemy. His major work, Geographia, written around 150 AD, compiled the Roman Empire era knowledge in this field into a single manuscript. However, both before and after Ptolemy, maps have been created that are oriented to the east or south, or more rarely to the west.

The most intriguing of these are indeed the upside down, or south-up, maps. It turns out that the map orientation is accompanied by a strong psychological effect. That is, people are under the impression that smarter and wealthier folks inhabit the north whereas dumber and poorer ones live in the south. There are a fair number of studies on this peculiar occurrence across the world.

The Estonian map isn’t free from this cognitive bias, either. We have all stood in front of a large Estonian map, say in a class, the left foot at the Ikla border post and the right one at the Vastseliina castle, the left hand on the Kõpu lighthouse and the right one leaning on the shore of Lake Peipsi, with the head firmly fixed in Tallinn, nose pitched against the Tall Hermann tower. Facing the head is our head city, where there’s Toompea (“dome head”), so that’s doubled head, a marvellous embodiment of wisdom. Tallinn and Harju County signify wit and wealth, whereas Southern Estonia evokes the sinister urges throbbing in the poor man’s nether regions. Put more mildly, straightforward rationality is bound to be reflected in Northern Estonia, while intuitive gut feeling lies in the South.

The same kind of psychogeographical orientation extends beyond Estonian borders: willingly or not, we trample on the Latvians and look up to the Finns. Recalling Estonian fairy tales we can see how wisdom is nearly always projected in the north. The farther north, the greater the wisdom. The Sami wizards are the world’s wisest people, at least in the fairy tales. However, does anyone know of a folk tale where the wise man lives in, say, Ventspils? Not even our ancestors dared to conjure up such claptrap, as it would beggar belief even in a tale.

Let us return to the “head” now. Tartu (with Southern Estonia) will become a European Capital of Culture next year. What more could you ask for? It’s in plain black and white that Southern Estonia will encompass the head city. Up ahead! It follows that it’s about time to turn the Estonian map around.

We turn the clock twice a year, first an hour forward, then an hour back. The bunch of us take a leap into the future and then into the past again – as in a Gotham City tale. We turn Time. Yet it’s Space we should be reversing. Flipping a map around 180 degrees puts the capital in Southern Estonia in a flash, and one of the secret prophesies of ethnofuturism has come true once more. Kauksi Ülle and Jäägri Merle, Southern wise women, bewitched the lot of Brussels bureaucrats with an unknown mushroom two centuries ago.

Culture is an odd phenomenon. Taken logically, such a thing shouldn’t exist at all. The essence of culture lies in the hellish contradiction of remaining true to oneself through incessant change. In fact it’s also the key feature of being human. I’m not trying to solve this puzzle here and now; it’s enough to concede that there are people and cultures who are able to solve this paradox. They will survive.

By way of arbitrary inference, we could state that Northern Estonia has a history of boosting change and innovation, whereas Southern Estonia has leaned towards guarding heritage and the roots. Cultural change spreads easier across the plains. In Estonia, new winds always blew first on the sea and coast; many European ideas and inventions were introduced to us with seafaring. The Southern Estonian way of life, hid deep amidst woods and bogs, meanwhile changed a lot less than in the more northern counties. Even the folklorist Oskar Loorits thought that the Nordic sword and spirit floundered in the marshlands of the Emajõgi, and that Sakala and Ugala Counties hadn’t progressed much since the Viking age.

That we have cognitively maintained polarities –  new and old, North and South, modern and ancient –  has enabled Estonians to solve the key paradox of culture admirably and so become a successful state and nation. Not hedging our bets would have made us more vulnerable to the storms of history.

The pivotal concept of our European Capital of Culture is Arts of Survival. The points raised above undoubtedly relate to it. It’s a matter of conscience for us to protect the uniqueness of the diverse areas in Estonia. The worst kind of Estonia would be one manifesting the same bland standard average wherever you go. Estonia could be ruled in turn by the pride of Toompea tradesmen as well as by ageless Hiiu humour, the meekness of the Peipsi shore Old Believers as well as the magic folklore of Southern Estonians. Thus the wisdom of all four winds would come together. To achieve that, however, at certain intervals the map of Estonia must be reversed in our mind’s eye.

Let’s take a glance now at that upside-down map, where Põlva, Võru and Valga Counties remind us of a girl dancing the Tuljak, head swung back in splendour, while Tallinn squats in the lower corner like a toad blasted open under its own weight: what an awful mess! Now you know how the Southerners feel after being trampled underfoot for a hundred years.

Were I to sum up Arts of Survival in a single term, it could well be one of the buzzwords of the era: “resilience”. This signifies the endurance, coping and adaptability of a person in tough circumstances. However, it might be hard to grasp the meaning, so my linguistic levelling device suggests another term in the spirit of the times, “suschangeability”.

Valdur Mikita is an ethnosemiotician, thinker and writer from Välgi, in Peipsiääre district. Peipsiääre district is one of the Southern Estonian municipalities that will share the Tartu European Capital of Culture status in 2024.



4. Arts and ECoCs in Climate Crisis: What to Take or Leave for Survival?

The heat is on. Cerberus is out. Wildfires are raging. This summer, Southern Europe suffered a record-breaking heatwave. The same was happening in North America and Asia. As El Niño gathered strength, lives were lost across the globe in drought and heat strokes. It’s a recurring pattern now: according to the report published by ISGlobal Institute in Barcelona, there were more than 60,000 heat-related deaths last summer in Europe alone.

The increasingly grim effects of the Anthropocene Age can no longer be denied. Especially since the 1950s, the impact of human activity has permeated the global ecosphere, transforming the world as we used to know it beyond recognition. Yet there’s plenty of climate ignorance in Estonia, especially since our summer passed slightly on the wet side after the high temperatures in June. The natural riches we used to enjoy in our summers are drying up though: poor yields of berries and mushrooms, empty fishnets in the lakes and sea, the ominous crackling of dangerously flammable twigs and moss on the forest paths testify that we, too, are affected. And it’s not just one bad year.

Are artists and audiences here and across Europe aware of the changes, do they react, and do they spread the word and look for ways to postpone the disaster? Indeed some of them do. Yet, even though ecology-related works and projects are on the increase, the arts have generally not been keeping up. This is not necessarily due to a lack of sensitivity or a supportive context. Indeed, Tartu 2024 has encouraged eco-conscious arts since the outset, in our slogan Arts of Survival and in our first programme line, Tartu with Earth.

However, there’s a deeper gnawing question of what power the arts have at all to alleviate, let alone end the climate crisis? In the face of deadly heat and drought, forest fires and the extinction of species, traditional arts may now appear hopelessly twee and effete. Besides, there’s a growing awareness of any human activity exploiting natural resources and leaving a carbon footprint. Are arts and entertainment in the conventional sense just reckless luxuries, feasts during the plague?

It’s just small scale events that 21st century eco-cultural ethics appear to allow for. And yet… experts, media and audiences alike continue to demand scope and excellence. A European Capital of Culture is still expected to deliver at least some large-scale, high-end events and festivals with star acts performing for international crowds. Without them, the title year is just one long village fete, right?

An ECoC success, in traditional terms, seems undetachable from a hefty carbon footprint. Decrease the footprint radically by omitting the blockbusters attracting international cultural tourism – and you’ve underperformed in programming. On the other hand, performers with blockbuster capacity are proving harder to get as they, too, are haunted by ecological conscience. A case in point is the changing touring practices of major rock bands. In an interview with Estonian Public Broadcasting, Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien shared the quandaries of a ground-breaking band in terms of the ecological awareness of touring:

“When In Rainbows came out, that came out in 2007, we did an eco audit of our touring. In 2006, we did a tour of America and they analysed the tour, and then when we went out again on tour in 2008, we took a big generator with us because we thought that was better and it probably wasn’t. It wasn’t, actually. But then we analysed the data at that time, and the biggest thing when you tour is that actually it’s not the band traveling, it’s the people coming to your shows. So that’s the biggest impact – how people get there. And we used to try and play at odd places, like in the middle of the countryside, places that were different, and they’re actually some of the worst places to get to because there’s no public transport or infrastructure. So when we toured in 2012, we went back into playing arenas, because arenas are well-served by public transport, doesn’t rely so much on the car. You know, it’s flawed. Ultimately, the whole thing of touring is flawed, and no musicians should tour.”

The eco-critical revision of touring destinations can be good for the planet, but arguably at the price of pushing places off the beaten path deeper into cultural provincialism, without sufficient incentives to invest in better connectivity and infrastructure. (Besides, if the grand live shows become more of a rarity beyond the global hubs, the international fan base again who’s forced to take the pilgrimage, so does the planet benefit after all?)

The harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy has exerted further pressure on touring schedules, with many acts cutting back on their outreach or cancelling tours altogether. Pre-COVID, Tartu hosted a 50,000 strong audience at a Metallica gig; now, concert agencies are struggling to find a worthy follow-up. However, rock extravaganzas are just one facet of programming. There are also plenty of artists, writers and culture vultures in all fields who increasingly refrain from longer trips due to flight shame or sheer unaffordability.

How to get out of this conundrum? How to succeed as an ECoC by helping to save the planet while still bringing people together across borders, giving the audiences top-tier artistic experiences and lifting them out of the mundane while urging them to change their daily lives?

Tartu 2024 is on the frontline of a rapidly changing world where there are few quick fixes, if any. It could well be that the whole frame of mind and set of expectations regarding European Capitals of Culture need to be altered. 21st-century cities may have to strive for a very different kind of artistic scope and excellence.

To facilitate this change of perspective, ecology has to become a significant factor in all cultural management, and this is one major advance Tartu has made since the bidding phase. In cooperation with the sustainable events agency Acento, Tartu 2024 created an environmental strategy aiming to place the ecological activities of the ECoC into the wider global and European context and to identify the most important environmental aspects of Tartu and Southern Estonia. Since 2023, all city-funded projects have needed to follow the Guidelines for Organising Environmentally Friendly Events in seven categories: materials and purchases, catering and the use of water, waste management, transportation, energy and resource efficiency, surroundings and community, and communication.

