Vaba Lava theater taking culture ministry to court over funding

Vaba Lava in Narva.
Vaba Lava in Narva. Source: PRess materials.

Vaba Lava, operator of two theaters, one in Tallinn and one in the eastern border town of Narva, is challenging the Ministry of Culture in the courts over the level of support it has received, claiming that the ministry has underestimated the value of Estonian-language theater.

Vaba Lava says that the theater will be unable to keep both sites running with the current figure of €350,000 that the ministry has allocated.

Märt Meos, Vaba Lava's director, says that the theater rejects the state's assessment of Vaba Lava's cultural and regional value, which it did ahead of determining support levels, and says that the theater wants to establish via the courts that it is deserving of more funding.

Meos said: "In terms of regional importance, Vaba Lava is among the lowest-placed; at 17th, [place] we are one of the worst, according to this criterion."

Vaba Lava had asked for €500,000 in support for this year, not least because the Narva site is clearly of regional importance, Meos argued.

"Obviously, it is a bit absurd if a small theater should start arguing about whether or not Narva is regionally important."

The first language of the vast majority of Narva's inhabitants is Russian.

Vaba Lava received pandemic-related support and other subsidization from the state on several occasions in the past, in real terms, support has declined as the one-off types of support have been removed, Meos said.

"The basic support was increased this year, but the one-offs disappeared and we will generally receive 40 percent less support than in 2019," Meos said.

Taaniel Raudsepp, undersecretary for arts at the culture ministry, told ERR that while he could not comment on the details of Vaba Lava's complaint before the trial took place, conceded that so far as legislation goes, what is meant by the criterion of regional significance is unclear.

Members of expert committees have a considerable amount of leeway in making the call, he noted.

At the same time, Raudsepp disputed Meos' claim of a 40-percent fall in state support for Vaba Lava overall for this year, putting the figure, at least in operating support, at 60 percent higher than a year ago.

Raudsepp expressed hope that the dispute will help clarify financial support systems for the heater, adding that the litigation was nothing exceptional.

Märt Meos said that the theater will continue to be able to operate through to the end of the litigation via the help of private donations.

The theater closed its doors temporarily last autumn, citing financial difficulties resulting from the Covid pandemic, and said near the end of last year that it had funds sufficient to last to the end of January.

Vaba Lava, literally "free stage", had sought support from both the state and the city of Narva even prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, proving successful in the first of these.

The theater's Tallinn venue is located in the Telliskivi Creative Hub (Loomelinnak).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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