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A Journey to the capitals of tomorrow: Tartu 2024

A Journey to the capitals of tomorrow: Tartu 2024 Photo by Mana Kaasik

We asked managers of the European capitals of culture from 2022 to 2025, five same questions to understand their expectations in a clear and concise way. Each interview is preceded by a fact sheet on that European capital of culture. The format is the same for all. At the end of the series of interviews we will try to make a synthesis of objectives, trends, expectations by the Ecocs. After Novi Sad 2022, Esch2022, Kaunas2022 , Veszprem2023, 2023 Elefsina and Timisoara2023, today we talk about Tartu, European capital of culture 2024.

In 2024, Estonia will host the European Capital of Culture for the second time, after Tallinn in 2011. On the 28th August 2019, Tartu, with the Southern Estonian region, was named as the European Capital of Culture 2024 by the ECoC Expert Commission. The title year is shared with Bad Ischl in Austria (with the Salzkammergut region) and Bodø in Norway (with Nordland county).

Tartu (90.000 inhabitants) comes with its own variety of social life. This city is known for its bohemian vibe as well as for being at the forefront of Estonia’s scientific progress across centuries. Tartu is equally well regarded for its large central park called Toomemägi as well as for quaint cafes and the river Emajõgi that passes through the city.

Here’s where the students and residents meet and mingle. Tartu University was founded in 1632 and hence is one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Theatre performances, concerts, festivals, conferences, and sports events happen all year round, including Hanseatic Days, Rally Estonia and Tartuff, a festival dedicated to romantic films screened on the largest outdoor popup cinema in the Baltics. Tartu is also home to more than 20 museums, including the University Of Tartu Museum, Tartu Toy Museum and a number of art galleries. Aparaaditehas, located in the student town of Tartu, is the hipster epicenter of Tartu and offers a selection of artistic and trendy second-hand gems

"Arts Of Survival" is the leading theme of our Tartu 2024 bid books and their artistic concept. "Arts of Survival" is meant to express the power of the arts in affecting Europe’s future in three larger areas of life: environmentally friendly culture with a focus on real human communication, strong communities and essential skills for living and, indeed, survival in the coming years.

The three main themes where the Arts of Survival come to life are as follows: "Tartu with Earth: Ecology Before Economy", "Tartu with Humanity: Forward to the Roots", "Tartu with Europe: Greater Smaller Cities". Each of these programme lines consists a number of transversal, transnational and transgenerational projects which open up the "Arts of Survival" values.

The interview is with Erni Kask, Programme Coordinator Tartu2024.

1) Why did the city decide to be the European Capital of Culture?

We saw the title of European Capital of Culture as an immense opportunity and a great challenge for Tartu and Southern Estonia. I think our artistic concept Arts of Survival explains best why our city decided to become the European Capital of Culture. The concept deals with the human impact on the escalating climate crisis, aggravated social divisions and mental welfare issues, the struggle of small cities and rural communities for persistence and renewal. These issues are very actual in Europe and the world, but especially important in the context of small and middle size cities like Tartu. We felt that Tartu with Southern Estonia needed the ECoC chance and challenge.

2) What changes are expected for the reference community?

There are many changes we would like to see in Tartu and Southern Estonia. For example, one of our programme lines is titled Tartu with Earth, and with this line we would like to see more ecologically conscious urban and rural culture during the title year and beyond. The Programme line Tartu with Humanity aims to address the problems of the Digital Age. Here, for instance, we would like to have a positive impact on physical and mental health issues. With the programme line Tartu with Europe we wish to highlight local character and bolster critical awareness. We are very ambitious and we hope that with the title everyone is inspired to carry out many positive changes in their lives and communities.

3) What are the three keywords of your cultural program?

During the bidding process we designated three programme criteria that guide our principles to this day. Our programme strives to have cross-sector cooperation, international cooperation and age-inclusive cooperation. This means that different disciplines have to meet in our project e.g mental health and stand up comedy, parties from different countries should come together in our projects and events, and people from different generations should have an opportunity to participate together in our projects and events.

4) What are the main citizen involvement activities?

Our European Capital of Culture is strongly based on community initiative. To give you some historical background, during the bidding process in 2018, Tartu was redefined by a major civic protest against industrial invasion of the riverside of Emajõgi. It was the biggest public protest since regaining Estonian independence. Moreover, we won the title with 19 Southern Estonian municipalities. As you can see, civic engagement is at the core of our activities. Our programme will have citizen involvement activities and community projects. However, as our development process is not yet finished, and unfortunately I cannot reveal any more details. You will have to wait a little bit more.   

5) What do you want to remain after the capital year?

We want to create a new discourse in the cultural and social sphere. That is, I want to see the birth of a new way of thinking, which could translate into many things like, for example, new events that will remain after the title year. I would like to see our title year have a long-term positive impact in our city and region; that people value nature more in humanity, humanity more in arts, arts more in Europe and Europe more in the world. As an aftermath, I would like Tartu to be a true international city of culture. 

Serafino Paternoster

Ecocnews Founder, Journalist, repentant jazz guitarist, music critic and film lover.

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