Environmental education is at the centre of the Tartu with Earth programme line. Unfit Remains presents two international exhibitions focusing on endangerment and extinction: Unknown, curated by Sara Bédard-Goulet, and Missing, curated by Marie-Laure Delaporte. The latter will constitute a makeshift natural history museum of lost species. By drawing attention to declining ecosystems and biodiversity through artistic means, this project will contribute to closer connection with non-human species and cultural mitigation of climate change.

In partnership with other 2024 ECoCs, Bodø and Bad Ischl, an international art project Look into my Ice acts as a reminder of the disappearance of glaciers and polar ice along with its global impact whereby also areas seemingly remote from them are affected. Among its sites is the The Ice Age Centre in Äksi, located next to an impressive natural heritage area comprising several lakes which are yearly more and more challenged because of the increasing temperatures caused by climate change. Slow travel, recycling of materials, new concepts of art production which dismiss unsustainable packing materials, transportation, and high energy demands are crucial to maintaining the authenticity of the project’s objectives.

The architectural residency VARES (crow in English) in Valga emphasises the valorisation of space and meaningful sustainable spatial creation, thus highlighting the local distinctiveness of both the city and Southern Estonia more broadly.  The aim is sustainable spatial design: a lifelong education programme using existing resources and combining new techniques with old and tested ones to offer an alternative to today’s smart and digital-centric architecture.

The urban nature festival Nature Creates features the 24-hour Baltic Sea Nature Observation Marathon, where participants will collect information on as many species as possible in a defined area. The festival organiser, Veljo Runnel, has emphasised their positive approach to raising awareness of the biodiversity in the city and its surrounding areas. Rather than spreading angst and apocalyptic scenarios, the nature festival fights urban alienation by reconnecting people to the multitude of other living beings around them. Its annual Bird Jam, where poets and musicians interpret bird songs, testifies to the growing creative awareness of culture being embedded in nature.

And who knows – maybe it’s the observation marathon or the Bird Jam where you will find yourself face to face with your favourite pop star, taking time off from the showbiz rut? The most unlikely celebrities have been spotted in Southern Estonia, holidaying here incognito.

Tartu 2024 environmental strategy strives towards five specific objectives.

The environmental impact of events in Southern Estonia will have significantly decreased by 2025:

  • By 2025, a cultural management equipment pool (affordable services) will be created in the local authorities involved in the Tartu 2024 project which is rented to and shared with each other (decorations, waste container frames, tableware, etc.), and which allows the organisation of public and cultural events without the use of single-use solutions (a specific numerical target will be confirmed in 2022).
  • By 2025, environmentally friendly food will be provided and redistribution of surplus food from events has become the standard. Environmentally friendly food is local (Southern Estonia), organic and has vegan options.
  • By 2025, separate waste collection has become the standard for events.
  • By 2025, communicating environmentally friendly transport information will have become the standard. 90% of events inform their potential audience about environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
  • By 2025, event organisers will be more aware of which energy solution is used at their events.

5. Wild Bits / Maajaam

“We are situated near Otepää, South of Estonia, North-East Europe, on planet Earth, in the Solar system in the Milky Way galaxy“ ( the Maajaam (“Earth station”) residency certainly isn’t timid in its outreach. It’s paid off.  Perched amidst the Southern Estonian hills in Neeruti, Valga County, the household might seem remote from metropolitan creative hubs, but since 2013 it’s become an internationally known destination and experimenting base for “artists, makers, scientists, writers, hackers, designers, film-makers, sound artists, musicians etc.”, straddling the nature/culture/tech divide.

Run by Timo Toots and Mari-Liis Rebane, Maajaam is touted as “a farm where, instead of cucumbers and potatoes, new art and new technologies are cultivated.” A widely acknowledged tech artist himself, with the Estonian National Museum among his clients, Toots regards the whole residency as a work of art, „likewise interactive, technological, spatial and social“ – an immersive, transformative and mind-expanding experience of mutual learning.

Taking tech art out of urban white-walled gallery spaces reconnects it with earlier layers of culture and technology, more primordial devices for relating to and redesigning one’s environment. However, the rustic and even therapeutic charm of the farm is instilled with a utopian vision. Maajaam is no bucolic hideaway; it advocates greater human awareness of – and agency in – our irreversibly artificial and virtual outer and inner worlds. Also the responsibility that goes with it – human presence in nature can be creative but it also causes a rupture, as exemplified by Antti Laitinen’s Broken Landscape IV, a 2018 land art work that became a viral online sensation as an image.

For Tartu 2024, Maajaam is running the three-year residency and exhibition programme Wild Bits, with displays in the Kaunas 2022 ECoC, the Latvian Savvaļa arts space in summer 2023 and the concluding exhibition at Maajaam itself in our title year. The authors of the 15 open-air installations are Agnes Meyer-Brandis (DE), Marco Barotti (IT), Julionas Urbonas (LT), Uģis Albiņš (LV), Anna Tamm and Vinzenz Leutenegger (EE/CH), Varvara and Mar (EE/SP), Jeanne Harignordoquy (FR), Janis Polar (CH), Greg Orrom Swan (UK), Andreas Zißler, Fabian Lanzmaier and Klemens Kohlweis (AT), Mohar Kalra (US), Claudia O’Steen and Aly Ogasian (US), heidundgriess (DE) and Studio Watershore (TW).


6. Rewilding: Biodiversity in/as Street Art

Brussels, Rome, Berlin, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Vilnius, Riga, Vienna and Budapest. Those are the cities where you might still encounter life-size figures on the walls, stencilled in black and white, wearing quaint ethnic clothing and telling their stories via QR codes. Together entitled “(R)estart Reality”, they’re a remnant of Estonia’s presidency of the European Union and the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia in 2018, proudly hailed as “[bridging] Estonia’s history and its image as an e-nation… a perfect example of the special nature of our cultural diplomacy and its wealth of ideas.”

However, they also landmark the national and international success of once-underground Tartu street art: the transition of Edward von Lõngus from a nocturnal hit-and-run artist under a bridge to a state award winner and auction record breaker. In a matter of a few years in the 2000s, street art in Tartu went from being maligned and erased to gaining a grudging public acceptance and the proverbial “turning of the blind eye” by the authorities. In the next decade, spurred on by the thematic Stencibility festival, the “illegal” art and artists were awarded, received commissions for murals, and today Visit Tartu, the official tourist site, brands the city as “the paradise of Estonian street art”.

Especially in light of the zero-tolerance graffiti policy of Tallinn, Tartu was able to build its international reputation as the Estonian capital of street art and it naturally follows that Stencibility Goes Europe is one of the calling cards for the Tartu 2024 European Capital of Culture. In June 2022, the exhibition “Hello Mister Police Officer” gathered around 5000 viewers in the prestigious Neurotitan gallery in Berlin, for many the street art capital of the world. This summer, the exhibition was taken to Aberdeen for the Nuart festival and in 2024 it’ll hit Tallinn.

For all the acclaim, Sirla, the founder of Stencibility, remains critical of street art’s breakthrough to the mainstream. Having had the Silicon Valley Icarus experience with SprayPrinter, she’s all too aware of the perils of quick success and taking acceptance for granted. Lamenting the onslaught of officially endorsed and commissioned murals, she is intent on bringing free minds and hands back to the streets.

Stencibility’s ethos was well in line with the key theme of Nuart’s street art conference this year: “Rewilding”. A curious term for a phenomenon as urban as could possibly be? Still it is really in the spirit of the times: the growing ecological awareness of creatives instils art talk with its lingo and imagery. Rewilding, “reconnecting a modern society – both rural and urban – with wilder nature”, is expanding as a peaceful protest movement in Europe and worldwide, from grassroots to legislation, from backyards to New European Bauhaus. Subcultural variety and the openness of cities to every voice and touch is akin to natural biodiversity – hence the inclusion of Stencibility in the Tartu with Earth programme line.

Indeed there is a literal rewilding project in the same line – and its progression is a déjà vu of sorts for historians of local street art. Even though Curated Biodiversity was city-endorsed from the outset, its emergence in the parks and institutional green spaces caused quite a controversy. Aesthetic complaints abounded in social and print media about the “ugly”, unkempt look of the novel landscape design: another round in the perennial Tartuvian identity battle of Neat vs Scruffy. Who’d have thought one could épater la bourgeoisie by the height of grass or the choice of plants? In a way, CBD is the 21st century street art.

Yet Curated Biodiversity aims to be inclusive rather than divisive. It’s just that it’s multi-species inclusive, which might not be to the liking of everyone. A city – one like Tartu anyway – is a multi-species habitat, however, even though birds, bees and fungi are not your regular taxpayers. Enriching urban greenery beyond the trimmed monocultural lawn, CBD has been expanding over the parks of the city, as well as catering to such seasonal activities as the Car-Free Avenue: meeting grudge and resentment with patience and persistence in explaining and educating.

A whole new school of public intellectuals supports them by well-researched defence of all that “hay and weed”. And lo, the public is starting to get used to it: some have even begun to skip their habitual lawn-trimming and leaf-blowing on their home patch. What it’s all about for Curated Biodiversity, as well as Stencibility, is a more relaxed urban existence – with less micro-management but more opportunities for micro-interventions.

They’re good for the soul: planting a sapling in a park, or a sticker on a pavement just to keep you going. Says Sirla: “The purpose of street art is to nudge people out of the habitual patterns of thought. As for myself, I’ve done this by leaving reminders or signs in my trail. One of my first works of street art was just a sticker. I left a sticker on my school path, saying ’summer’s coming soon’. It was winter and it sucked to walk the same way to and fro. I had to go to school in the dark and cold which was really a drag. I put that sticker on the road and walked past it every time, and that reminded me that it’s all right, summer’s coming soon, just hold on.“

“It really is quite a coup to have artists from the European Capital of Culture sharing their vision and talent here in Aberdeen. Not only will they add their own unique artwork to our streets, they will also demonstrate how art and ambition can truly put a city on the cultural map.”

