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High electricity prices not forcing cultural institutions to close doors

Tiit Terik
Tiit Terik Source: ERR/ Hege-Lee Paiste

Minister of Culture Tiit Terik (Center) told radio show 'Reporteritund' that for the most part the ministry has an overview of how cultural institutions - theaters, museums, exhibitions and concert halls - are doing in terms of increased heating and electricity bills, and although some are more complicated than others, there are no closures due to rising costs.

Terik noted that while the situation of foundations and agencies established by the state is known in detail to the Ministry of Culture through several channels, they have a somewhat less detailed overview of the institutions owned by local governments.

"The most difficult situation is for cultural organizers, who are privately owned and have no one to look at their older siblings, as in the case of our foundations, the Ministry of Culture can stand up for them or the local government can. The big picture is how the institutions are doing," Terik said.

Compared with the planned energy consumption of state-owned institutions by 2021 and what it turned out to be at the end of the year, the Tammsaare House Museum in Vargamäe, for example, had to pay 80 percent more for its energy bills than planned.

"But numerically the figure is somewhere around €2,200. The percentage is high in itself, but the sum not so much," Terik added. "But if we take the energy-intensive Tehvandi sports center, their costs will be more than €130,000 higher than planned."

He added that, as far as they know, no institution has to close its doors because they cannot cope with energy costs. "Here the state has implemented various measures." However, he noted that what the state has compensated has depended on the energy contract of each institution.

The building of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) in Raadi, on the outskirts of Tartu, is managed by Riigi Kinnisvara AS, who say they have no problems with energy costs. Speaking about whether handing over the buildings and utility contracts of cultural institutions to Riigi Kinnisvara would be a solution, Terik noted that this is essentially correct.

"In their case, this electricity bill may not reach the museum site. If we talk about the large building of the Estonian National Museum in Raadi, they will not see this electricity bill - the electricity seller will send it to Riigi Kinnisvara AS and it will be cleared from there," Terik said.

"This does not mean that the state will receive the bill more cheaply. But it is up to the Ministry of Finance to organize it through Riigii Kinnisvara. We still have to pay."

Sirje Helme, the director of the ERM, which unites the five museums, said that it was completely against the officials' recommendation that museums should increase their own income.

"We always talk about the importance of Estonian culture. This talk doesn't always get there and it seems to me that we should be even more elitist, even though we are being accused of elitism."

Helme noted that it would undoubtedly be possible to do all sorts of things in the museum's premises, but that he would not be able to sew clothes, for example, in the museum's premises. "I don't think that's right, because there are certain missions, goals, why a museum exists at all. Raising money with it is very superficial thinking, if not worse."

However, she noted that with all price increases, they raised prices slightly, but not for educational programs. "It's a symbolic price increase. Some museums are rising, some aren't. Even if the ticket price is raised, it's very small for everything else. But no doubt every euro affects museum visitors."

Speaking about own income, Terik said that if we compare museums with theaters, the share of own income in the budget is smaller in the budget - museum tickets are cheaper than in theaters. Terik stated that the head of any institution will probably not raise the ticket price lightly.

"Also because culture needs to be accessible. That people, regardless of their income, should still be able to go to the theater, concert and museum to get positive emotions in difficult times."

Vello Ojamäe, the head of the Estonian National Opera, said that since they still had an electricity contract with a fixed price until the end of December, heating prices have risen drastically. Whereas a year ago they had to pay €18,000 for heating, now the figure is €42,000. "It's already painful," he said. He stated that this €30,000 had remained in the previous financial year and that he would have to cover everything from his own resources.

"We have made the new budget a little more cautious and considering the costs, we already know - the heating price will rise in February as well, Utilitas already had a 19 percent increase."

Ojamäe stated that the Estonian National Theater has never had too much money and has spent it lightly.

Speaking about the situation in theaters, Terik said that no one has to close their doors. "It's definitely not that dark of a situation. But the factors that affect theater budgets are different." He confirmed that if the Ministry of Culture has already established foundations to ensure the security of cultural supply in different parts of Estonia, they will certainly help the institutions.

"We hope that local governments can do the same with their own cultural institutions."

Speaking about testing, Terik said that in light of the new information, they do not see much point in testing. "As far as the use of the coronavirus certificate is concerned, whether or not people are classified as infectious and whether the health risk to vaccinated or non-vaccinated is an important indicator of accessibility, we no longer see that today."

In the opinion of the U.K. and Finland, the coronavirus certificate could therefore be removed when deciding on the accessibility of culture.

Speaking about the possibilities to limit electricity and heating, Heiki Pagel, the head of the real estate department of the University of Tartu, said that they had not approached the situation so drastically that they would have started to reduce the temperature in the houses.

"But of course, every institute and unit can review its work in such a way as to be as economical and economical as possible. But we would start banning something, leaving it out or putting out lights, we haven't gone there yet."

Pagel stated that one of the most important support measures for such a large building as the University of Tartu Library is the solar panels that are planned to be installed on the roof of the library. "These are expected to have a significant impact on the cost of electricity in the library."

Although private cultural operators can receive support from the cultural capital, they usually have to manage on their own. At the same time, Terik pointed out that both private cultural operators and local governments and state agencies have received support within the framework of crisis aid.

"Looking back on the past two difficult years, the Ministry of Culture's view of crisis aid has gone to culture and sports in the order of €70 million. In fact, the state has directly supported the sector with €70 million in distribution. "

This year, the Ministry of Culture has another €2.8 million to distribute crisis aid, which was left over from the previous year.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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