History of the Cultural Endowment

Supporting culture on the national level was more actively discussed since 1919, which saw the first Congress of Estonian Writers. Estonian writers demanded support from the state on the condition that the beneficiary/stipendiary would not be bound by obligations before the state.

Four stages may be distinguished in the development of the Cultural Endowment:


Supporting creative persons on the national level was still non-regulated and the Cultural Endowment as an organization had not been established. Creative persons rather sought shelter abroad to get by. Grants were awarded incidentally and through the Ministry of Education. Literature awards were paid to writers by the Association of Estonian Writers. Issues of art and cultural policy were handled by the Department of Art and Heritage Conservation of the Ministry of Education, which was divided into working groups of literature, fine arts, music and dramatic art and the Heritage Board. Professional interests of writers were actively advocated by Fr. Tuglas, who is considered to be the author of the idea to establish the Cultural Endowment.

As a result of the Congress of Estonian Writers, a draft Writers, Artists and Scientists Support Act was drawn up for the Constituent Assembly. Pursuant to that law, creative persons would have received two types of support: scholarships and pension. A supportive scholarship was intended for persons that did not hold specific positions. A pension, however, would have been awarded in case of old age or prolonged illness.

On the III Congress held on 8 October 1921, establishment of a cultural foundation was demanded more specifically. In addition, the preliminary Cultural Endowment Act was drafted, which was general by nature and consisted of 5 clauses.

Based on that law, the order of the Minister of Economic Affairs “On spirit and vodka sold for personal consumption” entered into force, whereby local governments recovered 2.5% on every permit issued for the sale of half a stoup of spirit and vodka in the favour of the Cultural Endowment.

Until the establishment of the Cultural Endowment, grants were awarded by the Arts Department of the Ministry of Education.


On 5 February 1925, the Riigikogu passed the Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act. The first endowment meetings were held in April and May. The supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment held its first meeting on 3 June 1926, chaired by the Minister of Education H. B. Rahamägi. Scholarships were awarded twice a year: on 1 April and 1 October.
Principles of money distribution caused lengthy disputes. In 1926, the Ministry of Education and the rules of procedure of the new supervisory board tried to pressurize money to be distributed according to the achievements of the creative person. In 1927, discussions were held on distributing money between endowments, the rules of procedure of the supervisory body and expediency of awarding support. The supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment now included Members of Parliament, mainly the ministers. This was preceded by a discussion of the possible establishment of an agricultural endowment and even a forestry and pig-farming endowment. These proposals were not satisfied, but as a compromise, the Minister of Agriculture was a member of the supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment for some time.
 On 1 November 1927, the new Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act was passed, whereby 50% of distributed funds were administrated by the government. Two standing committees were established in the supervisory board: a cultural-political committee and a budgetary committee.


In 1934, K. Päts stressed the importance of propagating the national and ethnic frame of mind. To achieve that, the State Propaganda Department was established. In the 1930s, the controlling and organizing position deepened in the activity of the Cultural Endowment. As a result of strong-arming the national cultural policy, the activity of the cultural committee of the supervisory board of the Cultural Endowment stopped. In 1939, 50% of the governmental support foundation was directed under the decisive competence of the President. In principle, President Päts allocated funds of the Cultural Endowment as a benevolent dictator, distributing money to applicants he favoured.
In the late 1930s, it became a priority of the Cultural Endowment to support young and promising people. In this period, the Cultural Endowment also initiated events in support of creative persons.
Activity of the Cultural Endowment was tried to be continued in Soviet times, but with no success. The Cultural Endowment was officially abolished under the order of the Council of People's Commissars as of 24 April 1941.


The Cultural Endowment was restored in the newly independent Republic of Estonia by passing the Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act on 1 June 1994.

20 years have passed since the re-establishment of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. Similarly to the first act passed in 1925, a long and difficult process had to be undertaken to pass the new act. In Estonia, supporting culture on the national level was already discussed in 1919, and then, the draft Writers, Artists and Scientists Support Act was drawn up. In 1921, the Ministry of Education of that time prepared the draft National Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act, and on 8 July of the same year, the government enforced an act on the establishing of the Cultural Endowment.

