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Experienced European Cultural Managers Examined International Audience Engagement

On 26 November, European cultural managers gathered online at the “Kultuurikompass: How to Address Europe?” forum to explain the opportunities for strengthening ties between cultural operators across Europe and discuss the growth of Estonia's international prominence. The forum brought together over 600 participants from 18 different countries, and speakers from Estonia, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Serbia and three previous European Capitals of Culture.

Video conference on a large screen.
21. Dec Kaidi-Lisa Kivisalu

At the event, broadcast live from the University of Tartu library, the speakers gave examples on how to engage international audiences and gain the public’s attention. The presentations touched upon topics ranging from solutions to Covid-19-related issues to how artists and event organisers can facilitate successful international cooperation.

The president of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid stressed in the forum’s opening session that culture has the ability to address Europe in ourselves. “Understanding the world and the art of being human is constantly changing and evolving in time. Life goes on, interpretations change, norms evolve – luckily in a direction that allows more people to exist the way they want to. Without prejudice and discrimination,” said Kaljulaid.

Jalmar Vabarna, musician from the band Trad.Attack! and cultural event organiser, confirmed that Europe, with its population of over 700 million, is the first and foremost region where he performs his music. To do it successfully, one needs to establish and value international contacts and dream big. “Thinking about the European dimension is for us Estonians largely a question of self-esteem,” maintained Vabarna, “but having performed in half of the European countries, I can confirm that culture and cultural management is an area where Estonia is among the top five.”

Jalmar Vabarna. Photo: Mana Kaasik

Mikko Fritze, who led the European Capital of Culture Tallinn 2011, claimed that Estonia is appealing to Europe. “People have heard of Estonia, but do not know much more. This means that this land is interesting and perhaps even a little exotic – capitalise on this,” said Fritze, describing Estonia’s position and potential in Europe. Carrying out the events of the approaching European Capital of Culture 2024 will create, in his opinion, an opportunity for local cultural operators to be curious and to learn more about the cultures of other countries. It will also be an opportunity to introduce local uniqueness to the larger European audience.

The heads of international cultural events, who spoke in the second half of the forum, emphasised that it is best to include communications’ and marketing experts early in the event’s organising process and content creation.

The managing director of Flow Festival Helsinki Suvi Kallio advised in her presentation that communication with the audience, through social media or other channels, should be personal and overtly official language should be avoided. “Organisers should think of personas, who have common interests and values, rather than ambiguous target groups,” added Kallio.

Sanjin Đukić, the organiser of Serbia’s Exit festival, encouraged cultural managers to stay in constant communication with their audience and ask for feedback. Exit festival, which grew out of a student movement fighting for democracy and freedom, was attended by 200,000 music lovers from 50 countries in 2019. In Đukić’s assessment, virtual performance formats, which have become popular during the Covid-19 crisis cannot replace the live experience. “There has been a lot of talk about “the new normal”, but there is nothing normal about it,” he asserted. “It is important that people can share their emotions during an event. Online broadcasts are new, but they will never replace the real festival feeling,” expressed Đukić, hoping that the pandemic will soon recede.

Johannes Tralla in a panel discussion with Suvi Kallio, Sanjin Đukić and Fredrik Lindegren. Photo: Mana Kaasik

The forum arrived at the conclusion that reaching the European public continues to be valuable. In addition to offering experiences and affecting people, culture helps to sustain us. “If people know that you exist, they will notice when you disappear,” said the moderator Johannes Tralla in his ending statement, summing up how important international attention and acclaim is to a small country such as Estonia.

Angela Ader, the head organiser of the forum, summed up the event: “In four years Tartu will hold the title of European Capital of Culture together with Southern Estonia. Preparations have already begun and the international Kultuurikompass was one of the capacity building events towards a wider audience,” said Ader, She emphasised that in order to be able to offer special experiences to a large number of audiences during the title year, organisers need to learn now – especially from those who have done it all before. She concluded that the forum was an inspirational highlight in the bleak Estonian November.

The forum’s keynote videos will be published over the following weeks on the Tartu 2024 homepage and Facebook page. The Kultuurikompass forums are a part of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 programme. The city of Tartu is a European Capital of Culture in 2024 together with Southern Estonia.

More information:
Angela Ader, tel


5343 3478, [email protected]

The president of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid and the Kultuurikompass team. Photo: Mana Kaasik