Aberdeen Inspired chief executive, Adrian Watson

Chris Cromar, “Aberdeen to get taste of European Capital of Culture during Nuart festival”, Press and Journal 31/05/2023

Stina Leek/Ajuokse

One of the featured artists at the Stencibility touring exhibition, Stina Leek also runs her own Tartu 2024 project, Ajuokse V: b-day festival, the showcase of Ajuokse (Brain Vomit): a younger-generation alternative artists/musicians community and their international partners at the Widget Factory creative hub. Ajuokse also curated the 2023 summer season at the Voronja Gallery, a contemporary arts space amidst some wild natural biodiversity by Lake Peipsi. Much in keeping with rewilding the city, bright intense flowers are the trademark of Leek’s street art.

7. Enjoying Your Life Can Help Others

A few key themes in the Tartu 2024 programme have been inspired by almost random walk-ins to an artistic event which leads to a revelation: it’s not just a one-off curiosity, it’s about something that is universal and ubiquitous, and it’s escalating. Such was the case with the 2017 staging of Get Positive in 60 Minutes by the Bona Verbum theatre troupe. Written by Signe Heilberg and directed by Janno Puusepp, it was based on the real life experiences of the cast where each actor had a history of depression – yet it was a hilarious comedy.

For one, it exposed the shortage of humour in the early sketches of our programme. More pressingly, however, it hammered home the significance of mental health and its maintenance as an Art of Survival. It also dawned on the team back then that mental health and the capacity for laughter are intimately interconnected and sometimes a way out of the deepest abyss can be making fun of it. In the safe space with good counselling, of course – there are far too many fatal cases of “laughing depression”.

This was the initial inspirational spark behind Stand Up For Your Mind, that came to be curated by the portal, with the help of the Ruutu10 impro-comedy theatre, Kinoteater professional stand-up comedians and a few special guests from other countries (e.g. Simon Brodkin and Ali Brice from the UK) has been one of the main advocates for bringing mental health topics into broader public consciousness, freeing them from silencing and stigmatisation.

It’s about time, too! In Estonia, as well as across Europe and globally, mental health issues have skyrocketed, especially among the young. The 2022 OECD report confirms that in Belgium, Estonia, France, Sweden and Norway the number of young people with symptoms of depression more than doubled in the pandemic years, with a rise in Estonia in the 15-24 age group from 7 per cent in 2019 to 31 per cent. The indications of the condition of younger children are likewise dismal. However, the COVID-19 lockdowns only severely intensified much that was already there: screen fatigue, the lack of exercise, ADHD, social anxiety, self-harm and even an increasing rate of teen suicide. While the post-pandemic society was hurrying back to normal, mounting school pressures came tumbling down on many who had lost sight of their future perspectives.

Add to that the concern for the environment, figuring out one’s gender and sexual identity, handling the overload of online information, the closeness of war made more palpable by damaged refugee peers – has it ever been as tough for teens in living memory? Stand Up For Your Mind! is already bringing on some comic relief on the way to Tartu 2024: along with listening and counselling, they are setting up mental health cafés across Estonia. The people behind have been through troubled times themselves but have also learned from the best practices throughout Europe for overcoming them and are ready to feed their ECoC experience back to Europe and beyond.

However, healing through laughter is just one approach to the crucial theme of well-being through Arts of Survival. The Tartu Art Museum project Creative Connections (run by Hanna-Liis Kont) uses contemporary art to develop social skills and mutual understanding among children aged 6–10, nurturing empathy and preventing bullying. Lundahl & Seitl, William Forsythe as well as Simon and Tom Bloor are among the international artists contributing. In the pilot sessions that have already taken place, the project has proved its worth not just socially and educationally but also in bringing Southern Estonian pupils into closer contact with artistry and art museums, visiting which is sadly all too often beyond the means of country schools. As a result, caring and creativity are fostered hand in hand in the generation who will give face to the decades to come.

Well-being is equally about tending to your body – how well you sleep and eat, how much you exercise, avoid drugs, smoke and booze etc. It might sound terribly moralistic to raging adolescent hormones as well as to those who still remember what “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” meant – but no one wants to be unhappy, go through burnout or drop dead because of a blood clot, do they? Romantic self-destruction is passé; it’s time to get a grip of yourself. Those, too, are Arts of Survival.

Thus, there are also a multitude of bodily well-being projects in the Tartu 2024 programme line Tartu with Humanity, ranging from organic food fairs to dance and urban/rural flaneurship, right up to extreme sports at Simple Session (see p. XX). In the regional town of Elva, the Estonian Movement and Well-being Festival includes a 12-hour transgenerational charity dance marathon and the Pärnu City Orchestra’s experimental concert which also enlightens the audience on the physical strain musicians have to endure while performing. Special care is taken to engage people with disabilities and with lower income in the festival  programme. In June 2024,  the 28. Cultural Festival of Disabled People will be held in Tartu by the Southern Estonian Chambers of Disabled People with the national umbrella organisation.  In Viljandi, the mother-and-daughters stage production Perfect is being produced to bring attention to causes and cures of eating disorders.

A common trait of the well-being projects is research coupled with outreach: based on the best expert knowledge, they aim at the broadest possible inclusion across age and social groups. Though most people quickly regained pre-Covid behaviour patterns after the pandemic, there are still remnants of social distancing intensified by many polarising issues and the spread of prejudice. Tartu 2024 believes in alleviating mental health issues and everyday tensions by bringing different people together across Tartu, Southern Estonia, Europe and beyond – to talk, to move, to act as co-creators of the European Capital of Culture.

Anti-Camouflage Net

On our way to becoming an ECoC 2024, we could not possibly have foreseen the tragedy and trauma brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of refugees have now settled in Tartu and Southern Estonia, trying to re-establish some kind of normal life while the war drags on in their home country. The damage to their mental health is immeasurable. However, Tartu and such regional towns as Võru were among the first in Estonia to set up effective networks for integrating Ukrainian refugees into society and culture.

In Tartu, this included granting Ukrainian refugees free entrance to public and private sector museums, some free admissions to theatres and entertainment centres as well as free participation in

hobby and sports schools. Also, free venues and material help have been provided for Ukrainian community meetings and events. It’s only natural that this good will has extended to the inclusion of Ukraine-related projects in the Tartu 2024 programme, helping war victims feel safe and able to regain cultural agency and mental balance.

The Anti-Camouflage Net by the Ukrainian House of Tartu is curated by Viktoria Berezina, an artist from Kherson who became widely known in Estonia for her war letters full of pain and hope. She is now living in Tartu and has been active in a number of local and European art projects. Military camouflage nets are made in colours that help soldiers remain unseen, to save their lives. But that brings to mind the suppressing of hurt, rage, tears and even moments of joy.

The anti-camouflage nets are to be made in colours chosen to express a variety of emotions, to tell personal stories of Ukrainians in Tartu and Southern Estonia, to give them humane, sensitive and artistic visibility in the city and to involve others in dialogue.


8. Hidden Worlds Expanding

The Kondas Centre of naive and outsider art is located at the far end of Viljandi’s Old Town. The quarter’s a leap from the 2020s into the 1920s – the days when Hans Prinzhorn published his pioneering tome on outsider art in Heidelberg. Yet the centre is heartily living in the present and also the future, looking forward to its Tartu 2024 project Hidden Worlds Expanding.

Though I’d been an Art Brut aficionado since my school days and had visited Kondas before, the Estonian outsider art retrospective in 2018 was an eye-opener and a personal highlight of the Republic of Estonia centenary. The curator, Mari Vallikivi, spoke with poignancy and passion about the backgrounds of the featured artists, some with mild mental health issues, and some consigned to seclusion for life. The bottom line was: all of them had something special to share and their works are not just hobbies or therapy; they deserve supply, recognition and respect as artists.

Yet a century after the research of Prinzhorn and others, there’s still a lot of stigmatisation and silence around these auteurs. Works thrown away, relatives shying from being publicly referred to. It’s a mentality shared in most of Eastern Europe, hailing from the Soviet-era public concealment of any people with special needs. It’s when I realised that the Kondas Centre is not just a quaint cosy museum at the edge of a small town – it’s got a message and content to share across Europe. It’s got to be part of the Tartu 2024 programme, as rarely is Arts of Survival so painfully literal.

In 2023, Hidden Worlds Expanding has already had pre-events in the Estonian Embassy in Berlin and most recently in the Tartu Art Museum, in cooperation with the Prinzhorn Collection, entitled “If You Could Understand Something from the Sleep You Had?” Admired by the Expressionist and Surrealist avant garde and reviled by totalitarian regimes, Art Brut has influenced our visual perception more than we are aware of, yet today’s outsider artists are just that – outsiders at the margins of society, with barely a right to a name and a biography, to having their works maintained and displayed. With international exhibitions in Tartu, Viljandi and Valga, Hidden Worlds Expanding aims to make a difference.

Creating art is a tool for people who need additional support to better perceive and analyse the world around them, but it also provides others with the opportunity to understand their inner world.

Making talented creators visible and recognising their work help people who need additional support gain better conditions for making art and help society understand that different people should be met on an equal basis, which, in turn, helps create more cohesion in society in general.

Mari Vallikivi, “The Bumpy Road of Estonian Outsider Art”, A Shade Colder: Shifting Timelines, April 2023

Maybe we are more open nowadays to the irrational in thinking than in earlier times, for example in the times of [the psychiatrist Emil] Kraepelin who obviously really abhorred irrational ideas. The terms ’outsider art’ and ’art brut’ help us somehow not to mistake those artworks for being conceptual, done with a concept from the outside. They’ve been done to challenge the viewer to get into these trains of thought and to think himself of these important questions about life – maybe on a metaphorical level, but maybe also on an irrational level, as something as an alternative of our rational thinking nowadays.

