New ERM director: Exhibitions and research have been overshadowed by events
In December, Kertu Saks will take over as the new director of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) after previous director Alar Karis was elected president of Estonia. In an interview to ERR, Saks said she wants the museum wants to go back to being more of a museum.
Why did you decide to run for this position?
Primarily because visitor environments and museums have been my fields for nearly 20 years, even before I went to the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (in 2016 - ed). What can I say, my heart wants to get back to creating exhibitions and thinking of themes in an environment where I can do my work creatively.
I also have a very deep personal interest for cultural history and domestic culture. I have researched it, designed exhibitions on it and written books about it. It seemed like the right time to implement the knowledge and skills I have.
What can improve in ERM, what could be different?
The Estonian National Museum has operated as a dignified institution and you can certainly not go and arrange a revolution or change the foundational principles. But what I have noticed as a bystander is that the museum's main activities - exhibitions and research - have been overshadowed by the events the museum organizes. It seems to me like we know too little of the museum's collections, which are kept very well in that new building. I would like to introduce them a little more, along with the research ERM does as an institution.
It is no less important that ERM, as one of the symbolic buildings of Tartu, could be one of the centers of the culture capital 2024 campaign. We must certainly think of a plan of exhibitions and activities that allows ERM to be a part of it.
These are my first thoughts.
What to do with the ruins of Raadi manor, the museum's previous host building?
It has been discussed and the Ministry of Culture has expressed desire to create a shared storage space, where our museums could store their collections at a modern level. There have also been arguments that this manor, which burned down during World War II, should be restored. These ruins are proper ruins, restoring something like this reminds me of the historic downtown district of Warsaw, which was built back up after being completely destroyed in World War II. It would be that kind of undertaking.
We must consider arguments for and against here, but I am more in favor of progress in the sense of not being stuck in the value of the ruins, but rather seeing if they could offer a new function to culture, which a storage space could be.
Heated arguments are going on in the city of Tartu over the location of a cultural center. What is your position as the next director of ERM? The Tartu art museum should also move to the cultural center, but should museums be located in the town center, or should the cultural center be developed on the outskirts of the city? Maybe near the national museum?
Both options are good. I would also like there to be more cultural institutions near ERM, that is why the idea of storage speaks to me. The Tartu art museum could be situated in the cultural center, as it is not only meant to be an art museum, but its concept is similar to that of the Oodi library in Helsinki, which is a place to spend time culturally.
I have been to Oodi multiple times and have found the concept interesting. They are in the middle of the city, it is comfortable to go to and young people have found it. I do not know how it has been during the coronavirus period, but there were 10,000 people a day before it, using the institution to arrange meetings and think. Younger people would hang around, sat together and charged their smart devices. It was a place to meet. Tartu would certainly win if there was such a location downtown.
But you do not see that as competition for the national museum?
I actually do not want to see any competition in culture. There is certainly enough space for more than one cultural institution in Estonia and its cities. I will point out an example from when I was the head of the Energy Discovery Center. I was often asked why we need it, Tartu already had [Science Center] Ahhaa, why do we need so many? Our researchers always had a response ready: You might as well ask why Tartu needs [theater] Vanemuise if Tallinn already has Estonia.
We need these cultural temples and it would create more synergy and cooperation opportunities. I do not think the focus should be on competitiveness.
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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste