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Kultuurikompass in Viljandi: How to Make Tartu 2024 Accessible to Various Audiences?

In the beginning of September, Viljandi was host to Tartu 2024 official programme for the first time. Pärimusmuusika Ait, the Traditional Music Center, accommodated the VII Kultuurikompass Forum, a recurring main event of the Tartu 2024 capacity building programme. This time, cultural managers from around Estonia discussed the physical and the geographical accessibility of culture, the challenges and the solutions.

An audiance at the Kultuurikompass.
07. Oct William Lagache

The forum was an essential first step on the road as the events and the venues of the 2024 European Capital of Culture programme should be accessible for various audiences.

How to define accessibility?

What is accessibility and how to grasp something that has so many aspects? Annela Laaneots, the head organiser of the forum and the Regional Coordinator of Tartu 2024 Foundation, presents one possible definition: “Accessibility is the mindset and awareness of organisers to think about the needs of the people who could visit the events.”

According to Piret Aus, cultural manager, folk musician and lecturer who gave the first presentation at the forum, event organisers should think more thoroughly what are the characteristics and expectations of audiences. “Organisers of events often state that everyone is welcome, but who are “everyone”? If we think about any audience group, be them children or elderly people, we see that every group has special expectations and needs,” described Aus.

Examples of increasing accessibility

In her presentation Piret Aus (photo above) talked about the solutions that ensured accessibility for people with disabilities to the most important Estonian cultural event in 2019 – the XXVII Song and XX Dance Celebration. “A ramp is the most visible accessibility landmark that a cultural establishment can have, but when a deaf or visually impaired person wants to join the party, then the ramp will be of no use to them, they need different solutions,” explained Aus.

Generally, in her opinion, improving the accessibility of events or locations does not only mean that disabilities are taken into consideration, but rather that the solutions are based on the principles of universal design.

This Kultuurikompass forum itself was designed with accessibility kept in mind. “In addition to the experienced keynote speakers who presented on the stage their cases of increasing accessibility, I consider it very important that we actually made the forum more accessible for a number of offline and online participants,” explained Annela Laaneots.

“For example, Piret Aus showed how to set up a temporary tactile guideway on the floor of Pärimusmuusika Ait, the venue (picture). Such guideways can be followed by blind audience members. The temporary solution is easy to set up and can be used to increase the accessibility of various venues,” added Laaneots, “We are very thankful to our advisors who helped the Kultuurikompass organising team to learn and use these solutions.”

Accessibility in the Tartu 2024 programme

One of the missions of Tartu 2024 as a European Capital of Culture is to make sure that more people in Tartu and Southern Estonia take part in cultural events. “This can be achieved if every organiser makes it easier for its potential audiences to participate,” tells Annela Laaneots.

More precisely, it is one of the purposes of Tartu 2024 Foundation’s programme line managers to encourage the developers of current and upcoming cultural projects to go in this direction. Erni Kask, Tartu with Humanity programme line manager, explains: “We’re taking it more holistically rather than programme line based.”

“We try to make sure that each and every project that is developed for the emerging Tartu 2024 programme has gone through analysis, how it will be accessible for audiences with reduced possibilities. We hope they can come up with new artistic solutions to tackle the accessibility challenge from different perspectives”, explained Erni Kask. “Yet, we also want the project developers to be aware and realistic, what they can and can not do. Luckily, we have a few more years to go.”

That said, there are also Tartu 2024 projects in development for which involving people with reduced access is the main idea. “For example, the artists involved in project Hidden Worlds Expanding can be described as people with reduced access to cultural participation. This project – led by Kondase keskus in Viljandi – centres on art made by people with mental special needs,” reveals Erni Kask.