Culture ministry to axe funding for aviation museum

An exhibit at the Estonian Aviation Museum near Tartu.
An exhibit at the Estonian Aviation Museum near Tartu. Source: ERR

The Ministry of Culture is set to suspend funding the Estonian Aviation Museum (Eesti Lennundusmuuseum) on the grounds of it not constituting, in the ministry's assessment, a real museum. The museum, near Tartu, gets the majority of its funding from the private sector.

The Ministry of Culture had been supporting the Aviation Museum with €25,000 per year, nearly a tenth of the museum's budget. The bulk of the latter comes from business and sponsorship.

Museum founder Mati Meos told ERR that sponsors regularly support summer flight days.

"When it goes well, the weather is beautiful, and there are enough people, it's possible to save up for investment," Meos added.

This investment usually means an addition of an exhibition piece to the existing collection of 24 planes and four helicopters.

Meos has asked for a larger amount - a €170,000 subsidy in order to hire appropriate personnel for the museum. Currently, the museum has two summer employees and the Meos himself. "The only employees are the summer maintenance master and a cashier," Meos said.

Before Christmas, the ministry informed Meos that the support for the museum will be removed entirely.

Plane maintenance service provider Magnetic MRO, which has reported a profit of €70 million, sent a letter of concern to the ministry.

The CEO of the company, Risto Mäeots, said that the growth of employees is extremely important.

"The aviation museum is an important backbone where influencing and directing young people to work with their hands, carry out production, design and maintenance starts," Mäeots said.

Is the aviation museum a real museum?

The head of the Culture ministry's cultural values department Mihkel Kaevats said that that Mati Meos is running a very interesting business, but added that there are certain rules when distributing public money. Strictly speaking, the hangars established at the facility, in Kastre municipality, do not constitute a museum, he said.

"A museum is a facility, which collects, preserves, studies and mediates an area or another, which is somehow related to Estonia," Kaevats said and explained that when the facility doesn't meet the conditions, it can't be supported as a museum. He said that science is not done in the museum and there are issues with managing the collections.

"Already in 2020, the heritage protection board did administrative supervision where several significant shortcomings were detected in managing the collections. Precepts have been issued, but they haven't been met."

The problem isn't that the planes aren't taken care of, but the concerns are documentation, labeling, undone inventory and other technical aspects.

Meos admitted that there definitely are problems, but the main issue is behind the lack of labor force. Researchers and personnel dealing with documents can't be hired without a subsidy.

"I know by heart where one or another thing is," Meos said. "But to do inventory for the form, I don't have that kind of a time."

The ministry's documents state that for receiving the subsidy, the field of action must be important for the national culture. Kaevats noted that most of the planes in the museum are not really related to Estonia.

"No other country will exhibit or study Estonia's history, technical history," Kaevats said.

Meos said that most of Estonia's aviation history was destroyed with the advent of the Soviet occupation.

Already a year ago, the ministry planned to reduce the museum's funding by €10,000. The then Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) weighed the decision and €25,000 was paid out, but the state added expectations.

"Not only technology should be collected, but also documents, photos, memories and other material, which would make up a wholesome picture of Estonia's aviation history," the ministry announced.

"It's written in their application that even everyday expenses or salaries can be covered, but at the same time, they're buying expensive exhibits," Kaevats noted. "I believe it's possible to find a balance there."

"Meos doesn't agree with the ministry's vision. "An aviation museum without helicopters and planes isn't an aviation museum."

Mäeots: When the state doesn't care, we can invest somewhere else

Kaevats repeated that Meos is doing some appreciable work, but the funding needs to be sought from somewhere else. Kaevats recommended looking to aviation sector companies for that purpose.

Risto Mäeots noted their company already supports the museum. However, the contribution of the state is also important, he said.

"I think our further investments in Estonia depend on how much the state wants and cares about this industry. Otherwise, we have no point in further developing the whole area," Mäeots said.

Mäeots said that the company is planning an investment of approximately €26 million within the territory of Tallinn Airport.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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