About the Programme

Cultural Heritage and Conservation as a profession

Heritage conservation is of principal importance in the today’s world; its aim is to preserve society’s cultural heritage, and transmit it to future generations. But the definition and meaning of cultural heritage has changed throughout time. If previously, only material objects were treated as heritage, today it is viewed as the integrated whole of human culture and the natural environment.  The historical items and buildings around us have acquired both an emotional and functional meaning as memory carriers. Cultural heritage is necessary for the survival and development of human society.

Nature of the department, its mentality and philosophy

The specialised instruction is based on contemporary approaches to the environment and the principles of sustainable development. The aim of the instruction is to provide students with specialised knowledge and skills, and to shape attitudes and values that promote awareness of the connections between the natural, social and cultural environments.

  • Based on contemporary philosophy, the cultural environment is comprised of both material and immaterial values. Therefore, cultural heritage, as one of the forms of cultural expression, is a collection of the material and immaterial values that connect the things created by past generations with the present day, and the basic features of which are related to human activity.
  • One of the goals of sustainable development is the preservation of cultural diversity, which assumes a conservationist attitude toward cultural heritage, and the linking of it to present-day needs.
  • The vitality of the cultural phenomena defined as heritage, and the safeguarding of its survival, is a guarantee for sustainable social development.

What are the studies like?

The department offers a BA, MA and PhD programme.

The second year of the BA programme focuses on two basic specialisations:
1. architectural conservation and restoration;
2. conservation and restoration of artworks.
The department organises in-service training courses for architectural conservation and restoration.

  • Architectural monuments are civil, industrial, defence and sacral structures, along with their ensembles or structural complexes, which are architecturally, historically, scientifically or religiously significant; which are important from an urban planning viewpoint or have some other cultural value.  When focusing on architectural conservation, the students learn the principles for conserving and restoring buildings and structural complexes; how to assess their condition and value; and how to draw up the cultural heritage requirements for designing, conserving and restoring the monuments, etc.
  • Artworks in this context are works of fine art and applied art, which have artistic, religious and cultural value. When focusing on the conservation of artworks, the students learn about the conservation and restoration of paintings, sculptures, and other historical items and materials, such as photos, metal, leather, paper, etc.
  • Conservation prevents the further destruction of artworks or monuments by technically reinforcing their structural and decorative elements, while preserving their historical stratification.
  • Restoration ensures that the authentic historical-architectural state of a monument will be fixed, by removing, if necessary, less valuable elements and strata that ruin its appearance, and by restoring the missing parts in a scientifically sound way, based on original documents and research.

Cultural Heritage and Conservation at Academy of Arts

In a way, the development of the Department of Cultural Heritage and Conservation at the Estonian Academy of the Arts, as the only institution that provides higher education in this field, has occurred contrary to academic logic.The in-service training courses in restoration, which have taken place at the Academy of Arts since 1995, helped to create a comprehension of the need for academic instruction in this field, and created the preconditions for the introduction of a master’s programme in restoration in 1999. Since, at that time, the 4+2 master’s programme presumed prior specialised knowledge and skills, the first students accepted for the master’s programme were already working as recognised specialists in the restoration field. They were motivated to continue their academic studies by a need to systematise the knowledge and practical skills they had acquired in the course of their work, and to give them a knowledge-based output. The aim of the specialised master’s programme was to prepare specialists with broad-based knowledge and top professional skills, who would be able to tackle assignments related to the preservation, conservation and restoration of society’s historical legacy. And to deal with assignments that would involve the general principles of heritage protection; aspects related to architecture and city planning; and the engineering-technical elements of construction in order to conserve traditional building materials, murals, furniture, etc.  The two-year master’s programme, which provided 80 academic points, was offered at the Academy from 1999 to 2006.

In 2001, the first students were admitted to the Academy’s four-year BA programme for cultural heritage and conservation. The introduction of a new speciality at the first stage of higher education was the logical next step to the in-service restoration training introduced in 1995, and the MA programme that was launched in 1999. This all made sense considering the need, in Estonia, for specialists with a corresponding higher education. International experience has shown that, based on the specifics of the discipline, the necessary qualifications and knowledge for the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage can only be acquired at a school of higher education.

Since, until 2001, an academic higher education in restoration and conservation was not available in Estonia, the only solution was to work out a unique curriculum, which would take into account Estonia’s experience in restoration to date, the to make practical use of the existing academic personnel and the material-technical base which was still being developed. The introduction of the new speciality was also based on the academic art education at the Estonian Academy of Arts, with its long traditions. The aim was to develop a broad-based, flexible and systematic curriculum, which would ensure that the graduates would be competitive in both the Estonian and international labour markets.

Based on the Bologna Declaration, a transition was made in 2002 to a new 3 +2 curriculum. The aim of the three-year curriculum was to provide broad-based basic professional knowledge about the importance of cultural heritage, its preservation, conservation and restoration.

In 2003, a PhD programme in cultural heritage and conservation was introduced.