Why and how Tartu become UNESCO City of Literature


Why and how Tartu applied to become UNESCO City of Literature

In Tartu, the membership in the UCCN is seen as a recognition of the city's literary heritage and vital cultural scene but first and foremost as an opportunity to collaborate internationally by exchanging experience, ideas and good practices, and to increase the awareness about Estonian clulture and literature worldwide.


Tartu is a city where culture, creative freedom and interdisciplinary innovation have been vital aspects of identity, of local and global aspirations to uniqueness as living environment. The city of Tartu has set the development of cultural and creative life as one of its top priorities: this is reflected both in the strategies of developing tourism as well as in the complex development strategy "Tartu 2030", the total vision of which interprets the development of Tartu as a city of intertwined unity of knowledge, entrepreneurship, modern environment, care, and creativity. The most characteristic feature of cultural life in Tartu is creativity joining all free arts, openness to new ideas and a will to attract the citizens and the visitors to join these creative experiments. Tartu is historically a city of verbal arts and literary culture but it is also essential that in Tartu literary activity is closely connected with other arts and spheres of life: many events and projects bring together literature, music, visual arts and performing arts and literature often serves as the connecting link between different spheres of culture.


Tartu has also been the centre of many nationwide literary events and projects: it was the administrative centre for the programmes of the national book years (1935-1936 and 2000-2001) as well as the "Year of Reading 2010" (presented also as Book Now 2010; in Estonian Lugemisaasta 2010), also the biggest and most versatile Estonian literary festival Prima Vista (organized by a network of literary institutions of Tartu) and the biggest theatre festival Draama (Drama) are organised in Tartu.


At the University of Tartu, one of the oldest universities in Northern and Eastern Europe (founded in 1632) literature is taught in most institutes of the Faculty of Philosophy, the centre of academic literary studies and teaching being the Department of Literature and Theatre studies. The academics as well as the students who bringing fresh ideas and interests play, of course, a significant role in the literary life of Tartu.


Tartu is the pioneer of Estonian creative industries: in the middle of the previous decade the Tartu City Department of Cultural Affairs organized international conferences of creative industry; in 2009 the city participated in founding the Tartu Centre of Creative Industries that is expanding rapidly and was recently chosen as one of the eight best institutions of the kind by the research bureau KEA European Affairs. By 2010 there were 1,358 institutions related to creative industries and registered in the Business Register in Tartu. During the recent 10 years the number of such institutions has increased more than twice and they can be found in all parts of the city.


The idea of applying for the network as a city of literature was born already in 2009. In close cooperation with the Estonian National Commission for UNESCO, various literary institutions started mapping the main strengths and aims of Tartu as a literary city while also learning about thexisting members and their experience. The preliminary application was presented to UNESCO in 2013, receiving a most encouraging response. In autumn 2014 the City Government of Tartu summoned the official application committee of the representatives of various cultural and educational institutions (Estonian Writers Union, Estonian Literary Society, University of Tartu, libraries, museums, teacher and youth associations, publishers and publications, and city representatives, including the mayor). In the course of regular meetings, the committee reassessed the assets and goals of Tartu as a cultural centre of uniquely hybrid historic background and current range of cross-sector activities, developed strategies for supporting the vivid literary scene in its global aspirations and initiated several new public involvement programmes with experts and civic representatives.


With our partners, we are working to provide enhanced conditions for creative self-improvement and mobility to writers, translators, researchers and promoters from different cultural backgrounds, to grant better access to their work for socially vulnerable groups as well as help those groups in making their voices heard. Supporting lifelong reading habits from the early stages of education is complemented by encouraging public institutions and creative industries in cross-cultural and cross-sector cooperation in providing a variety of reading, writing and publishing options, export connections and raising social awareness of, and in, literature. The site-specific projects related to the urban spaces of partner cities increase cultural tourism, artistic exchange and provide inspiration for writers.