Ministry wants to turn five state museums into foundations

Viljandi Museum.
Viljandi Museum. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Culture wants to continue the process of making state-owned museums more efficient and reshaping them as foundations. Five museums owned directly by the state remain, the reorganization of which as foundations requires the green light from the Ministry of Finance.

In 2002, the Ministry of Culture, working with local governments, founded the Virumaa Museums and the Tammsaare Museum in Vargamäe, which started as foundations. Efforts to reshape the museums network continued in 2012. For example, the Estonian Open Air Museum and the Estonian Museum of Art, which started as state museums, have also been turned into foundations since then.

As a so-called final-stage development, the ministry also wants to reorganize as foundations the Estonian Museum of Architecture, Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, Palamuse Museum, Tartu Art Museum and the Viljandi Museum. The ministry's museums adviser Marju Reismaa said that modern museums are basically cultural companies and that operating as foundations gives them more freedom.

"A foundation enjoys much greater autonomy than a state body, both in political terms and management. That is what we want for museums, to make sure that what they offer society remains sustainable in a situation where state budget support is not growing, while the own revenue of museums is."

The foundation model also allows local governments to contribute to the activities of museums. For example, the Culture Ministry and the City of Tartu signed a mutual intentions protocol late last year to turn the Tartu Art Museum into a foundation and have the city support its activities. The ministry will be paying the salaries of the foundations' supervisory board members, with recent state-level funding also retained.

"Museums that also engage in research cannot be self-sustaining. And because the museums' collections will still belong to the state, with contracts signed allowing the foundations to use them, continued state support is ensured," Reismaa said.

The Estonian National Museum (ERM) is the only museum not looking at becoming a foundation, with an analysis underway in terms of whether to turn it into a legal person in public law.

"This [ERM] makes for a separate subject altogether, if only because their building is owned by state real estate manager RKAS. How would it even be possible to extract it from there? We are not thinking about ERM at this time."

The move to reorganize state ministries as foundations still needs to be approved by the Ministry of Finance.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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