Speech by Rector Mart Kalm at the opening of the new building of EKA

Foto: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The art academy will start its 104th academic year in a new building. This is a singular and ceremonial day, because the dreams of a generation have been realised. Not only that of generations of art, architecture and design people, but the dream of all educated Estonians, who have wanted their country to be fully recognised as a country, which includes a flourishing culture in addition to a working economy and secure national defence, because without art and its sustainable high-quality production neither the economy, national defence nor any other field is possible. This event has been long awaited by the international art scene.

The Industrial Art School of the Estonian Art Society was opened in the Kanuti Guild building on Pikk Street on 30 October 1914. On this foundation, the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA) is the oldest of the current universities in Tallinn, since Estonians only managed to establish schools in other fields after 1918, after the collapse of tsarist Russia. Due to the end of the Russian tsardom, the girls’ senior secondary school building on Tartu Road was left empty and the art school moved there in 1917 and remained there for close to a century. Voldemar Päts, who lead the school for the first 20 years was certainly an Estonian-minded character, who sheltered the secret Salvation Committee in the janitor’s apartment in 1918; that is, his brother Konstantin Päts, Jüri Vilms and Konstantin Konik, who were preparing the declaration of independence on 24 February. The newly established Estonian state understood the importance of industrial art ‒ known today as design. This was important for the economy of the new state, which was now unshackled from the Russian market. The art school immediately built another two stories on top of its new home, which considering the poverty at the time was a considerable state investment. The Industrial Art School was shaped by Estonians and Russian migrants who had studied at the Stieglitz school in St Petersburg at the beginning of the 20th century. In terms of its art, it was a conservative school, but it made a huge contribution to the culture and economy of Estonia. Since it was an intermediate school, many students continued their studies at the Pallas higher art school in Tartu, as did the industrious student Eduard Wiiralt, who later became a graduate of the first class at the Pallas school. Many of the graduates from the industrial art school joined leather and ceramics workshops, the move from wholesale to the sale of packaged goods provided a lot of work for graphic artists, sewing workshops developed into fashion studios, professional decorations appeared on theatre stages, the school fed into the Tavast and Langebraun companies, a glass department was opened because of the Lorup factory, a campaign to decorate homes spawned the interior design and garden architecture departments. Without skilled employees from the industrial art school and later the designers from ERKI, Linda and Kommunaar, Estoplast and Tarbeklaas, Standard and Juveelitehas, ARS and UKU, Marat and Sangar could not have appeared in the Estonian SSR, not to speak of Tallinn Moemaja or Suva. One of those still active in Estonia is Baltika, from which the head designer of the Monton brand, Piret Puppart was selected as head of the fashion department a few years ago, becoming the youngest professor at the EAA. Like other Estonian universities, we are awaiting the recovery of the Estonian economy, growing out of the phase of subcontracting, so that the real potential of the education we provide can be achieved there through the transfer of knowledge. In 2011, the fashion artist come entrepreneur Reet Aus, who researched the recycling of textile industry off-cuts, was the first to defend a creative doctorate showing EAA to be on the front line in solving problems specific to the contemporary world. Due to the fact that Estonia won’t be producing large volumes, that stage is over, we have been developing our design departments in the direction of visual communication, interactive design and digital products, which have been very popular among new students.

In 1938, a new higher education section was added to the school and this caused the school to think and plan for a new building. Each department was asked to compile and present their requirements, just as I have had to since the 1990s for the art theory department. The creation of the State Higher Art School helped develop the different fields of fine art, where the first diplomas, then issued by the Soviet authorities, were awarded to Evald Okas, Alo Hoidre and others. The fierce rivalry in higher art education between Tallinn and Tartu came to an end when the Tartu State Art Institute, which had risen from the debris of the Pallas school, was incorporated in 1950 with the Tallinn Institute of Applied Art, which then became the Estonian SSR State Art Institute, or ERKI, as it was known. The fact that the Pallas buildings had been destroyed during the war, while our building had survived the bombing of Tallinn, played a part in the demise of Tartu as an art city. Of the great Pallas artists, only Võerahansu came from Tartu to Tallinn to become a professor, and for many years the departments were mostly filled with artists from Yaroslavl and Estonians from Russia, whose understanding of art could not keep pace with its progress. Consequently, in the 1960s an alternative student art practice developed in the form of the groups ANK’64 and SOUP 69. The sculptor Jaan Vares, who was rector during Khruschev’s “thaw”, was a true tightrope walker and he endeavoured to provide the students with creative freedom and at the same time satisfy the old guard in the various departments, whose support he needed in his negotiations with the communist party and the government for a new building. From the 60s to the 70s, the old school building was enlarged and rebuilt in a modernist style. The materials were of poor quality and inconsistent supply and so forth, but in a building so easily and cheaply built the students could run riot and ERKI parties were legendary. A powerful rejuvenation in the fine arts took place at the end of the 1990s, during the time when Ando Keskküla was rector – digital art was encouraged, and this has now grown into the department of new media, and the photography department was formed. Even before the department was created the photography lab was headed by Peeter Linnap, who scoffed at all previous Estonian art and revitalised the art scene in Estonia. When socially critical art from the EAA at the start of the century scared the public away, then now we are back with a revelry of colour, which no longer allows itself to fit on the canvas but encompasses the entire space. And politics have not disappeared – dean Kirke Kangro provided a very effective nuance with her sculptures at the recently opened memorial to the victims of communism at Maarjamäe, which was designed by lecturers and alumni of our department of architecture.