Dr Thomas Röske, the director of the Prinzhorn Collection at the exhibition “If You Could Understand Something from the Sleep You Had?”



9. Simple Session 2024

Extreme sports are coming home! One of the top BMX and skateboarding events in Europe is returning to Tartu in 2024. Hitting off in 2000 as a local competition for street sports fiends, it soon moved to Tallinn but also expanded into Riga and Helsinki, annually hosting daredevils from more than 30 countries. As it gained media reach of millions and has now become an X-Games associate, the home town came to seem too small. No more in the European Capital of Culture year!

A celebration of motion, speed and agility, Simple Session has many more stories to share about Arts of Survival. That of times when most youth culture was offline – you got your kicks on the streets and at what meagre skater ramps the city could offer in the late 1990s. The kids learned to do better, improve the conditions; they got the city and sponsor backing behind them – so it’s also a tale of maker ingenuity and persistence in making the 21st century city yours. For the ECoC year, Simple Session gives a bold message that living in Tartu or Southern Estonia is no excuse for not being able to build up a major international attraction.

Taking it to the Comb Factory events centre in 2024, it covers an area not exactly known so far as a magnet for teens (or international celebrities, for that matter). Having been instrumental in the early 2000s underground party scene of Tartu, the Simple Session squad are also setting up a programme of social events with films, music and DJs for the nights.

As a teen, I started to take pictures of extreme sports and I was one of the first photographers in this field in Estonia. When we rode BMXs and skateboards, I started to take notice how the city was developing and transforming.

Timo Toots, Maajaam 

Peeter Kormašov „Timo Toots: kirjutama peab mitte ainult kurgi, vaid digikurgi kasvatamisest“, Eesti Ekspress, 3/5/2023



10. From Right-to-Repair to Crafting Skills

Beauty is all too often skin deep – as is the usability. That’s the hard learned lesson for millions of mass product consumers. And all too often you can do nothing about the sleek, pricy design wonder that starts to malfunction in barely a year. You assume you’re in control of all those digital and electronic devices here to serve you, to make your life run smoother – but when they break down you just can’t get through to them (you’re not even supposed to). Even an authorised repair shop may not be able to deal with them, and the world is (not so) slowly taken over by the dumphill of the disposable.

The longing for more stress-free everyday comfort and the best-looking new stuff has blinded contemporary society to the vested interests behind the multitude of items with brief lifespans. For a while, however, people have begun to see that “stress-free” is an illusion with a hefty price for your wallet and with even more enormous expense to the environment. It’s time to take things into your own hands, literally – the Right to Repair movement is gathering momentum all across Europe, now including over 100 organisations in 21 European countries.

The Right to Repair activists point out a Eurobarometer survey in which 77% of EU consumers prefer repairing goods to buying new stuff, but the latter is all too often made more attractive because of the high cost of repair work and/or lack of service. Some products are designed to break down quickly and components prove irreplaceable. However, better repair options for electronic devices would decrease resource use, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption – much needed as those devices are the fastest growing sources of waste in the EU, with over 3.5 million tonnes in 2017 (60% going unrecycled).

It’s not easy to induce the desired changes in legislation across Europe in competition with old habits and ongoing corporate influence. Yet, in times of economic crisis, recurrent glitches in supply chains and mounting concern about the wasting dimensions of the Anthropocene Age, improving repair capacity becomes ever more urgent. And that’s where the needy become teachers of the greedy: the old European welfare societies have a trick or two to learn from the communities which had to spend decades in the Socialist “heaven”, where with everything lacking they had to make things as they went along.

Estonia is also a case in point where plenty of people got the knack of making and repairing, the most basic level Arts of Survival – from darning socks and cooking jam to building cars and guitars. Washing Machine Made of Beetroot (taking its name from a popular expression) is a Tartu 2024 project by three museums: the Estonian Road Museum, the Estonian Agricultural Museum, and the Tartu City Museum. Celebrating invention, ingenuity, recycling and do-it-yourself mentality in garages, gardens as well as urban and rural households in the Soviet era, the exhibition sheds light on not just objects but also the personalities behind them.

One such person is Venda Luude from Põlva County, a technologically educated food farmer with “the curiosity to think and test what else could be squeezed out of himself and metal”. With DIY tools in a dirt floor shed, he constructed an iron stallion of a tractor based on a German prototype in the 1980s and kept on perfecting it. Such village mastermind craftsmen could be found all across the land and some of the skills have been passed on to the present day as many current makers come from countryside households.

The variety of maker culture active today but with a strong basis in home county traditions will also be displayed and shared at various events in the Tartu 2024 region of Southern Estonia. On the largest scale, during the Festival of Heritage to be held in Viljandi, a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts since 2020. Uniting such institutions as the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, the Viljandi Art School, the Estonian Folk Culture Centre, the Estonian Traditional Music Centre, the Kondas Centre and the Viljandi Museum, the event and its pilots involve street and performance arts along with international master classes and folk concerts (as Viljandi is also world famous for its world music festival).

At the heart of the Festival of Heritage, however, is still the maker and repair culture in all its guises. Its high esteem in the city is also maintained by the yearly scholarship for the City Craftmaster, and so far all of the masters have been women. Both Triin Amur (2021) and Marta Moorats (2022) are repair activists who have emphasised that mending clothes and household items is not a sign of poverty (as the get-rich-quick years of regained independence wanted us to believe) but adds soul and value to them, while being kind to the environment.

The current City Craftmaster, Gea Valner promotes sustainable food production and gardening: “It would be beautiful if this year made us more conscious of the stories of our gardens, biodiversity and the heritage of our plants and gardens, and gave us ideas of how to give our children and grandchildren a healthier, more plentiful, more alive environment.”

This urgency to pass on the skills and knowledge to the next generations, to provide spaces for making and repairing things with your own hands in face-to face meetings is a thread that runs through the whole of the Tartu with Humanity programme line as well as through all Arts of Survival. In line with efforts across Europe, the transformation from consumerism to maintenance and co-creation is brought on locally across Southern Estonia.

I often think that in the future, the world has two perspectives. One is a society of perfect circular economy, that could emerge in the next 50 years or so. And in this case everyone is a kind of repairer who extends the life span of things. Another prospect is an ecological collapse when people don’t have many options. They must become repairers. So people of the future benefit directly from what we do.

Jiří Krejčí, a Czech Tartuvian repair activist

Voices of Tartu, a Tartu primer curated by the writer/gallerist Raul Oreškin in 2022.


11. Mari Kalkun: Is There Time? / The Butterfly Effect // Annela Laaneots: Supporting Small Languages and Cultures

Is There Time? / The Butterfly Effect
Mari Kalkun

The centre of the world is here.

I carry it with me,

as we all do. The centre of the world

pierces me, the way a pin

pierces the body of an insect.

Jaan Kaplinski (1941–2021) –
(Translated by Fiona Sampson)

I am a musician and therefore my life so far has given me plenty of chances to roam around the world. The more I travel, the more I feel that everything is interconnected and there is truth in the saying that a flap of a butterfly’s wings can raise a hurricane on the other side of the globe. Let’s think about that bat who could have been the first to carry the COVID-19 virus. Or about the war in Ukraine. Both events and their strong impacts came around here, to Haki village in Võromaa, where I live. Here, to the edge of Europe on the border with Latvia and Russia. And as if to illustrate my story, Mother Earth sent a hitherto unseen tropical tornado to our region last week, crashing down houses and trees and causing a lot of damage. I guess a butterfly was flying too fast somewhere in Japan…

The world is right here, revolving around me. While just a couple of years ago there were those who thought that climate change wouldn’t affect us here in Estonia, it’s now plain as day that indeed it does. In Southern Estonia, too, there have been several springs with long droughts after the snow had melted. Even small creatures can have a lot of power: the whole of our food table depends on one tiny insect – the bee – and its welfare. But the bee won’t fly out of its hive when it’s +35°C outside. For example, there are districts in China where the bees no longer want to live and the people are pollinating their apple blossoms one by one. It’s hard, tough, utterly insane labour. From the moment people turn their backs on nature, nature stops helping us. Nature can carry on fine without humans, much better than with humans. It would be great if it were understood across the world that humans need nature, not the other way around.

Crucial among Arts of Survival today is the reversal of damage, responding to change. One of the best known dictums in recent Estonian history is the saying by President Lennart Meri: “The situation is shit but shit is the fertiliser for our future.” This can be understood in several ways. First, we admit to ourselves that some things are in a really bad way. Then we accept the life-affirming notion that something good or even worthwhile can still emerge out of it. As they say, you can’t let a good crisis go to waste!

It was the year 2020. As a freelance musician, I was out of work overnight. My profession (the singer) and singing as such was claimed to be a high COVID-risk activity. That year was frightening but still also a necessary experience. I survived, pulled through as I managed to adapt to that new situation and state of affairs. Though there were tough moments, those crazy times and new challenges convinced me that I was doing the right thing. I felt sure that I could do it even better in the future and could use the time to improve my skills. The life in our area likewise improved: empty farms were bought or renovated, as people who didn’t have time before found their way to the country. Altogether, much good came out of the rough 2020.

About that time I was struck by an idea that there ought to be an event like the Aigu om! (Time Enough!) festival. I was sitting among my apple trees, looking at the beautiful blossoms and thinking that I hadn’t had so much time for a while. Time to hang around, think and just be there. Then I started wondering what the point of life was anyway when you have no time to notice how the apples are growing in your own garden or the child next to you. Those should really matter the most! That difficult year of 2020 gave birth to the Aigu om! festival which connects the forest with music and presents the rich local heritage, culture, people, stories and the unique environment.

