The Arvamusfestival (Opinion Festival) believes that they influence first and foremost each individual participating. All big changes in the world begin with little flickers of thought or emotion inside a person. The festival creates a place that offers those inspirational moments that get people on the path to becoming more informed, inspired, open, brave, and active – to build a better discussion culture and stronger democracy in Estonia
Purpose and vision
“Arvamusfestival is an open and inspiring meeting place for different opinions and new ideas, where discussions and debates on important topics come to life. Our mission is to bring together all societal groups, to empower people and through this – improve the culture of discussion”
Founder and year of establishment
Arvamusfestival was established in 2013. The festival was founded as a civic initiative, in a climate of growing distrust towards politics and disillusionment in public discussions. The idea was to team up to establish a platform for open discussion, a new kind of experience through meaningful and engaging debates.
Arvamusfestival is owned by the non-profit organisation MTÜ Arvamusfestival and relies almost completely on work done by volunteers and support from sponsors (state, local, business, private).
Location and length
The festival is located in Paide and takes place for 2 days on the 2nd weekend of August. It was located in Paide because people in Paide saw the potential of Arvamusfestival and offered tremendous volunteer support. The festival is located 90 km from Tallinn and the town has approximately 8350 inhabitants.
Size – number of participants and events
According to the paper wristbands handed out to all participants, the festival’s own estimate of unique participants is approximately 9000. In 2017, there were 25 stages, 166 open discussions and 35 events on the culture programme.
People attending the festival
Although the festival is open to all, based on feedback from questionnaires (429 responses in 2017), the festival mostly attracts young and middle aged people who are interested in societal questions, or in the development of a certain field:
- Gender: 60% women and 40% men
- Age: 40% 20-29, 23% 30-39, 15% 40-49, 3-8% others.
- Geographical area: 51% from capital, Tallinn or Harju County, 18 % from Tartu County, 16% Järvamaa County (locals).
Involvement of the political parties
Each of the six parliamentary parties has their own 1-day stage at their disposal and they organise 3-4 discussion events during the festival. They are expected to put together their own programme and finance everything with their own funds. In 2017, 14% of the discussions were organised by parties. The festival traditionally ends on Saturday evening with a debate of the leaders of the parliamentary parties.
Anyone can apply to organize an event. There is an open call for preliminary ideas for discussion topics. The core team analyses and evaluates the ideas and, based on similarity and synergy of topics, groups them on shared “theme” stages. Organisations are expected to organise the discussions and stages themselves (15 such stages in 2017). The festival core team consults on the process and keeps the organisers on track. In 2017, there were approximately 95 organisations organising discussions, including: 40% non-profits, 18% public sector institutions, 17% businesses. Arvamusfestival builds and pays for only a few important stages, for example, the discussion stage for the children. The rest is organised by partners. The event organisers that have been grouped together decide amongst themselves the division of costs.
2017 was the first year when the number of discussions had to be limited and the programme curated, with the aim of improving the quality of discussions. Only 35% of the event ideas from open call were approved. The main principles were to offer a wide variety of topics, to include some important evergreen topics, to avoid duplication, and to offer varied (more engaging) discussion formats. Only media channels and political parties have the advantage of having their own stage and not having to go through the open call. However, the festival team works closely with them to ensure fresh content.
The festival puts a lot of effort into spreading the idea of an open and friendly atmosphere for discussion, which is why the festival supported the organisation of two pre-festival events in different areas of Estonia during 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, they have organised four open discussion nights called Arvamusfestival Club in Tallinn. The festival has devoted more and more attention to cultural expression during the festival. Over the last 2-3 years, the festival has focused on recreating public space in small towns, represented by Paide. This year the festival included several art exhibitions and light shows in and around old abandoned houses. However, the greatest success story in 2017 was a 1-month urban space experiment in the town square, taking the square back from cars and traffic and returning it to the people and pedestrians. The square was closed to traffic and, in cooperation with architects, the people of Arvamusfestival built a volleyball court and areas to hang out. For a month, local people organised different cultural programmes in the square.