Architects have been trained at the EAA since the 1950s. Immediately after the war, the Tallinn Polytechnical Institute started to prepare for the training of architects but quickly abandoned this because of certain difficulties that arose. In coming to the rescue of architecture education it cost ERKI the closure of the fields of interior design as well as garden and park design. Interior design was reopened in 1959, and because there was no room at the building on Tartu Road, then essentially with their own funding and student labour they created rooms for themselves at Suur-Kloostri Street, from which it was very difficult to leave.

The new wing of the Suur-Kloostri building, renovated in 2007, housed the newest faculty at the EAA, the Faculty of Art and Culture, which was born together with the re-independence of Estonia. In 1992, under rector Jaak Kangilaski, the art history department had been opened in the knowledge that it would not take up any space, since they would be using the auditoriums and library, which would be empty after the artist’s lectures.

In the many layered building on Tartu Road there was always the feeling that it could be bigger. At the time of the singing revolution, rector Kangilaski discussed with the young lecturer, Andres Alver, the first ideas for a building that reached up into the sky. But the visionary rector Ando Keskküla became excited about finding a new location and Patarei prison was seriously considered. Some liked the alternative quality of the space, but for others the atmosphere was unpleasant. What decided the matter was that by building there the cost of upkeep would have eaten up the entire budget and there would be nothing to pay the wages. Signe Kivi, who came from politics to head the school, also looked for new sites and both Suva and the new Radio Broadcasting House had potential.

However, during the time of numerous economic bubbles, it seemed that our existing plot was the safest bet. Over a hundred designs from across the world were submitted to an architecture competition in 2008. The design by the young Danish architecture bureaus Sea and Effekt envisaged an exciting spiral-structured tower block. Just like a few years earlier in the competition for the Estonian National Museum (ERM), the judges had preferred a bold experimental design to that of experienced architects. And in the case of the ERM there was sufficient political will to see the unusual design to fruition, but not in the case of the EAA. The spiralling EAA design, which attempted to offer an alternative to the office towers, seemed too generous for the neoliberalists, who were even so bold as to describe art as a freeloader. Despite the enormous efforts made by Kivi, state support varied. The judges had selected as the winner a design that required that the architectural plans be adjusted, which immediately made it difficult to stay within the schedule for European funds. Heritage protection demanded extensive archaeological excavations and to ensure that the project did not fall behind schedule the academy moved to rented premises and in 2010 demolished the old building. The students were of the opinion that the old building was relinquished too easily and when a new low-cost version of the design, now reduced to an ordinary tower block, was presented, they really became angry. Even though the new design blocked less light from the surrounding houses one difficult neighbour refused to agree with any of the compromises. She presented a variety of demands to the court, but none were successful. In trying to serve the interests of her other neighbour, the extent to which her behaviour betrayed the long-suffering older generation and those with their hitherto aura of martyrdom who had been given back their houses from the first period of independence, will be a matter for her own conscience. When in January 2012, the Archimedes Foundation decided to annul their earlier decision to fund the EAA building and demanded EAA return the money spent so far, it seemed that there was no justice in the world. Thinking back on all those politicians, officials and journalists who attacked the EAA at that time, did they understand just how ugly the schemes were that they were involved in?

The Ministry of Education, distrustful of the EAA, assigned State Real Estate Ltd. to take care of us and with their help we moved in the direction of developing Suva, where textiles students had been on internships and graduates had been employed. In 2014, Jürgen Ligi, the Minister for Finance, included the EAA in the state budget and rector Kivi could rest assured that she had guaranteed the future of the new building. The real estate belonging to the EAA was sold by State Real Estate Ltd. and the site on Tartu Road was purchased by a neighbour who had long coveted it, and the money was used to buy the Suva factory site. On the basis of the same equation applied to vocational schools, we were allocated 10 m2 per student, which is roughly half that of most art schools in Europe and significantly less than those that have been built recently. Because of the state imposed maximum, the Soviet-era wing had to be reduced, as can be seen by the empty concrete framework in the courtyard. Hence, art education was shown its place by neoliberal Estonia, but it is good that we have anything at all.

The sock factory includes the sharp-cornered Rauaniidi building, an example of late 1920s Functionalism with a hint of Expressionism; it was designed by Eugen Habermann and has an important place in Estonian architectural history. Along the trajectory of his creative career, between the Parliament building and Urla House, the Rauaniidi building is an important marker. The two Soviet-era wings are not under heritage protection but are significant because they bear witnesses to their era and fortunately have not been tidied up and rendered devoid of history.