What does aigu om mean? It’s a phrase commonly used in the Võro language and the message is of course: take your time! It doesn’t mean to just hang around doing nothing. Instead it means to do a bit less but in a wiser way. Let’s eat a bit less but let’s eat it all, or grow it ourselves: then we surely won’t waste it. Let’s consume a bit less but finer things and longer, or let’s make them ourselves. We know how to be happy or we know what we need to be happy.

It’s as if we need a hundred and one things to be happy. Yet when you’ve got all those hundred and one things, you still find something missing. Through overconsumption, we are stuffing holes in our souls, but those holes keep getting bigger. It hurts to think how much is going to waste in the world, including in our small Estonia. The Võromaa song sister Anna Hints has even made a film about how awfully much hard-grown food we are throwing away these days. But it’s not just food we’re throwing away, but also respect for our ancestors and nature, the wisdom gathered over millennia. Disposable cups and a disposable world are disposable indeed – they don’t stand a chance of lasting for long.

The pace of life has grown ever faster and that’s the source of most woes in the world. And those woes – like global warning and people with broken souls around us – won’t leave anyone untouched. The main slogan of our society these days seems to be: plenty and faster! People eat faster, want many things and faster, drive faster, work a lot and faster, talk and communicate faster, and even split up way too fast. Yet no value comes out of going fast. What we’re left with is plenty heaped up, but little satisfaction.

It’s odd that the most important things are really the simplest things. Silence, darkness, pure drinking water and food, clean air, being close to nature and the physical world are what give us health and strength. When I visited my friends once in a Southern Japanese mountain village they said that the main reason for their living there was the pure drinking water, that the water coming out of the tap there tasted good. Such a simple thing yet still so many people in the world have to drink bottled water because their own tap water is not tasty or safe. And how easy is to pollute your groundwater.

I guess the most important thing for me as an artist is silence. Alas, polluting silence is even easier than polluting water, mainly with all kinds of engines. Already in the near future I will need to go searching for my silence somewhere else as Võromaa becomes a military training zone with heavy war equipment and machine guns. I don’t know yet if I can survive as an artist without silence.

I was just having a video chat with Koiwa-san, who’s the manager of the Japanese side in the Aigu om! 2024 team. He likes the aigu om philosophy a lot. But he was a bit worn out and told me that he was short of time and thus needed to come here to Võromaa to find time again. The life is really fast in Japan. Indeed it’s often the case that we need to go far away to find what matters to us: SILENCE.

What matters can also be an idea, a feeling, a way of thinking: all that happens inside our mind and can’t be seen by the eye. All that can encourage us but also hold us back. The lion’s share of culture and the arts is precisely about the unseen. Often you have to live through something unknown to gain a better sense of yourself. It’s this idea that has inspired the Aigu om! 2024 team to bring together forest philosophers and musicians from Japan and Estonia.

“I’m in a relationship with the land”, the Võro poet Evar Saar has written. We are at the mercy of nature and it’s mutual communication. Our ancestors’ faith was a natural religion and it hasn’t disappeared anywhere. Võromaa is still one of the last places in the world where the cross-tree tradition is alive: the custom of cutting a cross in a tree near the home of a deceased person. This animist custom unites us with distant and ancient cultures, including Tibet and Japan. According to our old belief, all nature is inspirited: trees and earth, stones and water. The forest is thanked for a generous yield of berries, and nature is addressed as a human being. The forest gives comfort and strength to people in hard times. Our shrine, the sauna, is built of timber and timber comes from the forest. So thanks are given through sauna spells for the whisk soaking and whisking, as well as for woodcutting and sauna building.

Giving thanks in general is a custom of great importance. It carries a power and helps us see what is around us and deserves gratitude. This awareness of nature as a companion is still going strong in Võromaa. This is our wisdom, our message to Europe, to the world.

Mari Kalkun is a Võro singer and songwriter of international acclaim; her latest album, Stoonia lood | Stories of Stonia on Real World Records, has topped the World Music charts. This essay was originally written in the Võro language.

Supporting Small Languages and Cultures

Annela Laaneots

Tartu 2024 European Capital of Culture Regional Manager

Each year, four or five languages go extinct. Along with the languages, entire cultures, mindsets, stories, songs and people’s knowledge disappear – all that has enriched the world. An explosive increase in the vanishing of languages is foreseen in the decades to come, making the world a much poorer place.

In Southern Estonia, we take care of our indigenous languages and peoples like precious eggs: Seto, Võro, Mulgi, Tarto and Kodavere. Even though Seto and Võro have been declared indigenous languages by the UN, their speakers continue to struggle for the state to recognise them as such. For example, everyone should be able to declare their true mother tongue in the National Census and there should be some classes in schools in their own languages. Our indigenous languages practice Arts of Survival every day.

Still there is hope that the legal status of our small languages will improve and that they will gain more approval. Earlier this year, the Estonian Language board made proposals for the legal bases to recognise the Seto and Võro languages. This progress is a result of the years of work by the Võru Institute and the Seto Congress Elders Council.

The Seto, Võro and Mulgi people are greatly concerned about how to get young people to learn and speak their native tongues. In today’s world, it’s hard for them to understand the need.

Tartu 2024 has truly given voice to our small languages. Thus, the Kodavere Song Festival will be held in the ECoC year, the first one in the world to feature only songs in the Kodavere language.

The Seto Institute will organise an indigenous languages conference to focus on the promotion of native tongues.

There’s also a Mulgi conference in our ECoC programme. The project Tartu World University has paid a lot of attention to our indigenous languages. The UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages is currently in progress to keep them alive and support their speakers: this is also where Tartu 2024 European Capital of Culture makes its contribution.

Our diversity of indigenous cultures is held dear and in high esteem by Tartu 2024. Seto leelo singing and the Võro smoke sauna tradition are in the UNESCO world heritage list and both can be seen, heard and felt in our ECoC year.

To hear Seto leelo and Mari Kalkun singing in the Võro language, to take a smoke sauna, to join the first Kodavere song festival and to explore Mulgi culture – of all the ECoCs, only Tartu 2024 can offer such unique experiences. We present our languages and cultures with tenderness to everyone as to our best friends. We sincerely hope that our languages will survive.

Originally written in the Seto, Mulgi and Kodavere languages.


12. Forgotten Peoples

Among the world-renowned Estonian composers, Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) has special significance as a masterful unifier of folk songs, choral tradition and contemporary classical music. Drawing on the Finno-Ugric heritage as his main source of inspiration, his magnum opus is the six-cycle Forgotten Peoples, which was also released on a widely acclaimed album on ECM in 1992.

The fate of the small-population Finno-Ugric nations is no less poignant an issue now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, a heavy Russification period when most of the cycles were written. With Russia alienating itself from most of the world today, the ethnic minority groups are forced deeper into oblivion, losing contact with their Northern and Central European kindred folk. Hence it’s clearly in the spirit of the Arts of Survival to raise European awareness of their struggle.

In March 2023, the Estonian conductor Ingrid Roose and the 80-strong Paris Orchestra Choir took three cycles of Tormis’ Forgotten Peoples to the distinguished Paris Philharmonic concert hall, with visuals created by the mixed media and installation artist Alyona Movko-Mägi. “Izhorian Epic”, “Votic Wedding Songs” and “Ingrian Evenings” were performed by the French singers in the indigenous languages. However, this performance, which received a genuinely heartfelt response, was just a prelude to the Tartu 2024 show about to take place in the Estonian National Museum.

It’s symbolic in itself that the bridgehead shape of the museum at the former Soviet military airfield was designed by the Paris-based DGT architects Dan Dorell, Lina Ghotmeh and Tsuyoshi Tane. In the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024, the museum becomes a bridge not just between heritage and the future but also a sonic pathway from the ancient Finno-Ugric folk customs to 21st century Europe.

“When I’m singing Tormis, I feel the earth, the salt, the wind. It’s something that I’ve never experienced before with music. I’ve been singing a lot of traditional folk songs from different countries but with Tormis it’s completely different because it’s so raw. It just makes you feel primary emotions.“

Mathilde Segal, singer

„I worked with Tormis already twenty years ago. I listened to the concert and I find it a fantastic project. Rhythmic landscapes, poetic landscapes, repetitive music that’s also very hypnotic… very unique.“

Loic Pierre, conductor of the Microcosmos choir

„Pariisi Filharmoonia kontserdimajas kõlas Veljo Tormise soome-ugri keelne “Unustatud rahvad”“, ERR Kultuur 15/3/2023


13. Surrealism 100

“I am a big mess in the procession / I am soot, I am virtue, I am wind / I am a mystic backbone of the snails”, wrote the Estonian Surrealist poet Ilmar Laaban as World War II was raging in Europe. Discovering the other in oneself, letting associations run free when stifling ideologies rule, probing the human subconscious for the most fabulous oddities and incongruities in times of greed and utilitarianism – those, too are Arts of Survival.

In 2024, it will be a hundred years since the first Surrealist manifestos were published in Paris. In the decades that followed, Surrealism spread around the world: as aesthetic revolution, as protest, as fun, as the ineffable. It has permeated ads and music videos, fashion and design. Surrealism is so ubiquitous as to have become almost invisible – but in recent years, several major exhibitions have been held to re-tap its subversive powers and cornucopia of treasuries. Millions know the “big hits”, but there are still immeasurable local riches waiting to be discovered at large.

Even though there’s also a primer of the movement’s greats, including a rare print by Dali from the Tartu Art Museum vaults, the Surrealism 100. Prague, Tartu and Other Stories… exhibition of Tartu 2024 focuses on the prodigious range of Czech and Estonian works. These works testify to how those two cultures managed to survive and even thrive through some of the most atrocious and repressive periods of recent history. A dialogue is being created between those traditions in the Estonian National Museum via co-curation by Joanna Hoffmann and Kristlyn Liier of Tartmus and Anna Pravdová of the National Gallery of Prague. The latter is one of the world’s oldest public art galleries (founded in 1796) and also one of the largest museums in Central Europe.

