Tartu - Photo: wikipedia

Tartu offers a year to help humankind

Following the now generally accepted practice of hosting European Capitals of Culture in provincial areas, one of the three hosts in 2024 is Tartu, the second-largest city in Estonia after Tallinn, though no small place with a population of some 97,000. And while this oldest city in the Baltics will be the flagship, in fact a quarter of the country is actually involved.

This widespread participation may be no surprise because, looking at the hard numbers, the European Capital of Culture programme in Tartu and Southern Estonia will offer visitors more than 1000 events across 350 projects inspired by the artistic concept Arts of Survival.

This focuses on the knowledge, skills and values that will help humankind lead a good life in the future. The spotlight is on sustainability, co-creation, local uniqueness, science and technology. Over the course of the year, Estonia will share its story and survival skills and invite others to learn them. The Arts of Survival are interpreted by fields of culture, from folk and food culture to music, film and visual art.

Kuldar Leis, the CEO of Tartu 2024, says: “The role and meaning of the theme Arts of Survival has changed over time. No one could have predicted the global pandemic that wrecked everyday life and cultural centres around the world upon gaining the title of the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

“Even those who remained at a safe distance were shaken by Russia’s war against Ukraine. The last year has taught us one of the most important arts of survival. Tartu and Estonia’s borders are more than just physical boundaries. We live at a time when European cooperation, solidarity and democracy are critical to the survival of culture.”

The grand opening of the European Capital of Culture year in Estonia will take place in Tartu on January 26. The spectacle “All Becomes One” on the banks of the river Emajõgi will showcase the interconnectedness of people, regions and eras through images, movement and music.

The highlights throughout the year include “Kissing Tartu”, a mass kissing event, that aims to bring together thousands to spread the message of love; Wild Bits, an open-air exhibition of technological art in the noted tech and art farm Maajaam; and Business as Usual, an Estonian-Danish joint theatre production about the Danske bank money-laundering scandal.

The programme includes the world-famous Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda’s Solo Exhibition that consists of an installation based on research data from the University of Tartu’s Institute of Genomics and a sound installation created in collaboration with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

Urban nightlife exhibition “unda” will take place in the Estonian National Museum combined with electronic music parties curated by the renowned Tallinn cultural club, HALL. Further, a collaboration between Concerto Copenhagen and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir will bring the music of Georg Friedrich Händel and the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to the stage. Pop music fans can look forward to Sting’s concert “My Songs” on June 10 on the Tartu Song Festival Open Air Stage.

Representatives from Latvia are also involved in creating the Tartu 2024 programme. Arts of Survival is a collection of eight short documentaries showcasing the diversity of Southern Estonia, made by internationally renowned filmmakers including Latvian directors Andris Gauja and Viesturs Kairišs, as well as Andrey Paounov (Bulgaria), Carl Olsson (Sweden), Eva Kübar, Jaan Tootsen, and Maria Aua and Ülo Pikkov (Estonia).

“Neighbours”, a production and collaboration between the Ugala Theatre and the Valmiera Drama Theatre, is expected to delight both Estonian and Latvian culture lovers and bring old friends closer together. It is a fresh play about the love between young people in the two neighbouring countries, inspiring families on both sides to communicate with each other. The production of “Neighbours” will premiere in 2024, and theatre enthusiasts from both countries will be treated to a total of 20 performances.

The Festival of Lights 2024 Arrival is dedicated to an important event in astronomy. In October 2024, NASA’s Artemis 3 launcher will land on the Moon: this will mark the first crewed lunar mission since 1972 and the first time in history that a woman will be walking on the Moon.

In honour and celebration of the mission and humanity’s curiosity, the Festival of Lights will play out the key events of space travel: the landing, the opening of the horizon and the spacewalk. The festival will open with a large-scale sound and light installation “Touchdown – Coliseum”, created in cooperation with Latvian partners Story Hub and Those Guys Lightning.

In cooperation with the LAMPA conversation festival and the Latvian Students’ Union, a European Democracy Hybrid Festival or Opinion Festival will take place with debates in various university cities all over Europe. In turn, the Baltic and Estonian Music Days will be one of the biggest contemporary music events in that region, where more than 20 composers will witness world debut performances of their compositions.

More extensive information about the “Tartu 2024” programme and forthcoming events is available here and on “Tartu 2024” social media profiles.

This is the second time an Estonian city holds the European Capital of Culture title, following Tallinn in 2011. Tartu, the largest urban centre of southern Estonia, is often considered the “intellectual capital city” of the country, especially as it is home to the nation’s oldest and most renowned university, the University of Tartu, (founded in 1632).

Tartu also houses the Supreme Court of Estonia, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Estonian National Museum and the oldest Estonian-language theatre, Vanemuine. It is the birthplace of the Estonian Song Festivals.

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