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Song festival grounds wants €400,000 support, over half for visitor center

The Song Festival Grounds saw some use during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, in this case as a drive-in venue.
The Song Festival Grounds saw some use during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, in this case as a drive-in venue. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (Lauluväljak) requires around €400,000 in state support, the venue's foundation says, including funds needed to construct a visitor center as well as for combating the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Culture minister Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) notes the importance of the grounds and its activities, but says money for a visitor center specifically may not be forthcoming.

The Song Festival Grounds' request is largely aimed at mitigating the on-going effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the Song Festival Grounds, which saw several major events there canceled. 

Urmo Saareoja, Song Festival Grounds Director, says €200,000 in state support plus a similar figure from the City of Tallinn is required, over half of which would go towards constructing a visitor center following the relocation of the Popular Front (Rahvarinne) museum to the grounds' main building, with a view to it being up and running next year. 

The People's Front was a political organisation in Estonia in the late 1980s and early 1990s whose formation was inter-twined with the singing revolution and the drive towards Estonian independence. 

From mid-March, most major 2020 events were canceled at the Song Festival Grounds – the venue's primary earner – including planned concerts featuring rock legends such as Rammstein and Judas Priest, as well as singer Michael Bolton. 

"Since the income earned from serving upevents makes up approximately 94 percent of the Song Festival Grounds's income from its activities, and is the main activity of the foundation, the unexpected crisis affected us very strongly," Saareoja said. 

Despite efforts to improve financial results, its income fell by 80 percent in the wake of the crisis and it is still not viable to organize and plan for events on the scale of the major international acts looking ahead. 

Tõnis Lukas, culture minister, said that while the Song and Dance Festival, held every five years, is the bread and butter of the grounds in terms of tradition, requiring a salary support component in the upcoming state udget and therefore extra money, and while developments like the visitor center are important, the latter is a separate question which is not set in stone in terms of support.

"Whether the visitor center is now the most important thing for the preservation of the song festival tradition, one which requires money, is a matter for further discussion, but it is clear that the state must find money for various investments related to the song festival and the song festival grounds in the future," Lukas said.

The last Song and Dance Festival took place in July 2019.

Urmo Saareoja said the visitor center would showcase both the grounds and the history of song festivals – including the so-called singing revolution which presaged Estonian independence from the late 1980s onwards – and would be relevant to all age groups.

The visitor center would cost around €250,000 to build, he estimates, plus another €150,000 needed to improve existing services such as interior features, security systems, toilets, and displays.

He wage subsidy scheme introduced in April by the government and chaneled via the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) has been used up, and expense and staffing cuts have already been made, Saareoja wrote in a letter to Tõnis Lukas, meaning additional support was needed for 2021.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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