In Prague, there have been three major generations of Surrealists, with such international household names as Toyen, Jindřich Štyrský and Jan Švankmajer. In the 1960s, Prague Surrealism sharply defined itself in resistance to Communist ideology. In Estonia, however, Surrealism never really took off in the 1920s, although some experiments in this vein are among the best known Estonian artworks. The latter-day Estonian Surrealism still features some highly idiosyncratic artists, e.g., Ilmar Malin, whose personal retrospective will also be held in Tartmus. Groupings like Para’ 89 also emphasised the exclusion of Surrealism from the official art canon in Soviet Estonia.

Surrealist influence is also remarkable in the works of contemporary artists, say, Kris Lemsalu, who represented Estonia at the 2019 Venice Biennale, as well as in award-winning cartoons and animations that have gained worldwide exposure thanks to Priit Pärn. The works of both will be shown in the “Leaning House” of Tartmus. Tartu itself has a special connection with Surrealism, with the eclectic Kursi School of artists still going strong today; there’s a strong dose of Southern Estonian magic realism in the works of Albert Gulk or Peeter Allik.



14. Making People Feel Needed and Respected in Europe

On 1 November 2019, a Tartu youth centre had to cancel an LGBT talk event in response to threats of violence from extremist conservatives. The far-right still held a rally on the Town Hall Square against LGBT rights. However, they were soon surrounded and outnumbered by young people with rainbow flags and messages in support of tolerance. This peaceful triumph sent a powerful message to the whole society: Tartu is by no means the “Nazi capital” as some bitter tongues had been suggesting. We were well on the way to being that bold, open and friendly European city we longed to be.

By the time Tartu 2024 submitted their second monitoring report to the ECoC international expert panel in 2022, the first Tartu Pride had already taken place. Just as well – indeed questions were asked about the state of affairs with LGBT people in Tartu and Estonia. Europe cares. This June, the Tartu 2024 delegation made itself clearly present and visible at the Baltic Pride event in Tallinn to herald its coming to Tartu in our ECoC year.

Not everyone has been happy about that. There was quite a bit of grumbling over the attendance and the rainbow colours in the Tartu 2024 social media profiles – by the people who also resented legalising same-sex marriage in Estonia. The dominant mood, however, was that of gratitude and jubilation. We can feel the majority of Tartuvians and Southern Estonians accepting and respecting our stand. This is further confirmed by the Estonian Human Rights Centre surveys on attitudes towards LGBT topics in Estonia, especially regarding the younger generations.

We sincerely hope that no sexual education event will ever need to be cancelled again for political or security reasons. In the Tartu 2024 programme, there’s a whole project dedicated to this: Kissing Tartu. The mass kissing in Town Hall Square (extending around the famous Kissing Students fountain) will be the Instagrammable core event but will also serve as a metaphor for the whole of Tartu and its region as a safe, inclusive, understanding and encouraging space for an abundance of identities.

This abundance covers not just gender and sexuality but also ethnic diversity. Estonia might not be perceived as multicultural and multi-ethnic as many other European countries but our population ranges far beyond Estonians and Russians. There’s been anti-immigration propaganda, for sure, and even hate crimes but again, the majority can see that most people from third countries have come here with respect for European values, quality of life and standards of safety. And they are willing to share their own stories and traditions.

This is what The Route Diverse thrives on. Presented by the International House Tartu, it introduces residents from Asian, African, Latin American and other “distant” cultures to Southern Estonians through feasts, games, food, crafts, tales and music, countering prejudice and creating real human contact. Several events have taken place to warm response and understanding that Estonia and Europe are also home to those people. In 2024, a travelling performance is due with the bus stopping for dancing, sound journeys, installations, ghost tours, food tasting, etc., led by artists tackling the issues of migration and coexistence.

The Route Diverse experience has proved that seeing immigrants share their customs so devotedly makes the audience and the participants more aware of the value of their own traditions and their value. Indeed, just as dozens of various ethnicities in Estonia deserve to hear the message “you too are Europe”, so do the communities in Southern Estonia.

In times of crisis and confusion, tensions escalate easily. Such tensions were felt recently after the Estonian government decided to expand the Nursipalu training area for the defence forces in Võru and Rõuge counties. As a number of homes are about to be lost, fields and forests transformed and rural tourism affected, there have been a few people who read the situation as a manifestation of North vs South, Tallinn suits vs Võro farmers, central powers vs local languages and cultural uniqueness. Alas, even the EU and NATO vs local communities.

However, behind xenophobic statements there is often the sense of alienation. Being ignored and left out, like they don’t matter enough to the state and Europe. Peripheralisation in Southern Estonia was well underway before the Covid-19 crisis and the war-induced economic slump: with the loss of jobs and services, desperation ensued and populism found fertile soil.

Since its outset, Tartu 2024 has been searching for positive solutions, ways of engaging Southern Estonian municipalities in planning the ECoC year, co-creating its cultural programme as well as taking advantage of its social and economic benefits. We’ve encountered a lot of good will, initiative and bright ideas about how to set up events and processes most inclusive of local communities but also conveying the sense of belonging in Europe.

Besides the wealth of regional projects in all programme lines, there’s also a whole sub-strand of local events in Tartu with Europe. Coordinated by the LAG Tartu County Development Association and the Southern Estonian LEADER action groups, the Community Programme promotes the values of pure nature, diverse cultural heritage, healthy lifestyles, local food and crafts, and sustainable and innovative solutions. The range of events and their extensive coverage will raise the self-esteem of inhabitants, as well as improving the hospitality and visibility of the region with so much to offer.

Tackling cultural, social and economic issues, imagining and implementing better futures by bringing together local activists and international experts is what European Capitals of Culture are largely all about. In Tartu 2024 and its regional outreach, several projects focus on creating spaces for debates, brainstorming and mutual learning, including the Tartu World University with its series of community academies, and the Treski Inspiration Day at the Setomaa artistic hub run by Jalmar Vabarna, the lead singer of the acclaimed electric folk-rockers Trad.Attack!. Back in Tartu, the Hybrid European Democracy Festival connects various university towns and their students across Europe through the latest hybrid reality solutions to tackle the major challenges of today and tomorrow.

It’s essential that those events not focus on local issues only but put them in global perspective, even as they develop local solutions for global problems. Giving everyone the opportunity to be heard out and to become part of the solution, making people feel needed and respected are vital Arts of Survival.

Before we started, we were warned a lot about [what might happen when] people look so different but in reality there hasn’t been anything anywhere demanding some sort of a risk management. The reception has been great, very warm. People have been mutually very curious. On one hand, those living in a small place have not had a chance to meet and talk to someone from, say, Sri Lanka (but Ukrainians can also come across as very novel). And on the other hand, those who live in a bigger Southern Estonian city such as Tartu have given feedback that they encounter an utterly different kind of Estonia when they visit a smaller place. I’m overjoyed by it both ways.

Nastja Pertšjonok, project manager of the Route Diverse
Delfi Erisaade podcast, 10/12/2022

15. Arts of Survival Documentaries

A good documentary is the next best thing to firsthand experience, and a great documentary can provide even more insight. It can get you closer to people and things that are out of common reach: hermits and remote communities, stars and microorganisms.

The Tartu 2024 documentary programme aims to do just that in Southern Estonia. Residencies for international filmmakers started in 2022, bringing in 11 directors who gathered inspiration, gave master classes and met with audiences for screenings and talks. A number of them also participated in the idea competition for documentaries where eight ideas for 15-minute films were chosen from among 27 Estonian and 16 international entries. The film cassette will be shown in 2024 in cinemas, on TV, and at village screenings and top festivals.

There’s a staggering range of topics presented in the selected eight documentaries, with two Lake Peipsi projects: Viesturs Kairišs (LV) explores Piirissaar, an island on the border of Estonia and Russia, while Andrey Paounov (BG) discovers karakats, DIY ice-fishing machines. Carl Olsson (SE/DK) focusses on an Annelinn block of flats. Andris Gauja (LT) meets astronomers and slime mould researchers. The Estonian directors Ülo Pikkov and Jaan Tootsen walk down their personal and family memory lanes in Southern Estonia; Eva Kübar introduces Hilda Ha, a German mother in a Võru forest, leading a simple off-grid life with her child. Maria Aua takes us back to Tartu, or more like Non-Tartu by shooting its strange wastelands, empty squares and rundown buildings.

Thus, the cassette will present a cross-section of the Arts of Survival themes, from a natural lifestyle to maker culture, from heritage to science, from a lonely island to urban identities.

It’s incredible how Southern Estonians are connected with nature. All of their everyday activities are in rhythm with nature; it’s amazing! And your mixed forests – in Sweden you won’t find that kind of symbiosis.

The Setos, who have fought for centuries for their survival, have managed to preserve their traditions and way of life. After all, the Setos choose their new king for themselves yearly, making them the strongest survival artists in Southern Estonia.

Jerzy Sladkowski, the first resident of Arts of Survival Documentaries


Yesterday I met the astronomer Maret Einasto who hails from a famous Estonian scientific family – she’s the daughter of the renowned astronomer Jaan Einasto. She said something which characterises and describes the whole Tartu 2024: “You know, for survival you need curiosity“. So that curiosity, openness to the world, is what you really need to avoid stagnation. You should always be curious to discover new horizons.

Andris Gauja

Iiris Viirpalu, „Andris Gauja: maailm on meie vaatepunkti peegeldus, ilu võib leida ka pisimates objektides, kõige väiksemas maailmas“, Edasi, 15/9/2022



16. Unda

When Covid-19 lashed out by spreading in night clubs in 2020 and came back for more the next year, plenty of doomsdayers said that club culture would never return the way it used to be. Indeed many doors were closed and the night scene’s pleas for help remained unheard by the government, as the “fun” economy wasn’t considered “cultural” enough. Yet clubbing has bounced back: older, wiser and more responsible as it went about proving that it’s not all about reckless abandon and overdosing.

