Cultural Centre ‘Salme’ (CC ‘Salme’) focuses on social cohesion by providing on-demand venues for cultural activities, for example, traditional dance groups for children, middle aged and elderly, amateur theatre, choirs and belly dancing. CC ‘Salme’ has a 700-seat theatre hall, ballroom, gallery, theatre cafeteria and a gym. It is a popular and well-recognised active cultural centre that was founded in 1965 as a traditional Soviet era cultural centre, a large building (with a 7000 square meter floor area) with necessary equipment and rooms for various activities that should correspond with the cultural needs of the population. It is still the biggest cultural activity centre in the Northern Tallinn city district. Today, there are about 40 collectives meeting regularly with over 1500 participants in total.
CC ‘Salme’ is a subsidiary of the Northern Tallinn District Government—its basic public funding is always guaranteed, and other monetary resources comprise of venue letting. It is run by 10 people. Its activities have an ethnic dimension since CC ‘Salme’ has mainly specialised in Estonian national culture, but a few Russian and Ukrainian collectives can be identified as well. Many prestigious large song and dance collectives have been staged in this cultural centre for many years, for example, the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration, one of the largest amateur choral and dance events in the world.
The broader goal of CC ‘Salme’ is to maintain and develop the Estonian national culture traditions and cultural heritage. It also performs a different role compared with other cultural institutions: CC ‘Salme’ has the prestige and reputation of dealing with traditional national cultures and offering hobby activities for children and youth. In recent years, CC ‘Salme’ has hosted different public institutions and national authorities at events and conferences, many of them charitable and social.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is not used in CC ‘Salme’ as a direct goal of its activities, and diversity as a phenomenon is mentioned mainly in pragmatic terms. The activities of CC ‘Salme’ reflect rather than promote diversity in the city.
“We don’t have the same situation like in America that here is a Chinatown and there are some other ethnic population’s district. The Estonians and Russians live everywhere. It is a mixed population. Northern Tallinn cannot be divided into parts. It is not true that Kopli, Pelguranna and Pelgulinna are rather Russian and Kalamaja Estonian communities. Estonians and Russians are represented in each neighbourhood.”
The director of the centre argues that the culture should be provided in large centres that combine different activities, and it should preferably be organised through top-down policies. Amateur activities and diversity of opportunities are rather seen as negative because they fragment the cultural activities. The contemporary increase of cultural possibilities and differences are therefore criticised and viewed as a negative phenomenon. They are doing a little bit everywhere, but nothing properly.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The strength of the CC ‘Salme’ stems from a tradition that goes back to the Soviet period. It operates successfully due to external factors like the high demand for such a traditional culture centre and the support, including funding by the city, of the public sector. Even if it is old-fashioned in comparison with modern culture centres, the CC ‘Salme’ still owns the largest market share in the cultural economy of Northern Tallinn in the sense of a loyal audience and participants.
In a paradoxical way, the innovation of the CC ‘Salme’ is to enrich the city’s cultural economy and cultural diversity through providing recreation and leisure opportunities that facilitate, most of all, traditional Estonian culture. The strength comes from an entrenched position that has existed for decades and also through the presence of a loyal audience. It is interesting that elsewhere in Estonia such old-fashioned culture centres have disappeared, whereas CC ‘Salme’ still operates successfully. CC ‘Salme’ is also a good example of how an unintentional and spontaneous management of diversity-related developments take place in a situation where diversity is not the direct goal or is even denied to exist. However, by keeping the traditional ‘cultural combine’ operating, CC ‘Salme’ contributes to the diversity of the cultural life in the city in a very important way.