No. 34




Projection into future. A new beginning for the Estonian National Museum

14 December 2016


RiTo No. 34, 2016

We can use the public interest in the new building of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) to tell its story. This has given us an excellent opportunity to speak about the main events in the history of the Estonian nation over the last one hundred years, and more.

The 19th century Estonian National Awakening led to cultural invigoration, and sparked a national interest in our roots; all this inspired the Estonian people to found the National Museum in 1909. The national independence prepared the ground for extending the activities of the ERM, and solving its problems with premises. The original building was destroyed in the battles of August 1944. Not content with destroying the building, the Soviet occupation forces also attempted to destroy its contents, especially its significance as a unifying national symbol. Its name was changed and the collections scattered. Despite this, the nucleus of the Museum survived the decades of occupation. When the idea to regain our independence rekindled, the memory of the Museum was something that united the nation, and its restoration became a common cause. At the height of the heritage protection movement in 1988, there was a public demand to close down the Soviet military airfield, and return the historical site of the Museum to the people. Immediately after the restoration of independence, preparations started for building a new Museum. We had to overcome a series of obstacles, but we did now. The project was completed by young Parisian architects Lina Ghotmeh, Dan Dorelli, and Tsuyoshi Tane. The building grows organically out of the ground as an extension of the former airstrip, symbolising the victory of the culture-oriented society over war and occupation. The completion of the long awaited building proves that only national independence can guarantee the cultural success of a nation.

For ERM, not only has the site changed in 2016, but also its role, and its organisational model. It is the largest museum in Estonia, with a collection of 144,222 objects, and 346,582 photographs. While the Museum attracted only about 30,000 visitors a year in its old premises, the new building already welcomed 50,000 visitors during the first six weeks (1 October until 16 November). Besides the main activities of the Museum (collection, conservation, research, and exhibition), we are now also attending to a huge demand for our educational programmes. A whole variety of new service functions have also been developed (catering, museum shop, conference centre, events rental, diverse cultural programme). The changes that are currently taking place in the Museum have not sprung up overnight, but have been under careful preparation for a long time. The new building and solutions create the new framework for our daily activities. We try to use these new conditions to the maximum capacity. From the technological point of view, we are without a doubt one of the most high-tech museums in the world. For example, we have an e-label system developed exclusively for us. This allows all the texts of the permanent exhibition on the Estonian culture to be changed on small screens by a simple swipe of a chip card. This would allow us to provide explanations in up to 50 languages, in addition to the current Estonian, English, and Russian.