Tartu was hardly among the top destinations for European club goers even before the pandemic –  international star DJs and performers becoming even more of a rarity after the big slump of 2008, underground scenes wavering on and off radar. Some could pack a house but it’s the camp trash parties that crossed over to the national media. Yet it was Tartu out of all the Estonian cities that took the first steps towards a nightlife strategy in 2018 and 2019, on the way to becoming a European Capital of Culture.

In the course of the mapping seminars largely inspired by the 2018 primer by Sound Diplomacy, a few participants recognised the post-Soviet attitudes to nightlife summed up by a former Vilnius night mayor (see inset). The drive to counter the prejudice was there, along with the will to develop transversal policies regarding safety, noise reduction, night traffic and so on. Covid-19 put all that on hold.

So we extend the warmest of welcomes from Tartu 2024 to HALL, the famed Tallinn night club and truly an international hub. It’s not just a site for the hippest parties in the capital but also participated in the pilot project of “night fairies” in autumn 2022 where volunteers patrolled clubs to prevent substance abuse and spread the know-how. Definitely Arts of Survival!

For Tartu 2024, HALL will bring the 48-hour festival unda to the Estonian National Museum with gigs, an exhibition and a conference. And though HALL’s reputation is mainly built on starkly urban techno parties, they, too, are waxing ecological: “unda (meaning a wave, a mass, a gathering, to be wet & a water fairy) will delve into the abundant ecosystem of club culture. Organised by HALL and international collaborators, UNDA draws parallels between the surrounding wetlands and nightlife; we reframe them as a springboard for creativity, imagination, collaboration etc.”

Meanwhile, the vibrant-once-more Tartu rave scene is about to break overground for the ECoC year with their own project – so night-crawlers will definitely have more than one place to go.

The Soviet system preferred people to go to bed at night and go to work in the morning. Now that Lithuania is independent, this rigidity is not the law, but it’s still habit. There are many members of the older generation who don’t understand why anything should happen at “bedtime”, and some even assume that everything happening after “bedtime” is seedy, illicit or even criminal. Many see nightlife as “disunity”, or the splitting up or degradation of society in contrast to standing together and living synchronised lives.

Mark Harrold, former city councillor and unofficial night mayor of Vilnius

Andrea Seijas, A guide to managing your night time economy. Sound Diplomacy 2018

If there’s no venue and no party, no microeconomies will come out of it. „The microeconomies“ means when we meet after 3:30 in the club, you know, the best ideas are born after 3:30. We have a drink, we play with ideas, with concepts, we play around: hey, let’s do something, let’s join this movement, let’s start a gallery or a vegan restaurant, anything. And then we do something. And I think this situation – and I’ve watched it over 30 years in a way – has changed Berlin completely, its DNA. Because people just were somehow encouraged to to do something different. The club is an incubator for new ideas, for concepts, for microeconomies. And this is what I would really like to do in different cities: having a small spot and then the young intelligents stay in there, in town and they develop new ideas, their own scenes. For young people with big ideas who cannot sleep.

Dimitri Hegemann, cultural activist, founder of Tresor and OHM clubs in Berlin

HALL x Tartu 2024 presents: The Club as an Ecosystem: Exploring Creativity, Resilience and Activism in Club Culture, 11/8/2023

17. Utopia Regained: Everyone Can Shape the Future

Every European Capital of Culture starts as a utopia. A future vision for the city and often the whole region. Although cultural strategies cover a longer time span, an ECoC bid is much more detailed and it may well be the case that the bidbook-writing brainstorms with stakeholders accelerate the cultural life in the city and region beyond a number of strategic goals well before their “deadline”. This has certainly happened in Tartu and Southern Estonia. However, the bidding process also sparks ideas that weren’t even in the strategy and thus alters the city identity: the Car-Free Avenue of Tartu is a splendid example.

Up to a point, every ECoC bidbook is a work of fiction. practical yet idealistic; within probability yet larger than life. The ones that don’t win the desired title for the city will largely remain so. Even those who do win are not turned into reality wholesale. Yet it’s a magical feeling to see this utopia come true, the written city transform into a lived one.

Tartu became an ECoC on its second attempt. The first time around, in the competition for 2011, we lost out to Tallinn. Still, writing the bid was an uplifting experience, breaking the routine of everyone involved as well as inciting political and funding decisions that made Tartu a more vibrant, more international city of culture. This boost largely laid the groundwork for the success we experienced in 2019 when Tartu with Southern Estonia was designated an ECoC 2024.

In pursuit of the title in the early to mid Noughties, several new festivals were initiated. Among them was the Prima Vista literary festival – strangely enough for a city with such a rich history of the written word, there hadn’t been one before. Hosting Umberto Eco, Olga Tokarczuk, Yevgeni Grishkovetz, Sofi Oksanen, Bruce Sterling, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, John Cooper Clarke, Wolf Biermann, Klaus-Peter Wolf and many other authors over the years, Prima Vista became one of the key factors in Tartu receiving the status of UNESCO City of Literature in 2015. And one of its slogans – Art of Survival in 2010 – was reused as Arts of Survival for Tartu 2024. In the ECoC year, Prima Vista will present a special programme, Futures Better and Worse – a festival of utopias and dystopias.

It’s the dystopias that seem to dominate today on a global scale. Ecological catastrophe, AI takeover, nuclear war – you name it. We can’t ignore grim scenarios – in order to prevent them from coming to life, we need to be aware of them. Yet people also need positive visions of the future more than ever. The initial title of Futures Better and Worse in our bidbook was 1984/2024. however, besides being a nightmare to speak out, the name excessively emphasised the dystopian aspect. Also, “1984“ as a metaphor was getting overused even before the pandemic.

Utopian thought needs to be encouraged as in some ways it seems to be in a crisis. The literary scholar Jaak Tomberg, one of the main organisers of Futures Better and Worse, states in his book on realism, science fiction and utopian imagination that, by and large, sci-fi has turned from dreaming up futures to describing the present: the globalised, technological, online world of mass-produced and -consumed commodities where capitalism seems to have no alternative. Yet it’s in the powers of writers – not just sci-fi writers – to imagine alternatives, different, better worlds. Utopias, ecotopias. No less important – to maintain critical awareness and enquire, in the manner of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: for whom and on whose account are the proposed utopias really „better futures“? The hyper-rich can be exuberantly utopian but their “longtermism” won’t help people in the foreseeable future. So it’s also in writers’ powers to retain the humanistic imperative in dreaming of alternative worlds.

Indeed, such renowned authors as the Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk as well as Cory Doctorow and Jeff VanderMeer are scheduled to share their future visions at the Great Futurological Congress event series of the 2024 festival. Writers from other UNESCO Cities of Literature will transform sites in Tartu with artists and musicians in Bring Your Own Utopia. However, the emphatic and responsible imagining of better futures should be in the powers of everyone – and grassroots utopias could provide just the antidote to elitist longtermism. So the Utopian Embassy pre-event of the 2024 literary programme took place in May, opening up a dreaming space for people from all walks of life: scientists, politicians, artists, just those who wanted to talk about their (sometimes very personal) longings. This „sanctuary for positive uncertainty, bold thinking, and untameable imagination“ was definitely a highlight of this year’s Prima Vista, giving hope in these tough and tense times.

In the similar vein of helping ordinary people discover their utopian dreams, the award-winning British multimedia artist group Blast Theory will run The Unstruck Sound in Tartu and Southern Estonia. As they introduce themselves: “Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group draw on popular culture and new technologies to make performances, games, films, apps and installations. Blast Theory have a strong track record of deep community engagement, cutting edge digital practice and effective co-creation. Our artistic practice centres on a belief that everyone is creative. We listen carefully and openly to those we collaborate with.” The project unites the youngsters and elders to imagine ecotopias which then form the basis for a sci-fi film made largely with local, non-professional actors from the city and region.

The whole Tartu with Universe programme line is an innovative addition to the winning bidbook. Partly for highlighting the international acclaim for the University (or universities) of Tartu and their achievements in sciences in the past and today; on the other hand because some of the most intriguing issues inspiring the arts in the 2020s demand awareness of processes and debates in biology, gene technology or ICT. What happens when the Atlantic currents system collapses already now? How can big data, such as the Estonian Genome Centre data help to prevent pandemic lockdowns in the future? Is AI going to force writers, translators and artists out of their jobs or incite them to prove how human creativity can do things beyond however capable programmes and machines? Those are among the major questions for Arts of Survival.

Climate crisis entangled with biodiversity loss will doom humans and most life on the planet, without a radical reimagining of the future. The hope lies in how many people now recognise the urgency and how many solutions already exist if only we have the political and social will to enact them. Some part of that is simply to do nothing, in the sense of halting the destruction of ecosystems that are key to capturing carbon and also incredibly economically valuable left intact. Literature is no substitute for sound policy and vision, but it can portray the psychological reality of living in the situation in ways that make visible what may be invisible to many. Literature can also engage in critique of systems “in action”, and in combination, the personal and the political perhaps energise readers who may have convinced themselves these crises are still far off. Instead of gathering all around us, now.

Jeff VanderMeer, American writer to perform at Futures Better and Worse

Ryoji Ikeda at the Estonian National Museum

Ryoji Ikeda is a trailblazer in the 21st century science-inspired arts. Born in Japan but currently living in Paris, he is renowned for his immersive audiovisual installations testing the limits of human perception. His interest in quantum theory and particle physics took him to reside at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 2014-2015. The resulting exhibition project supersymmetry was also on show in the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn and is still ranking in its all-time top three for attendance.

For the Tartu 2024 programme, Ikeda pays a series of visits to the Estonian Biobank in the University of Tartu to create a brand new data-based installation. It will be displayed at the Estonian National Museum from 1 November 2024 to 2 March 2025 alongside a sound installation made with the Grammy Award-winning Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Also featured is one of Ikeda’s most famous works, the tripartite data-verse, linking microscale to the universal dimensions through human body, mind and cityscape.

