Estonia’s impresario of culture

  • 2010-07-21
  • Interview by Ella Karapetyan

There are many talented people in the world, though not all of them have reached the highest levels of success in their lives. Having talent is not always enough. Success comes about by hard work, by effort. Laine Janes is one of those unique people who have all these features: she is both talented and a hard-working person. The reward of her efforts is the success she has gained and the great respect and trust she receives among her colleagues.
Janes is a combination of elegance and intelligence. She is a person who has been devoted all her life to music. She has worked as a director of Vanemuine Concert Hall, as well as in the Estonian Academy of Music, where she held the position of head of the Tartu branch. She is an experienced lecturer and teacher, and is currently studying for her doctorate in philosophy and history.

This talented woman is as well working to preserve and support the unique cultural heritage of Estonia. She also helps in developing, acknowledging and promoting Estonia’s fine arts and sports, both in Estonia and abroad.
As a member of the Reform Party, she is one of the most successful and powerful female politicians in Estonia.
Janes found time to sit down with The Baltic Times to discuss her latest achievements, as well as upcoming events and this year’s cultural highlights.

How did you arrive in this position of culture minister, and how long have you been working in it?
I have been working as the Minister of Culture for three years already. I was offered this position in 2007, in April, after I was elected to parliament. Before this I was working as Deputy Mayor of Tartu (2002 - 2004), and from 2004 to 2007 as Mayor of Tartu. At the parliament elections of 2007 I took third place in our republic, after our Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and the mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar. I was very pleased with the results, and even felt proud and happy that people living in Tartu voted for me, that’s to say they have chosen showing great trust in me.

Is it true that you were working as a music teacher?
Yes, that’s true. I have been working as a music teacher for 13 years. I also worked as a concert meister in music school, as well as teacher of choral music literature. I have been teaching the history of music. So I have tried different professions in my career, but whatever I did was connected to culture.

What other occupations have you been in?
I am a world conductor and a founder of my choir. I created it in 1989, and I still work with it. Last autumn we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our choir, it’s a chamber choir which is performing in Tartu. Unfortunately, because of lack of time I am not able to dedicate much time for our rehearsals these days. Recently we are having long hours in rehearsals, but only once a month and mainly on weekends as our choir has to take part in national festivals and different concerts.

For our many foreign readers, what interesting and important cultural events can you point out to be visited when Tallinn becomes European Capital of Culture in 2011?
Well, this will be the biggest cultural event in the history of Estonia. We will have a lot of national and traditional events, some old traditions which we have had for ages and which have become cultural symbols of our country. At the same time we decided to include in our program list some new and innovative projects, different modern activities and some events which are totally new to the public. I think one of the most important highlights of this historic event will be the world-known Estonian Song Festival (Laulupidu), which is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world. It is held every five years in July on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (Lauluvaljak). The tradition of the song festival was born along with the Estonian national awakening. In 2009, there were more than 30,000 participants performing to an audience of 80,000.

However, this time there is going to be a youth festival, in order to best show the world our culture, its history and traditions. The youth festival is going to be launched in Tallinn. We are expecting to receive a vast number of guests, even more than usual. We are planning to have about 25,000 participants from all over Estonia, including different choirs, bands and national dance ensembles. All these events will be carried out by ‘Tallinn 2011 Foundation.’ Many of them will be held in towns and villages and cities all over the country. We decided to combine the song and dance festival in one area, called Song Festival Grounds, which is going to take place in the peak of summer, in July 2011.

What about this year’s cultural program? Are there any special upcoming events?
In December 2010, we will have another not less important event, the 23rd European Film Awards Gala 2010, which will take place in Tallinn on December 4. We will also have other various events in Estonia before Tallinn becomes cultural capital of Europe. The events will be a preview of the main events in 2011; there will be small traditional festivals, a maritime festival dedicated to sea. The main theme of Tallinn 2011 is ‘Stories of the Seashore.’ This is where writers, musicians, artists and actors will tell, paint, sing and act out tales inspired by the sea, speaking of Estonia and its people. The stories will be short and long, modern and ancient, exciting and tragic; most importantly, they will all be genuinely Estonian-like. It’s a new festival which will be launched at the seaside and on the grounds of the Maritime museum, which is under reconstruction right now thanks to European funding. The stories will help to discover and preserve the image of a young Estonia as part of Europe.

Stories give rise to Estonian history as they relate to Europe and the modern world, as well as the face and achievements of the Estonian people. More significantly, however, is the fact that Tallinn’s position as the culture capital will allow these stories to be shared with visitors and those observing the year of cultural celebration from all around the world. The visitors will also see many interesting exhibitions, a variety of expositions of sea plane hangars, so-called float planes and so on, too many to mention here.

