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Estonian National Museum hosts opening gala ahead of Oct. 1 opening

The original Estonian flag from 1884 was moved to its permanent future home at the new Estonian National Museum. Sept. 15, 2016.
The original Estonian flag from 1884 was moved to its permanent future home at the new Estonian National Museum. Sept. 15, 2016. Source: (Aili Vahtla/Private library)

The Estonian National Museum, 107 years in the making and a decade in the building, hosted its opening gala in the northern Tartu district of Raadi on Thursday night. While the museum only opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 1, Thursday's well-attended gala, interwoven by an Ivar Põllu and Gerda Kordemets production based on the museum's permanent exhibition on Estonian culture, gave attendees and the media alike a preview of what's in store for museum visitors.

According to museum director Tõnis Lukas, the Estonian National Museum (ERM) not only got a new building on Thursday, but the museum's role had changed as well — the museum, with its 6,000 square meters, or nearly 65,000 square feet, of exhibition space, could now be considered a storehouse of confidence for the Estonian people. Lukas also said that upon the opening of its doors, ERM will be the best, most modern and most interesting museum in the world, reported ETV's nightly news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera."

"This meant a huge effort on the part of all of my colleagues and I am very grateful to all ERM employees," Lukas continued. "We have had thousands of details and a few problems. But now all that is left is one problem — and that is how to adequately thank those who have been involved with this. There are truly hundreds and thousands of them."

Kristel Rattus, the curator of one of the museum's permanent exhibits, "Encounters," said that the new ERM is a so-called "everyday museum," whose aim is to tell personal and less well-known stories.

"That has been one of our fundamental wishes — to exhibit various cultural and social groups and to give the personal chance to speak to as many different individuals as possible so that they could tell their story in their own words," explained Rattus.

Ilves: Debt of gratitude has finally been paid

In his speech at the opening gala on Thursday, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that a debt of gratitude has finally been paid before all those for whom the survival of Estonians' culture and language has been a passion and who helped lay the foundations for their independent existence — naming, among others, legendary individuals such as Jakob Hurt, Oskar Kallas, Villem Reiman, Jaan Tõnisson, Kristjan Raud and Johann Eisen.

"Alongside them are a countless number of people who with their collection work and voluntary and inspiring activities helped create content for our own museum over one hundred years ago already," said Ilves, adding that the ERM had its own home thanks also to those who, even in the darkest and most difficult of times, kept Estonia alive and gave stength to Estonians' hope.

"This museum and this building here in Raadi have been created in honor of the Estonian people and land — in honor of our self-awareness and independent existence," said the country's outgoing president. "The founding of this building did indeed take a long time, just like a number of other decisions here in Estonia, but certainly it became all the more dignified and even spirited [as a result]."

ERM website's foreign-language pages to be delayed by at least one month

While ERM has made a point to be accessible for all of the country's residents, including its Russian-speaking population, by including multilingual displays which will eventually be capable of including more than just its current Estonian, Russian and English-language info, the website's homepage is curently only available in Estonian.

According to ERM public relations manager Kaarel Tarand, the site's foreign-language pages will go online as soon as possible, but likely not within the next month. "First we will do the English-language page, and then we'll see what order we go in after that — Finnish, Russian and so on," explained Tarand. "They definitely will not be as content rich as the Estonian-langage page, as some info is useless for foreigners."

The PR manager explained that as an executor of tasks outlined in the preamble of the Constitution, ERM is an institution tht is first and foremost dedicated to the serving, education and enlightenment of the Estonian people, which is why their first priority has been getting everything ready for Estonians.

The museum's activities aimed at foreign markets are slated to be launched next year, and according to Tarand, ERM will try to cooperate with at least Tartu's, but hopefully all of Estonia's bigger museums as well as with Enterprise Estonia, as they believe that ERM could make up a considerable portion of the country's broader national marketing efforts.

"It is difficult to make predictions about foreign tourists, as this will rely a great deal upon cooperation with tourism firms with whom we haven't yet been able to conclude longer and more thorough agreements," he explained. Tarand said that that they expect the most Finns to visit the museum initially, noting that at least three groups of Finns are to be expected on ERM's opening day already. "Considerable interest exists in Latvia as well, at least judging by media interest so far," he added.

"Another factor of interest here is an international niche interest in the building as a piece of architecture and thankfully for us the building's own architects are very talented marketers who have drawn wider attention to ERM in a number of countries," said Tarand. "Both the French and Japanese media were present in Tartu yesterday as well, for example."

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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