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Tartu's European Capital of Culture opening racks up €1 million price tag

Tartu 2024 opening ceremony along the Emajõgi River. January 26, 2024.
Tartu 2024 opening ceremony along the Emajõgi River. January 26, 2024. Source: Mikk Otsar/Tartu 2024

Less than a week ago, Tartu was officially launched as the 2024 European Capital of Culture. Tartu 2024 opening week celebrations both in Estonia's second city and in smaller cities beyond ended up costing a total of nearly €1 million.

"We spent €920,000 on events open to the public in Tartu," said Tartu 2024 Foundation board member Kuldar Leis. "This is an important event for us, and fulfilled all our expectations."

As Tartu is officially a European capital of culture together with the entire Southern Estonian region, organizers decided to host opening celebrations in other county seats as well, Leis noted.

"And the opening celebration in one place cost €25,000, €10,000 of which was contributed by the local government and €15,000 by the foundation," he added.

Accounting for the biggest expense of the €920,000 total was the main opening ceremony along the Emajõgi riverfront in Central Tartu the evening of January 26, which according to Leis ran them €850,000. Events held in Town Hall Square throughout Friday came to €20,000, and the afterparty at and around the Estonian National Museum (ERM) later that night another €50,000.

Asked how much of the main event's €850,000 price tag consisted in turn of marketing and media-related expenses, for example, Leis replied that marketing expenses are viewed as a whole over their five-year period.

"We have a total budget for five years of €26 million, and roughly €17 million of this will be spent on the program over five years, and €6 million and change on marketing," he detailed. "So this marketing is a sort of continuous activity."

The launch of Tartu's 2024 European Capital of Culture. January 26, 2024. Source: Airika Harrik/ERR

Several cultural figures with ties to Tartu have expressed the opinion in the media this week that the content of the grand opening celebration wasn't clearly understandable, nor was it Tartu-like.

The thing that bothered residents stopped around town by ERR the most, however, was that they couldn't even see much attending the opening ceremony event live.

"I otherwise liked it overall, but the problem was that there were so many people, I could see one screen from far away and I saw the festival with my naked eye even worse," said Kristjan, a local resident.

"But we watched it again later together with friends, and it looked cool," he continued. "But I dunno, maybe there should have been more of some sort of cultural elements involved – something that relates directly to Tartu? You got more of a sense of the spirit of Tartu ["Tartu vaim"] from the fact that the crowds were there and everyone watched it together. The excitement served more as that spirit there."

Another city resident, Sveta, welcomed the fireworks.

"A lot of work was put into this, and it was a lot of fun," Sveta said. "That is a lot of money, but I guess it pays off. Surely it wasn't all [paid for] by city funds; there must have been some kind of cultural endowments, EU funds, some other money too. It's not like it was purely our money alone."

"I don't want to say anything, neither good nor bad, but I went home halfway through to watch it on TV," admitted Ilmar, another passerby. "There were such massive crowds that I didn't even make it all the way to the riverfront. It was a much better idea to watch it from home."

Leis, meanwhile, said that he's received a lot of great feedback about the opening ceremony.

"I can also compare directly with other capitals of culture; I've attended other openings," the foundation board member noted. "I want to praise not just Tartu, but Estonia as a whole, that Estonia knows how to organize events both for themselves and for foreigners."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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