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Tallinn City Museum proposes open storage facility

Tallinn City Museum proposes open storage facility

This week, Tallinn’s Deputy Mayor Kaarel Oja presented the Tallinn City Museum’s development plan to the City Government, which includes the next major cultural investment of the city: the creation of Open Collections.

“The City Museum unites seven unique museums that tell the story of Tallinn. It is a high-level memory institution that collects, preserves, and studies our city’s heritage. The City Museum is currently in a good period, but I hope that the development plan process has only helped in setting goals. As proof of this, next week, the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum will reopen with a new permanent exhibition,” said Kaarel Oja, adding that there is one serious issue that needs addressing – innovative solutions for the storage conditions of the collections. “We are talking about nearly 170,000 artifacts, ranging from photos to furniture, stone carvings to toys, and ceramics and precious metals to archaeological finds.”

The City Museum houses the material assets of various guilds that operated in Tallinn, the heritage of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, and, most notably, the treasures of Tallinn Town Hall, including historic tapestries. “Incidentally, the Tallinn City Museum was originally created to provide a place and home specifically for these tapestries,” noted Oja.

However, heritage requires specific storage conditions, and current solutions are not sustainable in the long term. In search of different solutions, the City Museum has been working with the city over the past year on a new storage project based on the open storage concept. “In fact, the future of our collections is the backbone of the City Museum’s development plan, which also determines many other necessary investments and development activities. It can be said without hesitation that the Open Collections building will be the next major cultural investment of the city, both in terms of scale and impact,” said Oja.

Tallinn City Museum director Heli Nurger explained that Open Collections represent a fundamental shift in how artifacts are stored and preserved. “Our goal is to make them as accessible and visible to the public as possible. Currently, about 3 percent of the collections are displayed in various exhibitions, but with Open Collections, the aim is to make nearly 60 percent of the collections visible. In simple terms, this means creating storage spaces that are open to people. It’s like a giant exhibition with minimal curation,” described Nurger.

As an illustrative example, Nurger highlighted the cellar of the Tallinn City Museum, where the ceramics collection and partially the copper, brass, bronze, and pewter items are displayed based on the open storage concept. Additionally, the Estonian National Museum has also partially implemented the open storage concept by making some of its collections accessible. 

“The global experience is encouraging. We have seen major success stories over the past decades where collections attract the public – both locals and visitors – and even become more visited than thoroughly curated and designed permanent exhibitions. The amount of scientific research also increases significantly. In summary, we are talking about accessibility, visibility, and a fundamental cultural shift,” noted Nurger.

Deputy Mayor Kaarel Oja acknowledged that this is a significant investment: “We are talking about a space of approximately 15,000 square meters and an undertaking that, if successful, will be completed by the end of the decade. We are aware that this is a financially challenging task, but we must inevitably address the storage conditions of our collections. And in fact, even in difficult times, we need to dream and prepare so that we can quickly start when better times come.”

Oja noted that the city has been working on this topic quite intensively for over a year, and it is now known that the best location for Open Collections is at Kursi 5. “We have considered several options but decided on the location next to the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia. Firstly, it is municipal land with a suitable detailed plan. Secondly, it fits perfectly with the surrounding environment and plans,” explained Oja.

It is also significant, according to Oja, that the construction of the open storage will finally address the building issues of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia.
“We plan to renovate and integrate the current EKKM building with Open Collections as part of the same project. In planning this, the synergy has become increasingly appealing to all parties involved. Contemporary art and Tallinn’s cultural heritage in essentially one building is an intriguing and inspiring idea,” noted Oja.

The preparatory work for Open Collections will continue throughout the summer, with the aim of announcing an international architectural competition in the fall after several topics have been clarified.