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Heigo Teder: To Me Arts of Survival Means Handling Culture More Consciously than Ever

Heigo Teder is an experienced cultural event producer. For the last six years he was the Chief Manager at Ugala Theatre, for eight years prior to that he was employed at Rakvere Theatre. As of January 2021, he works at the Tartu 2024 foundation as a Production Coordinator. What will be his first steps in the new position? What do the Arts of Survival mean to him? What is, in his opinion, the current state of Southern Estonian cultural landscape? Read the first interview with Heigo Teder.

Heigo Teder's portrait.
04. Mar Kaidi-Lisa Kivisalu

Heigo Teder. Photo: Mana Kaasik

You are the new Production Coordinator at the Tartu 2024 foundation. Give us an overview of what you will do at the foundation.

The European Capital of Culture programme consists of many diverse projects that are led by different cultural establishments and organisers. These projects will bring hundreds of events, festivals, concerts, exhibitions, and workshops to the audience. All these events together will create an extraordinary cultural explosion in Tartu and Southern Estonia, the size of it and our overall ambition can be illustrated by our set goal of reaching over one million visitors.

I am tasked with being the leader of the Tartu 2024 foundation’s one-off productions in the next few years. As said before, most of the programme will be brought to life by other institutions or people, but to get a result that is comprehensive and engages all of the target groups, the foundation has to organise some things on its own. Some of these productions are large-scale, others smaller, but they all add to the greater picture.

Give an example, what will the foundation produce on its own?

For instance, one of my biggest tasks is to develop the concept for the European Capital of Culture title year opening ceremony, along with compiling the production team for it. The opening ceremony starts the title year in 2024 in Tartu and Southern Estonia with a bang. Tens of thousands of people will take part in it either locally or via television broadcast in Europe.

In short, creating an event that in its nature is nothing less than Tartu 2024’s version of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Still, the first fruits of my labour or smaller productions, can be seen quite soon. The European Capital of Culture pre-events will reach the audience in 2022. There is a lot to look forward to.

Photo: Mana Kaasik

You studied to become an actor, having graduated from the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy theatre studies programme. Moreover, you have experience with organising theatre shows, concerts and festivals. You have worked at Ugala theatre as a Troupe Manager and Chief Manager and at Rakvere theatre as a Project Manager. Considering all of your previous qualifications, what seems to be the most interesting thing about your new work?

For the most part, my professional life has been tied to theatre – starting from studying to become an actor to working in different theatres for over twenty years. Along with being an actor, I have managed the organisational side of theatre life and have been the organiser of many special events.

I have envisioned and then executed a few hundred concerts and other events, which has given me an opportunity to be in close contact with different communities. I value the experiences that I gained as an actor highly – to this day I use those skills and insights in my daily work. In addition to being an actor, I have been active in the music scene for over ten years. Using the alias Mr. President, I have performed as a solo artist at club events with my free rhymes and I have given concerts all over Estonia as an MC in the ranks of an electronic music band Def Räädu.

As a Production Coordinator I can rely on my previous experiences to create better performance conditions for artists and support production teams. I will also lead an initiative, which aims to create a digital “tool-box” for Tartu and Southern Estonian cultural organisers, which helps them develop their ideas, from the viewpoints of performers, organisers, and visitors, for the next project application call. The opportunity to create a system that equally values all parties is one of the main reasons that motivated me to join the Tartu 2024 team. I feel that to a great extent the European Capital of Culture values match with my personal worldview.

You have had twice the opportunity to be involved with organising the Estonian Independence Day concert and reception (2008 in Jõhvi and 2020 in Viljandi). Does organising the Independence Day concert differ from organising any other concert or play? If so, how?

At first glance, these events are not vastly different. But if you look closer, then you realise the intricacies and the great responsibility that come with organising the Independence Day concert. Look at it like this: it is an event that must be enjoyable to people who watch it at home on TV and to the diverse audience that watches it live. Among those people are representatives of the international diplomatic corps, the leaders of Estonian cultural and social spheres, high-level executives, and the so-called salt of the earth, for whom participating in such an event is a once in a lifetime thing.

There is always a heightened level of attention and scrutiny when it comes to the concert, people anticipate it and every Estonian has their own opinion on it, often using a very simplified scale to judge it: I like it – I did not like it.

It is an extraordinary challenge to organise a 40 minute long show full of entertaining and dignified content that ideally everyone likes. But through art and culture we have the power to build bridges between different social groups.

A large group of people must work together to make these events, that initially seem impossible, a success. A producer’s job is to bring together the creative forces, who help to create the artistic content, which then in turn the organisers along with gifted and hardworking artists and technical specialists bring to the audiences. All this professional and high-level work leads to something so incredibly beautiful and emotional. Same expectations apply to the Tartu 2024 programme.

Photo: Mana Kaasik

What does “Arts of Survival” mean to you? What are the first connections and topics that come to mind?

Culture encompasses different areas like language, knowledge, skills, traditions, beliefs, values and so forth. We are all a part of culture. Arts of Survival mean to me that we should handle culture more consciously than ever moving forward, by acknowledging the cultural process and its many faces and rethinking it. You must look further from your personal entrenched cultural bubble and search for contacts with other people and cultural spheres.

This means finding things in common and bolstering yourself and others through cooperation. For me, the Arts of Survival can be described with sayings: “Give and you shall receive”, “Speak and you will be answered”, “Listen and you will be heard”.

In your opinion, what does the European Capital of Culture title give to Tartu and Southern Estonia?

In my view, the important themes that can be analysed through the European Capital of Culture are marginalisation of border regions, the decline of culture, and the post-Covid world. However, more upbeat tones should resonate in this interview, which truly fill me with optimism, when I think of what is still ahead. The title year gives us a unique opportunity to believe in a better tomorrow! A year packed full of exciting events and experiences waits for us, and it will give the ordinary day-to-day life brighter colours and stronger flavours.

You recently moved from Viljandi to Tartu. Have you settled in yet? What have been your first impressions of living here?

Over the last few years, I have found myself meandering through Tartu more and more. I have had different reasons for visiting: great theatre productions that can be found in Tartu’s cultural calendar thanks to the varied and high-level theatres, Elektriteater’s carefully curated film programme, and opera concerts held to celebrate Tartu city day. Smaller, yet equally meaningful and inventive, events should not be left unmentioned, like the “alternative” events held in Tartu Literature House. You can find valuable “pearls” just by walking around the city – be it street art, architecture or the interior and favours of some small bakery.

And as the final question, what will be your first steps in your new position?

As the first thing, I wish to get to know the marvellous group of people that lead Tartu’s and Southern Estonia’s cultural life better. I would like to learn their love and dedication towards this region and the people who work here and together by inspiring and supporting each other to start the journey towards the European Capital of Culture title year.