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.
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.
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.
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.