Cash-strapped museums irritated by €100,000 grant to new private museum

Pop Art Museum in the Rotermann Quarter
Pop Art Museum in the Rotermann Quarter Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Culture awarded Linnar Viik's private museum, PoCo, which opened its doors in Tallinn on Tuesday, a grant of €100,000. The decision raises concerns for cash-strapped museums that will not receive additional funding.

PoCo's primary exhibition is based on Viik's personal art collection and the museum highlights its role as a private art museum. The new 2,000-square-meter exhibition space in the Rotermann Quarter features approximately 300 contemporary pop art pieces.

Kadi Kesküla, the director of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM), said that she is pleased to see a new addition to the Estonian art scene, but she is disappointed by the Ministry of Culture's decision to award a €100,000 grant to a private museum.

"A few weeks ago, we had a meeting at the Ministry of Culture where we tried to come to terms with the country's difficult financial situation. Our museum has been applying for additional funding for years: we have a huge building without a heating system, not to mention other issues such as content production, etc. At this meeting with the officials, we tried to understand and to accept the gravity of the situation; we will meet again in August to review the situation," she said.

Kesküla said that a €100,000 grant is a large sum for an art museum.

"It is wonderful that there is a new player in the art field, but for those of us who have been sharing very limited opportunities for many years — and I am not just talking about the EKKM, but also the Tartu Art House, all the galleries of the Artists' Union and the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design (ETDM), all of which are struggling — it seemed incomprehensible," Kesküla said.

According to the ministry, this is a one-time start-up grant to help the museum to get started, while the museum itself is an excellent example of private finance.

"One of the ministry's long-term goals is to promote a culture of giving and attract private money to the development of the cultural sector," a ministry spokesperson said.

The decision was prepared under Hartman, approved by Purga

The decision to award the grant was approved by Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) on June 8, and the process began during Piret Hartman's (SDE) term.

Harman said that arts undersecretaries and other experts were involved in the decision-making process.

Viik approached the ministry with the intention of opening the museum at the end of last year and Hartman met with him at the start of this year. Then, Viik submitted a funding request to the government, and on April 19, a committee convened to make a funding decision.

Pop Art Museum in the Rotermann Quarter Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

According to Hartman, the museum's owner sought support from the city and private sector for a long time. Viik anticipated primarily covering the costs of establishing the museum, as the museum itself would be responsible for covering further operational expenses.

Hartman said that when she met with Viik, no details about how the money would be spent were in place. "We talked in principle about whether the Ministry of Culture would be willing to come to the rescue, and at that point, the main focus was to get the museum open, buy the necessary lamps, and create the conditions for the museum to open," she explained.

According to her, the ministry's contribution was less than that of the private sector and Viik's own finances. "If I'm not mistaken, he said that the necessary expenditure for this is around €300,000."

Regarding criticisms of other museums, Hartman said that the ministry has often intervened in emergency situations, such as when the EKKM's roof collapsed. "We decided to support the Pop and Contemporary Art Museum (PoCo) because this seed money brings additional resources into the field and develop entrepreneurship," she explained.

Hartman said it is understandable for other organizations in the sector to criticize the decision, and that she understands the situation of cultural institutions and organizations.

The museum applied for €280,000 funding from the ministry

Merilin Piipuu, the undersecretary for cultural heritage at the Ministry of Culture, said that the ministry has long been aware of the museum's concept. However, the decision to grant the museum money was made after the application was submitted. The decision-making committee evaluates each application separately, she added.

The application submitted to the ministry was higher than the grant awarded: €280,000.

"We are certainly concerned about the lack of funding in the cultural sector, but this cannot prevent us from launching new initiatives. Culture is a dynamic sector, with new projects and initiatives constantly emerging. The ministry attempts to assist them as much as possible, but we must also examine, analyze and question where support could be withdrawn to make room for new initiatives. This is a normal aspect of the cultural sector's operation," Piipuu said. 

Pop Art Museum in the Rotermann Quarter Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

She said that it is possible to apply for a one-time funding for various initiatives from a special funding round. The Minister of Culture's signature appears on all the decisions, but the granting of the subsidy is not a ministerial decision, she said.

Every funding decision is based on procedures and regulations. In this instance, the decision was made by a committee of experts from the Ministry of Culture who meet once a month to review one-off and exceptional funding decisions, she explained.

Piipuu said one of the most compelling arguments in favor of the new museum was that it would generate indirect tax revenue. "If we are talking about the employees who are recruited there or the visitors who buy tickets, not to mention the fact that this institution has the potential to be a tourist destination in its own right; in other words, to attract people to visit Estonia."

Viik sees no reason to refrain from applying for money

According to the museum's founder, Linnar Viik, PoCo does not intend to remain dependent on public funding, but he sees no reason why a museum operating as a foundation should not apply for it. He said that other art institutions in Estonia could also diversify their funding sources.

"Since a private museum is an unusual concept I have established the PoCo Foundation, whose mission is to present, disseminate and introduce Estonian pop art to a wider audience. It serves the public interest and is a non-profit organization, Viik explained.

He said that the museum was able to open with an investment of €800,000 despite initial estimates of €1 million. "I have made every effort to raise this amount from as many sources as possible," he said, adding that the museum's creation was also supported by many individuals and businesses.

According to Viik, the museum should be able to break on its own: through admission revenues, art programs and events management, as well as merchandise sales. "However, in order to develop new and exciting programs, we will invite exciting Estonian artists to work on their projects at the museum, and if possible, we will seek additional public funding for this purpose."

Viik has also approached the city of Tallinn but has not received any financial support from the city. He said, however, that he is open to a possible future collaboration with the municipality. "I am confident that I will be able to secure further EU and regional grants, as well as funds and opportunities from other countries, to bring even better and even bolder pop art to Tallinn, to show it to local audiences and to create events that also attract worldwide attention," he said.

Other museums' criticism of the Culture Ministry's funding decision prompted Viik to suggest that Estonian museums should broaden their focus and think how to attract visitors and donors.

"Having undertaken it myself, I know how difficult it is. However, if you do everything properly and with enthusiasm, you will receive support. I believe that every museum owner, board and management should share this passion, effort and focus to the extent that at least 50 percent of their budget should be earned outside of state or public funds, and ideally 70 to 75 percent."

Pop Art Museum in the Rotermann Quarter Source: Priit Mürk/ERR


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Kristina Kersa

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