The Estonian Ministry of Culture plans to reorganize the way operating subsidies for museums are awarded. The new system will enable an increase in the range of potential beneficiaries, with applications for funding able to be submitted every three years.
According to Merilin Piipuu, undersecretary for cultural heritage at the Ministry of Culture, the biggest change in the funding system is increased clarity. "The principles will remain similar to the way they have been, but the system will become clearer. There will be a transparent calculation (system) based on points," Piipuu said.
When deciding on how to allocate funding, numerical indicators such as the number of visitors to a particular museum, along with its size and activities, will all be taken into account under the new approach.
The amount of financial support earmarked for museums will not change with the introduction of the new methodology, provided the budget for each round of funding and the number of applicants also remain the same. In other words, museums which have been receiving state support up to now, should not see large reductions in funding.
According to Piipuu, the new model has been developed over a period of three or four years in cooperation with the museums themselves. Negotiations have also been held in recent weeks. "This is a proposal that has been created together, about how to finance museums. On the one hand it considers the need for clarity and transparency, while on the other hand they can continue with their good work," she said.
Number of museums receiving funding remains relatively stable
While previously museums had to submit new applications for funding each year, going forward, they will only have to do so once every three years. However, this also means that if a museum is not given state support, the next opportunity for it to apply will not be until three years later.
When new museums are added to the list of grant recipients, the size of grants provided to other museums may decrease proportionally. In the draft bill's explanatory memorandum, he Ministry of Culture states, that the number of applicants for and recipients of state support has been relatively stable over the last five years and is expected to stay the same going forward.
Piipuu said, that according to its cultural strategy, the Estonian state is not aiming creating more museums. However in order for the ecosystem of the field to continue functioning, one way or another, there have to be more from time to time.
However, this is more likely to happen in the form of citizens' initiatives, through local governments or, for example, as foundations.
"On the one hand, I hope that there will be more of them, however it is clear that state funding is limited. We have to use these resources very carefully. On the one hand, to preserve the heritage we already have and on the other hand, to keep it alive," Piipuu said.
Financing maintenance of museum collections is most important issue
One of the most important aspects of museum financing is the maintenance of museum collections. "Collections belong to the state and museums manage them so that they are preserved and passed on to future generations. From that position, we can discuss the activities and how many visitors there are, as well as how many of these collections are exhibited or how many educational programs there are," explained Piipuu.
According to Piipuu, a fall in the metric, which are taken into account when deciding funding, such as the number of visitors, would not mean that museums losing out on funds needed to maintain their collections. In such cases, one-off booster event could come to the rescue and help their applications.
"If things are not going so well, then usually some form of developmental leap is needed. Perhaps it is a new permanent exhibition that would bring visitors to the building, the development of educational programs or some marketing activities for which there has been no money allocated," she said.
According to Piipuu, it is also important that museums are popular with visitors and museum visitor numbers in Estonia have been among the highest in Europe in recent years .
Editor: Michael Cole