The theme year in Estonia 2020 was a digital culture, which was announced by the Ministry of Culture already five years ago. Hardly anyone could have guessed at the time how exactly the chosen topic would hit the times we are living in. 2020 was a year when digital culture was almost the only available cultural form in the whole country due to the special situation caused by the pandemic. So, Estonia was ready!
The Year of Digital Culture was organized by a four-member consortium, which included the Estonian National Library and the National Heritage Board, the Estonian Public Broadcasting, and the Estonian Film Institute as lead partners. Martin Aadamsoo, an experienced film producer and teacher became a project manager. Two big goals were set: to make culture a part of e-Estonia’s success story and to launch initiatives whose long-term impact extends far beyond the borders of a calendar year. Several planned initiatives were launched, but as the sector faced serious challenges, lots of new ways to reach the audience were discovered.
People started to find new opportunities very actively
Libraries were closed, but operations were not interrupted. Parcel machines were used and a waiting time for returned books was implemented. “Libraries became centers of digital services. E-book loan numbers flew to the sky, 20 times more were borrowed. When you read the first one, you already know how to use it. The planned introduction of audiobooks was started, so far there were very few of them. 50 new audiobooks were published, which were read by freelance actors. This will probably have a big impact on the publishing world,” Aadamsoo said.
Exhibitions and galleries were initially skeptical about using them online, but somehow they had to cope. “The exhibition of the Tallinn Art Museum became famous all over the world. There was no income from it, although the donations were expected. But they reached a different audience than usual, maybe the newcomers will come back later,” he gave an example.
Smaller theaters started making online shows and were very successful. The stand-up comedy tested and received 50,000 euros in ticket revenue in one night, which was donated to charity. Children’s Theater Piip and Tuut started with an online TV show, where the audience had to buy a ticket, they also did well. „People were hungry for the culture,“ Aadamsoo said.
The cinemas tried to cope with the situation by organizing drive-in cinema screenings with tickets. Estonia did not have this custom before and they disappeared immediately after the restrictions. The post-production of the films was able to work, but the shooting of the new films was stopped.
Festivals were canceled. Tickets had already been purchased, but the uncertainty was high. The Intsikurmu Music Festival and the Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) were selected for testing. While the number of visitors on the web was slightly lower than expected at first, the results of PÖFF were gratifying, tickets were sold to cinemas and online screenings, and more film people participated in the festival’s professional program than ever before. It is clear that hybrid festivals, where some activities take place in physical and some in virtual space, have an inevitable future.
„All in all, the Year of Digital Culture 2020 turned us all into ginny pigs, experimenting in a very short time with many ways of creating and consuming digital culture that would otherwise have taken years. I very much hope that this acceleration not only caused us resentment but that we also learned valuable lessons for the future. Because – whether we like it or not – digital culture is largely the future of culture,“ Martin Aadamsoo said.
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