However, this act was not submitted to the Riigikogu, while the order of the Minister of Economic Affairs passed under the same act, remained in force. Based on that order, local governments started collecting 2.5% on every permit issued for the sale of half a stoup of spirit and vodka in the favour of the Cultural Endowment. With that action, as much as 600,000 kroons of capital was collected by 1925. In 1922, the Ministry of Education organized the discussions about the draft National Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act. As a result, the draft Writers, Artists and Scientists Support Act was annexed to the Cultural Endowment Act. Cultural figures strongly protested including sport among the supported areas of culture. Friedebert Tuglas compared that step of Aleksander Veiderman, the Minister of Education of the time to that of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, whose reign marked introducing a bullfighting chair to the university. The Ministry of Education reached the final preparation of the draft Act only in the autumn of 1923 and it was submitted to the Riigikogu in 1924. When discussing the act, the journalism endowment was added to those of literature, music, fine arts, dramatic arts and physical fitness. The Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act was passed at Riigikogu on 5 February 1925, and the new Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act was passed at the Riigikogu on 1 June 1994. This was also preceded by a long process.

Time of concepts

At the beginning of 1988, discussions started about the need for a cultural concept. Discontent and certain confusion became evident among both the cultural workers and leaders. Changes occurring in the society assumed changes in the former culture management as well. Actual decisions had been made at the Central Committee of the Party and in Moscow. Directorship of the ministry had deemed its main task to be buffering, letting life run its path on the one hand, and trying to soften some decisions passed down from above (from Moscow and the Central Committee) on the other hand. Johannes Lott, the Minister of Culture of the time, had brought a memorable example that in Estonia, a campaign across the union was avoided, in order to take culture into the barn. In early 1988, there was a situation, where the decisive power of the directorship of the ministry had increased, but involved greater confusion as well.

It became especially evident in a report submitted to an extended board by the ministry, which expressed the following hopes regarding the Artistic Associations Plenum: “We are confident that the new cultural policy and management, and maybe even the new cultural concept will be outlined at that gathering, and that closer and more distant goals will be determined.” (Archives of the Ministry of Culture, 1.42). However, hot spots were located elsewhere. There was little talk about concepts and decentralizing the culture management.

On 26 April 1988, Mait Raun’s and Jüri Uljas’ article “A proposal on perfecting culture management” was published in the Edasi newspaper, where sole financing of culture by the Cultural Endowment was discussed. The article waited to be published for several months, which enabled the authors to submit their proposals also to the cultural board and it was added in the programme of the Artistic Associations Plenum already before being published in the newspaper. In 1989, the Ministry of Economic Affairs developed provisional articles of association of foundations, including the Cultural Endowment. One of the initiators of the provisional articles of association was Ilmar Moss, who participated in drawing up several articles of association. For example, this was the beginning of the Estonian Science Foundation and the Estonian Social Fund. The provisional articles were submitted to the government, where the leaders of culture did not embrace the idea, stating that this way, cultural figures will fall out completely. That said, there are many references to the proposals of Raun and Uljas in the articles of association of the Cultural Endowment. For example, there are three endowments instead of two: those of fine arts, folk culture and cultural heritage. The discussion, whether the Ministry of Culture is required next to the Cultural Endowment or not, is also reflected in the articles. The preliminary articles proposed a solution that the administration of the whole Cultural Endowment becomes the responsibility of the ministry. At the same time, the preliminary articles saw the Cultural Endowment rather as a support system for financing culture.

The proportion of the Cultural Endowment in financing culture was 20% based on the old act. The Ministry of Economic Affair was relatively certain that these preliminary articles will enter into force. For example, the constituent assembly of the Estonian Association of Designers (on 7 July 1989) was suggested to seek financing from the Cultural Endowment. The need to find additional funding for culture was great. Lepo Sumera, the Minister of Culture of the government that assumed office in 1990, also recognized the need for foundations that support culture: “The current restrictions are not favourable to creating such foundations, but I am calling out to all economic leaders – otherwise, our culture will continue to wither” (Friday, 27 April 1990, No 17).

Dramatic times

Early 1990s were dramatic times for culture in terms of money. Several cultural figures stressed the need for convening the next Artistic Associations Plenum. People sensed the strengthening of technocratic pressure, the objective of which was to put the economy in order first and only then pay attention to culture. One proof of this was the request sent to the envoys of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia in December 1990 “to start protecting the Estonian culture with all available means” (Friday, 21 December 1990, No 51, page 2). Among other things, increasing budgetary expenditure on culture to the extent that would guarantee the preservation of existing culture establishments and ability to act was sought. Representatives of 14 organizations, including 9 theatres, signed the request. At the conference of the Estonian Theatre Union held in October 1990, Tõnis Rätsep also proposed restoring the Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act. This idea was welcomed at the conference and an address was made to the Supreme Council.

