New ERM director: Exhibitions have played second fiddle to events

Kertu Saks. PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The Estonian National Museum will be run by the outgoing head of the Estonian Cultural Endowment Kertu Saks who takes a deep and personal interest in cultural history and especially folklore and considers museums and visitors’ centers her specialty.

I must say that the fact you were picked as the new head of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) (following previous Director Alar Karis becoming president of Estonia – ed.) came as quite a surprise yesterday (Wednesday – ed.) morning. Many believed one of the old directors would return instead. However, I would start by asking why did you decide to move on from the Cultural Endowment?

I decided to run for director because museums and visitors’ centers used to be my area for 20 years before I joined the endowment. It is the field in which I am the most proficient. Secondly, I take a deep and personal interest in cultural history and folklore in particular. I have studied it, curated exhibitions and written books about it. Those two fields come together at ERM, and I feel that is the work I want to do.

You have also worked in journalism.

My master’s and doctoral degrees are in history of journalism. I have also worked as a journalist.

What type of previous experience do you hope to bring to ERM?

The Estonian Cultural Endowment has provided me with experience of running a cultural institution with a very broad scope. I’m sure it will work to my advantage at ERM.

Which position requires a more comprehensive cultural background, running the endowment or ERM?

We cannot say background is more important for one or the other. Both are immensely important and valuable cultural institutions of symbolic value.

What major tasks await the new head of the endowment?

The first task has to do with cultural objects of national significance. The new director will have to get up to speed on projects – who is ready to launch construction and when. Order of priority must also be considered. It is a major task for the endowment. Development of electronic application systems must continue, alongside efforts to make life easier for employees and experts who evaluate projects.

Do other countries have similar institutions for funding and conserving culture?

Latvia has a cultural endowment, while their alcohol and gambling excise duty proceeds were directed elsewhere, with the agency now funded from the state budget. Lithuania and the Nordics have arts councils, which operate somewhat differently from the endowment.

Could ERM be considered unique or what could be its analogues in other countries?

All self-respecting countries have national museums. Analogues exist in Europe and everywhere in the world.

What are the tasks at ERM that you are looking forward to and that inspire you?

ERM needs to prioritize research and exhibitions. The latter have played second fiddle to events lately. We will also be participating in Tartu Capital of Culture 2024 events. ERM will be one of the focal points of events for which an exhibition plan will need to be drawn up.