It is understandable that many alumni were saddened that the academy had to move. As an architecture historian I think that neither the state nor the city should have permitted EAA to move from its location next to Kaubamaja because this has significantly impoverished the historical centre of the capital. The basic principles of urban design say that to achieve urban vitality one has to mix different functions, culture and business, and that an art school is the cherry on the cake that increases the attractiveness (read: profitability) of every business centre.

Historically, art academies have been located near the king’s palace ‒ École des beaux-arts across the Seine opposite the Louvre, in St Petersburg it is not far from the Winter Palace on the opposite bank of the Neva, the same in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Here on the edge of Kalamaja we are one of the few with a line of sight to Stenbock House and we are only a few hundred metres from the Kultuurikatel, which was fit to run the European Parliament. We are part of Tallinn’s changing cultural geography.

I have heard concerns expressed about whether the old factory is a suitable place for a school. Of course, the stocking factory is not a palace with grand pillars like the old academies, but here we can only blame the Estonian people who were so late in establishing their own state. So many art schools have moved into former factories in post-industrial societies that it has even become a common practice. The spacious industrial architectural spaces aren’t confining and allow a wide variety of creative activities.

Kalamaja has become gentrified since the end of the previous century, and it is doing so well that it doesn’t directly need the EAA. In fact, the rental prices in Kalamaja are too high for our people, therefore students will be coming to school from Kopli or from further afield by train. On the other hand, we feel good here because a supportive community is awaiting us; our graduates have an important role to play in the creative class which will help determine the appearance of the district. We will be welcomed by new exhibition spaces and theatre halls, a string of new design shops. If art was not all that high up in the hierarchy of values for the suits and ties of the high-rises next to Kaubamaja in the 1990s, then the hipsters of Kalamaja have a more favourable opinion. We have that with which to enrich life in Kalamaja from our side and be a good neighbour.

The public architecture competition in 2014 was won by our graduates Koit Ojaliiv, Joel Kopli and Juhan Rohtla, and the philosopher Eik Herman from KUU architects who offered a project that best fitted the existing buildings. It had less effect and more of a sense of respect. It suited the educators of heritage experts and restorers, but not only them, today’s young creators could sense through the rich layers of architecture that they don’t always need to reinvent the wheel and they will only ever be the next generation to precede the next.

Although the quality of the solution has not yet been proven through academic work, the concept of the architects concerning a circulation system that flows through the parts of the building from various eras, works as one of the main objectives of the new building – bringing the school together. One of the most important victories with the new building is getting the whole school back together again, so the synergy between the various departments, which already existed at the industrial art school and at ERKI, can recover. The people of the EAA have been admirable, so bravely have they survived the forced dispersal of departments and have not allowed their creative drive to abate, but rather stood with a sense of pride in their school.

The new building is dense, there will be a lot of new technology here, which means that the workshops of the departments will have to embark on a lot more multi-use space management than before. The logistical organisation will be more demanding, but I believe it will be worth it. This building will help us modernise our teaching and connect it more to the needs of contemporary society and the economy.

Although everyone has their place in the new building, we cannot allow this to cause us to become bogged down. The building has been planned so that walls can be moved according to necessity. Already now, the constantly changing school doesn’t exactly fit the brief given the planners. Technology has developed at an incredible pace, the construction brief didn’t include a virtual reality laboratory, but now it is a reality. A robotic arm, which one cannot get by without anymore, does not fit into the building, and therefore, we have already started extending the campus by purchasing the plot of land opposite with its ruined building at 10 Kotzebue Street. There we plan to start building an essential additional building with help from the supportive attitude of the Ministry of Education and Research. It would be good if we could establish a creative activities building for the community, in collaboration with the city, instead of the rather pathetic buildings currently on Kotzebue and Põhja Avenue. If there is currently a gallery and library open to the public in the new building, then with this new creative building we could offer society a much stronger contribution with the improving effect of the arts.

The new building will create opportunities for continued internationalisation. On the one hand we recognise our responsibility as a provider of art education in the Estonian language, on the other, we wish to be integrated into the international world of contemporary art. Although the EAA has been an avid user of the Erasmus exchange programme, we still have room to develop English language curricula at masters level. The public lecture series in many departments have brought an impressive selection of important people from across the world to the EAA, and few schools across the world can offer such an exemplary selection because what is important is that quality art education takes place here in Tallinn and it is only worth going abroad when you know what you are looking for.

The difficult path to the completion of the EAA’s new building has reached its finale, the new building is ready, only a little adjustment is needed here and there. Perhaps we haven’t always been able to make the best decisions and the stars have not aligned in our favour, but now we have overcome the difficulties. The EAA, which has meanwhile risen into the QS rankings of top universities in the world in the category of art and design schools, is able to offer more as it prepares new artists, architects, designers, art historians, heritage experts and art teachers or as our graduate Heinz Valk once said, “One day, no matter what, we will win!”


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Posted by Mart Vainre