Organizations with long traditions get more Culture Ministry funding than new players, says Ott Karulin, editor in chief of culture weekly Sirp, while the clash between the camps is what leads to "good art."
"If you ask whether the Soviet era gave us a system of institutions that is too big for our current needs, then I would in some sense say, yes it did," Karulin said on the ETV program "Kahekõne."
"If you look at the Culture Ministry budget, most of the funds go for maintaining the institutions with long traditions. The question arises: is there enough funding to support what is new and that which isn't historically tried-and-true?"
Karulin's own paper, Sirp, was flung into the center of a similar debate late last year. Sirp, which incidentally gets its name from the Soviet-era Sirp ja Vasar (Sickle and Hammer), was seen by some as being as not innovative enough. A new interim editor, Kaur Kender, was appointed, but many old-guard intellectuals criticized him for not having the right literary credentials.
Karulin, a theater scholar, said that for many, the scandal blurred the boundaries of games and reality. In a piece he penned recently, he viewed the shakeup as a "cultural performance" and the appointment of a new editor as a "ritual."
But, if it fulfilled the role of a performance, he dismissed suggestions that the conflict was staged by the Reform Party as a power move.
"But what should the result have been, in that case? If it was meant as a really huge marketing campaign, wasn't it a waste of resources? Was it even worth the sacrifice of a minister?" he told host Indrek Treufeldt.
Speaking more generally about culture, he said that fresh blood was what kept things moving forward.
"In culture, I believe the motivating force is intruders who call into question the existing system. Then the ones in the system start defending themselves. Interesting questions and conflicts arise and in general it leads to good art."
Karulin is among those who took part in the drafting of a strategy called "Cultural Policy up to 2020," now being discussed in Parliament.
He said the document clears up many issues. One example, said Karulin, is whether everyone who wants to be engaged in art should have equal access or whether the priority should be on whether everyone who wants to enjoy art should have the opportunity to do so.
"If we transpose this issue into the theater world - do we support all repertory theaters located in various towns or support the theaters giving performances in those towns in different counties. This is a fundamental question. The ministry has felt that both can be done at the same time. The document also tries to provide for both but as a cultural theorist, I argue that you have to pick one or another, not both at the same time."
Another change is that the document terms people who enjoy culture "participants," not "consumers."
"This is a cultural policy choice - do you call them consumers, which is more of a right-wing view, or equal partners with whom interaction doesn't take place according to the rules of market economy?There were long meetings about the choice of words and I consider it a victory."