What do you think is the key to success? What do you think are the important features, or traits of one’s character in order to be successful in a career?
First of all, I consider that one of the most important factors is belief; one should believe in oneself. Another important factor to achieve success is your relationships with people around you, by this I mean the staff, employees. Understanding and good communication with the staff is already a half way to success. Your attitude to your employees can play a big role in your career, if not a major role. It is important to appreciate their work and their efforts. I do not believe that a person can be successful alone, without a good team. I can say that one of the most important keys to achieve success is a good team and a sense of team spirit. It is very important to be able to notice people around you and be able to appreciate their work, and only in this case will you always have a staff of devoted employees who will support you. This is my own life philosophy; unfortunately, I have noticed that the higher position you hold, the more lonely you are.

How does your previous work experience help you in your current job?
I think that in this case, my profession as a conductor helped me a lot, as it is not only work with hands, but work with a team, a group of people. I have learned how to manage people and their work. I think that all the skills I have from my previous work, as well as previous experience, helps me a lot in my current job. So I have no troubles with any administrative tasks, thanks to this. 

What difficulties is the Ministry facing nowadays?
One of the main problems is the financial problem due to the economic crisis. People who are involved in the cultural sphere always have more ideas than we can budget for. So, the lack in the budget is one of the essential problems for the Ministry in realizing different ideas and cultural projects. This problem has always existed, even before the economic crisis, as cultural people are very creative and, even after realizing some project, they already have new ideas. On one side, culture is an area which seems unprofitable, but on the other hand, due to many cultural events, the country can improve its economic situation. I consider that there is no country without its culture; it cannot exist when culture dies out. If there is no culture, then who are we? That’s why this dilemma between budget and emotions and philosophy has always existed and will, maybe, remain one of the problems in our culture. Pragmatic people often like to say that culture does not bring any profit, and even brings losses. I always ask these people: but how can you get positive emotions without going to theaters, concerts, exhibitions and so on. We feed our soul with culture. It is architecture, books that give us all these positive emotions. I agree that culture is a ‘creative industry’ which brings cultural tourism; foreigners come to Estonia not only to visit the country or see some new events, but at the same time also spend money on souvenirs, hotels, airline tickets and all these factors bring a profit to the country and help to develop tourism.

Do you enjoy your work? Is it difficult for a person from the cultural field to be in this position?
Firstly, I really enjoy my work. This position is close to my heart as it is directly connected to culture, and most of our employees are people from the cultural field, which is a big privilege as they really understand the needs of our artists and what is really important for the culture. I feel good here, as my favorite school subject was mathematics and budget tasks are not difficult for me at all, though some may think that a person from the cultural sphere must have difficulties in calculating budgets and carrying out administrative tasks. They say that math and music are interconnected. Working in the cultural sphere could be quite hard, as you should always try to prove the importance of culture, try to find enough of a  budget for organizing different events and be able to prove that these events are worth taking place. However, this problem exists in many countries today. On the other hand it is difficult to see people who are unhappy and need to be paid more attention; it’s difficult to please these people. On the other hand, I am very glad that I have this position, as it is an interesting job for me.

Have you cut any employees due to the critical financial situation?
Our ministry is quite small. We have about 56 employees working in our ministry and about 10,000 employees working in this sector: people working in museums, art galleries, theaters and libraries, who get their salaries from our ministry, and we had to cut some of them due to the crisis. We tried to reduce salaries, not employees, because it’s better to have less money than to lose your work place. People themselves were ready to receive less money but to keep their positions.

What do you like to do in your leisure time, have you got any hobbies? Is music your hobby or just your lifestyle?
Well, music is my life. It is difficult to call it a hobby. My hobbies are from the cultural sphere; I like knitting, handicrafts, sewing. I am also a theater-goer. Handicrafts and national folklore are most close to my heart. I also like to do sports. I like to walk with the walking stick, though I can’t say that I am a sports fan or am addicted to sports, but I sometimes go to the gym. I like doing aerobics and gymnastics. I am also fond of books. I read a lot when I was younger; I like going to book stores and I always spend all my money on books. I do not have a chance to read much these days as I work a lot, but I hope that when I retire I will have a good chance to read all of them.
What are your long-term plans for the future?
Politics is such a thing that once you get involved in it, it seems impossible to get out of. So, I think that my future will be connected to politics, no matter if I will hold this position or some other one. The future will show, as in the very near future we are going to have elections, in 2011, and I do not want to predict anything. Life will show how it goes. Anyway, I am sure I am going to go on with my career in politics as I have gained much experience, and I think that now I have a good chance to use all my knowledge and experience in my current work for the sake of culture.