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Tallinn Adventures

By Stephanie Peachey

My adventure in Tallinn began with a stunning sunset from the plane window over the Baltic sea and a short taxi ride to the hotel. I was invited to join delegates from across the UK and the Baltic States to take part in a Symposium at the culmination of Pop Up Projects Creators programme. Pop Up Creators has worked with 150 young illustrators from the UK and the Baltic States, providing them with a mentor to help them create and illustrate a story, all of which have been published as leperellos (a concertina folded leaflet). At Festival Bridge we were delighted that Peterborough Regional College and Anglia Ruskin University took part.  This visit to Tallinn bought participants and partners together to think about the next steps to support young people in careers as illustrators but also eventually to broaden the pool of illustrators working in children’s literature.

Tallinn is on my travel bucket list and so I was really looking forward to going – it was an extra bonus to be able to see it with colleagues like Collette and Sarah from Metal and Ruth from Artswork, the Bridge Organisation in the South East. Also getting off our plane were young artists who had taken part in the programme, artist mentors and tutors from the universities, colleges and schools who had been part of the project.

Our two days started with the challenge of finding breakfast – not many cafes open in Tallinn Old Town at 8am! The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so the architecture made up for the lack of caffeine. We passed the oldest café in Tallinn (not open) and also the oldest surviving church in Estonia, the orthodox cathedral of Alexandra Nevsky, Toompea Castle and the medieval city walls. There was glass information boards on every building of interest and the sun reflected the words on the walls. I also loved the swifts that were wheeling and screaming through the sky above.

The first day was at the Centre for Children’s Literature – part museum, part workshop and exhibition space, part development organisation. I really liked the workshop space in the attic with lots of creative places for children to work – big cushions to sit on, velvet sofas, and a den in the corner.

Our morning discussions were about the next stages of the Pop Up Creators project and in particular the development of Pathways, a digital platform to promote young talent, showcase work, aid networking, be a forum for ideas, for sharing of tutorials for professional development and as a focus for case studies to show potential careers and progression routes.

We talked about the importance of feeling like you’re part of a community as an illustrator. Many illustrators have another job and described the challenge of keeping working every day with little feedback and no real opportunity to work towards something. Illustrators are not always writers – the programme showed that creating the story was the hardest part for students. So having a stimulus for work as an illustrator is important. Kus, a Latvian comics publisher talked about a competition that they run for new children’s picture books where 10 new books are chosen from over one hundred each year and about the role independent publishers play in supporting graphic artists. Click here for more information about Kus.

The young artists said it had been useful to hear from artists who had succeeded in being published and what barriers they had overcome and holes fallen down as well as their successes.

We refined our ideas further in the afternoon when everyone presented their ideas for a digital platform and associated programme visually using maps, visual soups, house, balloons and journeys. I was just proud to have played with some coloured crayons for our map of the audiences for the website. It was good to escape from some fresh air and a coffee whilst we did this thinking. We all shared our ideas to finish the day, hopefully leaving Pop Up , House of Illustration and No Brow Publishers some good starting points for thinking through the next steps.

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Over an Indian meal, we discussed favourite books, podcasts versus radio and learned more about all our places of work. Check out House of Illustration – about to launch a project placing young illustrators in local schools for a year’s placement, mentored by education professionals. Also No Brow– a London based publishing house who supported an artist to create a series of books about Hilda, only to have it commissioned by Netflix as a TV series.

On Thursday we learned the crucial skill of reading maps and Google maps having confidently got on a tram going the wrong way! We also learned more about Tallinn – the city of many parts.

Our evening was spent sitting next to a railway line surrounded by cafes and home decoration shops and very cool looking people. In the morning we were in Kadriorg, the park established by Peter The Great for his queen, with its fountains and trees and long avenues. In the afternoon it was a magical exploration into the world of imagination at NUKU Theatre and Museum – the only good legacy from the Soviet administration said Education Manager, Marie.

You could not get more of a contrast between the stylish cathedral of KUMU, Estonia’s contemporary art gallery in Kadriorg and NUKU. We had great discussions as arts organisations about our learning programmes talking about how young people lead their own activity in different venues, about artists in residence, and about the challenge of measuring immediate impact when we know the arts transform lives over years. We were in KUMU’s learning space – small, no windows, a strange green colour – in a brilliant building. It was a microcosm of the conversation we had about learning and curation in galleries and how rarely they connect well.

In contrast NUKU placed learning at the centre of its museum. We learned about the anthropology of culture, about making theatre from things, about making paper breathe and fell in love with the teddy bear puppets which we made live. We talked about transferring energy from the puppeteer to the puppet and explored how masks and puppets let you explore empathy, diversity and difference, different perspectives.

In a city which only gained independence in 2004 this felt very important. There are Russian speaking and Estonian speaking schools in the city. There is a divide which cultural organisations are challenging and a recent heritage which is very real.

Marie from KUMU said that puppet theatres were originally established under the Soviet administration to teach children about the Soviet ideology. When they went, the theatre stayed and has grown. It still teaches but now it is teaching understanding, empathy and how to help inanimate objects live.

It made me think of two little boys who got on our tram back into the city with their scooters earlier. They had such a fabulous friendship talking the whole way, constantly touching each other’s arm and clearly comfortable travelling round the city together.

Over my few days in Tallinn, I considered how different the placement of learning is in cultural venues and really enjoyed spaces that were designed to entrance compared to small dark classrooms hidden away in huge buildings devoted to art.

I thought about how we should be supporting young artists – how we talk about portfolio careers and make them attractive, how we can be truthful about how hard it is and how resilient and passionate you need to be without destroying dreams, how we create a supportive community to help, nurture and safely critique new work, how we showcase talent both digitally and in real time.

I listened and learned about different approaches to cultural education across different countries and realised that we are all more similar in our challenges than I would have expected. We are all making the case for cultural education in the school day. We are all managing diversity and difference in our communities, showing that the arts are a great way to explore this safely. I also enjoyed the differences. One of the best things for me about the Pop Up Creators project is the breadth of artistic styles on show – the breadth of stories.

It has been a joy to experience the friendliness of this city and meet some of the cultural organisations who champion their future and their heritage.  Thank you Pop Up for the invitation!

Steph is our Senior Manager for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Read Ruth from Artswork’s Talinn blog below:

BLOG: Artswork goes to Estonia!