18. Business as Usual

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism” is an oft-quoted dictum attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek. The British philosopher Mark Fisher elaborated on it as “’capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” Yet the daily fabric that normally looks seamless has been ruptured a few times in the 21st century, revealing how much make-believe there is in economic value, reliability and solvency.

The arts might not have provided a way out of capitalist realism yet but there’s been a great deal of captivating critical analysis, e.g., Stefano Massini’s play Lehman Brothers documents the spread of capitalism and the burst of the bubble in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 through the rise and fall of three brothers. In this country, the 2020 staging at the Estonian Drama Theatre also became box office and critical smash. Now, the theatre is working on a follow-up of sorts for the Tartu 2024 programme, Business as Usual written by Mehis Pihla and directed by Hendrik Toompere Jr. It’s a co-production with the Copenhagen Rhythmic Music Conservatory as the internationally renowned jazz saxophonist Maria Faust is soundtracking it live with Danish musicians.

Inspired by the recent money-laundering scandals of Scandinavian banks in Estonia, the play traces the career of a young Tartuvian, taken in by the lure of lucre and the power of prestige. However, this Nordic cool turns out to be rotten inside as the lifestyle of the hyper-rich is bankrolled by Eastern bloc oligarchs. The message of so much Western prosperity being built on blood money is made even more pressing by the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, so one might well wonder how much the West has turned, and is still willing to turn, a blind eye to corruption in order to maintain its own comfort.

Apparently the attitudes towards Russian oligarchs have changed but there’s still a lot of back door business and the world still looks unimaginable without capitalism (especially in a country where criticism of it is often met with the riposte “Do you want the Soviet Union back?”). Yet facing the devastating effects of loan- and credit-fuelled mass consumption on the environment, we must ask: maybe there is an alternative? What Arts of Survival could take us and keep us beyond capitalism as we know it?



19. Arts of Survival Continued: The Legacy of Tartu 2024

As this book is published, the main programme of Tartu 2024 still lies ahead. We have introduced but a small (though hopefully representative) share of events and activities that will fill up our ECoC year – and surely there’ll be a few surprises, impromptu jams, flashes of ideas made to happen instantly in the fertile artistic spaces created.

Yet a day will come when the official Tartu 2024 programme is over. The ECoC torch will be passed to new cities (Chemnitz and Nova Gorica in 2025). However, this doesn’t mean the end for Arts of Survival. A successful ECoC is not just a year-long party after which everything gets back to the old ways – it’s a lasting transformation for the city and the region, for artists and audiences alike. So, what kind of impact do we expect?

Starting this year, Tartu is about to set new goals for itself in its developmental strategies until 2035, including the cultural strategy. When the current one, KU30, was being drawn up, I remember taking a look around the table and facing pretty much the same people as ten or fifteen years before. Where were the young?

It’s been essential for Tartu 2024 to get the next generations on board. In January 2022, we launched the Tartu 2024 Extended capacity building programme for young people aged 14-19 in Tartu and Southern Estonia. It consists of five training sessions on how to prepare projects, put together a team and a plan and organise an actual event. The long-term aim is to enrich the cultural landscape with fresh ideas and

promoters: we are convinced that being able to create events makes teenagers and students also more active as audiences.

So far, two courses have been completed with 50 participants all together and with 20 events, including the New Heritage Festival joining heritage and technology, the clothing reuse fair Extended Exchange, the Role Playing Festival, Charity Ball, Children’s Day etc. The third course will start in October, resulting in events in the title year: a great Tartu Youth Party in February and the International Youth Day programme in August.

There are several other youth-oriented projects coming up besides those already highlighted in this book, such as The Year of Contemporary Art by Youth: “Is Art a Tool for Survival?“ and the International Theatre Festival NAKS 2024 for adolescent viewers. All serve to make new generation talents, critics and managers welcome, to give them confidence to persist in the arts and instil culture in Tartu, Southern Estonia and Europe with their values and aspirations.

And we do hope there will be more young people not just around the table in discussing the strategies for 2035 but also making those visions real. All too often in recent decades, the fresh-faced innovators left just a passing mark as they moved on after their studies – to the creative hubs in Tallinn or to squat in Berlin, going anywhere more vibrant or with better job perspectives. On our way to Tartu 2024, we have already proved that Tartu and its region are cool, lively, artistically exciting environments which attract culture vultures from Tallinn and beyond.

In Tartu, we develop this environment with urban design that makes the city centre more dense and vibrant, more open to light traffic and more comfortable as a meeting place. Of course, culture has to be accessible all over the city and this is largely made possible by the Estonian National Museum, the Widget Factory, several regular festivals as well as Tartu 2024 special projects highlighting the identities of various city districts. However, the whole city as well as the region benefit from the strong centre.

While it’s a matter of concern across Europe that the city centres are drained as the inhabitants, arts and leisure activities are retreating to the suburbs, we have taken our events to the Car-Free Avenue, Toome hill and the banks of Emajõgi. The riverside Delta Centre of the University of Tartu has brought plenty of students back to the heart of the city. In the next few years, Tartu will be further enriched by a state-level top priority cultural building.

In 2029, the new climate positive Downtown Cultural Centre (SÜKU) is scheduled to open its doors in the park at the heart of the city, comprising the Tartu Art Museum, Tartu Public Library, a black box theatre for events, an art house cinema, an Estonian Public Broadcasting studio and many more facilities. New opportunities for work in creative fields, event management or enjoying arts and literature are emerging. The sceptics have wondered whether there are enough people in Tartu and the region to fill these spacious facilities. Well, it’s in our hands to make Tartu the kind of hub that makes creating SÜKU worthwhile.

After all, SÜKU is not just for the young but for people of all ages, not just for the current inhabitants but also an incentive to move here from abroad. One major goal of Tartu 2024 is to make Tartu and Southern Estonia even more international and multi-ethnic while preserving and strengthening indigenous languages and identities; to forge lasting connections between artists, cultural institutions and newly found friends across the borders. By proving to be an open, inclusive and inspiring space for creative people from around the globe, we make our home town and region bigger and brighter on the map of Europe and the world. Human-sized cities with biodiversity and encouragement of artistic interventions; a nature-bound lifestyle and ecological awareness connected with innovation and the will to obtain fresh knowledge, caring and supportive communities proud of their traditions but respectful of other identities – all add to the quality of life achieved in Tartu and Southern Estonia through Arts of Survival.

The experience of organising an event or a line of activities in the ECoC programme is bound to make the cultural operators in Tartu, the region and among our external partners more professional, self-assured and eager to try again. This has already been proved by Culture Compass, our series of capacity-building forums, as well as by the stages of project development and producing pre-events. Peripheralisation might have frightened away many active minds from the smaller municipalities in the South but their inclusion in Tartu 2024 could lure them back.

No point in being snobbish about smaller community events, either – in lesser towns and villages, there can be warmth and humanity all too often subdued by irony and cynicism in the more metropolitan scenes. This warmth and humanity can connect Southern Estonia to Northern Finland, Eastern Germany and Western Poland. Living on the eastern border of the European Union and NATO means that our Southern Estonian experience is essential for the bigger picture of being and remaining European, also for building future bridges in the cultural interzone.

We’ve been talking about artists, managers and audiences – but a vital component in the success of any ECoC are the volunteers. In building up a solid and reliable volunteer network, we bring together people from different age groups and walks of life, give them a share in making something great happen, and offer them trust and gratitude. Tartu 2024 will also create guidelines for volunteer coordinators and team leaders and based on them, an app for recording and evaluating the experience of working as a volunteer. Our group of Tartu 2024 volunteers as well as the network for engaging volunteers in Tartu and Southern Estonia will persist as another part of our ECoC legacy. More large-scale events needing its support will be coming up – for one, Tartu is applying to host the annual meeting of the UNESCO Cities of Literature in 2025, to welcome guests from more than 40 countries.

There’s a great year ahead – but in many ways it’s just the beginning. Arts of Survival are here to stay.

What are Arts of Survival to a young person? To be free and to organise culture without limits? To be young in the Extended programme has been an eye-opening experience. Since the focus group days, I have regarded this programme as an opportunity to make the lives of young people in Southern Estonia more vibrant, giving them chances to organise events themselves and make improvements where culture is found lacking. To see each course with their own identity has been something that evokes in me a sense of warmth and hope for Estonian culture. All of those experiences have taught me about various programmes, visions and ideas. I’ve learned to see the practical side of things, to find solutions fast and fluently. I feel at home while walking around in the Tartu 2024 office. I feel at home in the team that welcomes me. I find that Southern Estonian culture is protected in the hands of those active in the Extended programme. I am protecting Estonian culture with Arts of Survival.

Lisete Vaarman, Tartu 2024 Extended (19)

I went to a collage party recently. There was a curious coincidence. In 2020, the Semioculus collage club published my collages in Instagram. They introduce artists from different countries. It turned out that Dylan, the founder of the group, lives in Tartu and he contacted me. Dylan is from the Netherlands but he’s been living in Estonia for years. And it was so unexpected that we finally met in Tartu. We started communicating and I realised I wanted to get to know him better and attend a collage party which they hold in Tartu once in a while. There were many creative people in the meeting, many students who wanted to talk to me and make collages together. A most creative atmosphere. Reminded me of meetings with my artist friends. We played musical instruments, chat, got to know interesting people. Time went by unnoticed and then it was the night. I love it when that happens, when you let go of the daily routine and just live in the moment, here and now. I guess it’s not my last encounter with Dylan. He also told me that soon there’ll be a Japanese artist in Tartu whose collages were also published by the group. Yes, life is unpredictable, it can connect people long before they meet. I’m glad that more and more creative people are turning up around me.

Viktoria Berezina, Ukrainian artist and curator now living in Tartu, in an e-mail to Raul Oreškin 18/3/2023