Baltic culture Is European culture: spotlight on Tartu and southern Estonia

  • 2024-02-06

The eyes of Europe are firmly on Baltic culture. With Lithuania’s Kaunas having finished its year as the European Capital of Culture in 2022, the torch is being passed to Estonia’s second largest city Tartu. In 2024, a quarter of Estonia will organise the largest cultural event in the country and bring over 1000 events to culture lovers throughout the year. Latvia’s Liepaja is eagerly waiting in the wings for their upcoming stint as the European Capital of Culture in 2027. 

In addition to being a great cultural celebration that draws both local and foreign visitors, the European Capital of Culture title is an opportunity for laying the groundwork for long-term change. The title is given to the city or region for what it wants to be, not what it currently is. When the chance to bid again presented itself, Tartu and Southern Estonia grasped it tightly.

Walking in your neighbour’s footsteps

Now with about two months until the grand opening celebrations on 26 January, the programme of over 1000 events for individuals of all ages has been revealed. The year-long programme in Tartu and Southern Estonia presents the story of the Arts of Survival – the knowledge, skills, and values that will help us lead a good life in the future. As a community, the region wants to share this information while also learning from others.

Perhaps the closest fount of knowledge for Tartu on the road to the European Capital of Culture was its twin city Kaunas. “We observed Kaunas intently and visited them before and during their title year to hear from the people in the centre of action and to get a first-hand experience,” said Tartu 2024 International Relations Manager Erni Kask. “Their shared information and support has been invaluable and now we want to pass it forward to Liepaja as well.”

Made in the Baltics

Baltic themes are strongly represented in the title year programme, as Tartu 2024 wants to remind the wider European audience that Estonian and Baltic culture are also part of European culture. 

“We must remember that our shared European identity needs constant reinventing based on our collective diversity. We see the uniqueness that Estonian and Baltic culture have to offer as indispensable values in these challenging times,” explained Oliver Berg,“Tartu with Europe” Programme Line Manager.

Hence, the cultural offering for 2024 includes Baltic and Estonian Music Days, Baltic Film Days and the Baltic Youth Orchestra Festival in Southern Estonia. Yet the connection does not stop here. Many of the projects in the programme are co-created with artists and creatives from across the border. 

For example, the project Arts of Survival Documentaries  will result in a collection of eight short documentaries showcasing the diversity of Southern Estonia, made by internationally renowned filmmakers like Latvia’s Andris Gauja and Viesturs Kairiss. A collaboration production between the Ugala Theatre and the Valmiera Drama Theatre “Neighbours”, will delight both Estonian and Latvian culture lovers with a fresh play about the love between young people in Estonia and Latvia, inspiring families on both sides to communicate with each other.

A great celebration

Navigating in a programme chock-full of events can be overwhelming, yet highlights throughout the year lead to unforgettable experiences. They include “Kissing Tartu”, a mass kissing event, that aims to bring together thousands to spread the message of love; “Wild Bits”, an open-air exhibition of technological art in the noted tech and art farm Maajaam and “Business as Usual”, an Estonian-Danish joint theatre production based on the Danske bank money laundering scandal.

The world-famous Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda will bring his Solo Exhibition that consists of an installation based on research data from the University of Tartu's Institute of Genomics and a sound installation created in collaboration with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

A new urban nightlife festival “unda” combines an exhibition in the Estonian National Museum with electronic music parties curated by the renowned Tallinn cultural club, HALL. Furthermore, a collaboration between Concerto Copenhagen and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir will bring the music of Georg Friedrich Händel and the Estonian composer Arvo Part to the stage.

The grand opening of the European Capital of Culture year in Estonia will take place in Tartu on 26 January 2024. The spectacle “All Becomes One” on the banks of the River Emajogi will showcase the interconnectedness of people, regions and eras through images, movement and music.