More specifically, the cultural endowment idea was developed at the Estonian Committee, where a special working group was formed for that purpose. In 1991, the editorial board of Sirp played an important role in developing the culture-political discussion. Disputes and opinions were published about cultural policy (“Sirp asks”), money and culture were discussed, and financing of culture in various countries was introduced. This was started already in the first issue of the year, where the Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act was published on the front page. In the second issue, an overview was published of a discussion held at the editor’s office on the topic of cultural endowment. It was more or less agreed in concord that the Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act is necessary, while the only issue was when to implement the act. For example, Jaak Jõerüüt, the Chairperson of the Science and Culture Committee of the Supreme Council opined in March 1991 that first, culture needs a culture recovery programme, whereas implementing the cultural endowment would take longer than can be expected. “The Cultural Endowment Act was an act of a self-regulating society, which requires much larger national, i.e., political and economic independence than Estonia has today.”

On the one hand, there was no autonomous state yet, and on the other hand, there was a desperate need for organizing the financing of culture. In June 1991, the Estonian Committee and the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia took a joint decision, by which a council was formed for restoring the Cultural Endowment with the task to manage its performance. However, Küllo Arjakas admitted in an article published in December of the same year that implementing the same act is impossible, because the old act contains several aspects that are yet unsolved in the state (constitution, military bases of foreign forces, etc.). At the same time, many new areas of culture had developed, which created the need for more endowments. In terms of tax organization, implementing the act was deemed possible.

Jüri Adams suggested an interesting idea. According to his idea, the Supreme Council or the future Riigikogu would have to make (cultural) political decision about allocating a certain percentage to the Cultural Endowment from privatization. The respective amount could reach 10%. This would help to significantly decrease state intervention in the financing of different areas of culture, and this way, culture would be self-sufficient. Then, there was long silence. In July 1993, a message was published (Making laws is complicated”, Sirp 9 July 1993, No 27 p 7) about the preparation of the draft Cultural Endowment of Estonia Act ant that the basis is not the 1938 version, which largely tied allocating money to presidential power and decreased the decisive power of cultural figures. In April 1994, the draft Act was submitted to the Riigikogu that finally passed it on 1 June. In the opinion of Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo, the act had waited the strengthening of other legislation, while the act was passed by the Riigikogu “in much more favourable form than the initial conceptual draft foresaw” (Hommikuleht, 21 June 1994, p 17).

In conclusion

The Cultural Endowment gained from the long waiting period. By the time the act was passed, many concepts had developed, which is why the law was better than the original draft. For example, according to the old act, the main source of proceeds was deemed to be the alcohol and tobacco excise duty, while the Riigikogu added lottery proceeds as well. In addition, the Cultural Endowment was allowed to develop its economic activity. Despite of fears and possibilities of the old act, an optimal solution was found to the opposition of mind and power. The Minister of Culture became the Director of the Cultural Endowment and the Ministry of Finance was also represented, while the other members were representatives of endowments. The Cultural Endowment probably also won in terms of endowments. In the earlier drafts, their number was much smaller. While there were six endowments in the old act, the version submitted to the Riigikogu in 1994 included nine endowments. As a result of disputes, the endowments of journalism and physical fitness were abandoned and free education endowment became the endowment of folk culture.

In the original draft Act, there was an option to create a pension fund of cultural figures in addition to endowments and allocate 10% of the income of the Cultural Endowment to the pension fund. The Pension Fund of Estonian Cultural Figures had been created in 1935 by the government’s decision. Persons working professionally in the field of culture that received their main income in that field could become members of the pension fund. The pension fund had to serve as their social security in case of old age and loss of creative abilities. This idea was probably not thought through and the clause was left out from the act. In general, however, passing the act was smooth and the new act was passed already on the second reading with 35 votes in favour. The timeliness and flexibility of the Cultural Endowment has been ensured by constant change. For example, there was no other similar law in Estonia before 1940, which would have been equally criticized or amended. The act underwent amendments in 925, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1935 and 1938. The strength of this act probably is its power to change.

Used materials:

Jüri Ujas "Eesti Kultuurkapital 1921-1941"

Jüri Uljas Sirp/Sotsiaalia/24.07.2009/Kultuurkapitali uus tulemine