The grim reality is that our rich heritage is, essentially, being quietly destroyed each day – there is no need for a war to take place for this to happen. As a solution, the Ministry of Culture has prepared an efficiency plan to give to museums, which, in addition to amending the Museums Act CHECK, also includes provisions for establishing heritage repositories, culture minister Tiit Terik (Center) reports.
Museums both preserve the heritage of the past and enrich our present, telling our story to the Estonian people and to visitors alike. It is very likely that noone has noticed the changes that have taken place in many Estonian museums in recent years, however.
The type of ownership is not important; development relates to the state, local government and smaller, private museums. Instead of one-of-a-kind display cases or a permanent exhibit extracted from the teeth of time, visitors are received through well thought-out displays of the different ages. So many of our museums have gained international recognition, after rethinking the concept and renewing the exhibition.
All of this makes up a very important outward-looking face in the day-to-day running of museums. As with many things, this shiny coin has its flip side, which doesn't stand out on a daily basis, but which also deserves equal attention.
The question of the long-term preservation of museums remains unresolved.
Keeping museums in the necessary conditions without the necessary conditions often in hazardous spaces means that museums cannot fulfill their main task of ensuring the preservation of cultural values.
However, with each destroyed museum, a part of Estonia's cultural heritage, our memory, is permanently lost.
There are 4.3 million museum objects within the state-owned museum collections, most of which are not visible to visitors because they are located in repositories. However, those storage facilities, which have been specially adapted and are partly located in wooden houses, do not bring the necessary conditions for the long-term preservation of museum property.
The war in Ukraine has, of course, highlighted other aspects which need to be considered when archiving. The sad reality, however, is that, in essence, our rich heritage is quietly being destroyed every day, and there is no need for a war to achieve this.
In order to resolve this situation, the Ministry of Culture has prepared an efficiency plan for museums, one which provides for the establishment of heritage repositories in addition to amending the Museums Act.
For some years now, there have been plans to build two of these heritage repositories – one in northern Estonia and the other in South Estonia – which would also act as a competence center for preservation, conservation and digitization.
The first step has already been taken; the real estate is present. From here going forward, while it will be a costly process that will take many years, it should start. No investment has been made into existing storage facilities in recent years. If the goal is for collections to move to new repositories in 2029, for example, the design process should start now.
Naturally there may be many critical questions; is it reasonable to consolidate the estate of two repositories? In terms of decentralization, existing repositories at museums could be modernized, but there are several arguments against this.
The economic dimension is certainly important for such a large investment. Calculations have shown that constructing a proper repository at each museum would be more than twice as expensive as a joint repository, and would also have a larger negative environmental footprint. But not only that. As already mentioned, these would also act as a center of excellence and help to protect the heritage in the event of an emergency, as the manager of the evacuation area and packaging material.
The dispersion of heritage will be largely preserved, because in addition to the two joint heritage repositories, the heritage items would be stored in Kumu – the Museum of Modern Art, in Tallinn, at the Estonian National Museum (ERM) in Tartu and in the repository of the Estonian History Museum in Maarjamäe, Tallinn, as well as on Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, not to mention the collections of municipal and private museums all over Estonia, of which there are more than a hundred and which are not planned to be brought to common repositories as a whole.
Much of the information about our past relates to the physical objects that museums amass, study, catalogue, and present. A safe heritage also helps our nation and country to survive. Through our culture, we are bigger and more visible in the world.
Public broadcaster ERR also falls under the Ministry of Culture's remit.
Editor: Andrew Whyte