Percent for Art in Estonia

26 Dec, 2016 Blog

Introduction of the Estonian Commissioning of Artworks Act

            The Estonian Commissioning of Artworks Act[1] entered into force in the beginning of year 2011. According to the law an artwork has to be commissioned when a new public building is built or an old one reconstructed by a state institution. The suitable artwork for such buildings is to be found through a public competition. The price of the artwork should be at least 1% of the price of the procurement or concession contract for construction works.

            The aim of this law is to enrich public space with professional and aesthetically refined artwork. The difference between just buying artworks that are already produced and commissioning new ones is that the creation of new artwork under the scope of this law already takes into consideration the specific spatial context and the function of the building. This is not a completely new idea in the international context as there are similar laws in place all over the world. For instance, percent for art principle is widely used in the US, both on state and municipality level[2], and it’s also a widespread practice in Europe, especially in Scandinavia.   

            In Estonia, following the principle is obligatory only when the procurement of public buildings is initiated by the state or legal persons functioning under public law or under the control of the state. Local municipalities are excluded due to the general principles of the relations between state and local municipalities. The state is not allowed to place legal obligations upon local municipalities without providing additional funds to fulfill such obligations. Also, only procurements with the cost of 750 000 EUR or more are deemed grounds for the commissioning obligation. There is also an upper limit of 65 000 euros to the cost of the artwork in case of very expensive buildings (costing 6,5 million or more). Since the law has been in place, 8 artworks have been commissioned for the maximum price.

            All in all almost 60 artworks have been commissioned for buildings all over Estonia since the law came into force[3] and, some exceptions aside, the commissioning of artworks has been generally positively welcomed. Apart from problems characteristic to every public contest, there have also been some issues that would fall under the category “aesthetical disagreements”. As a response to these problems in 2015 the Ministry of Culture publicized recommendations for commissioning art works in order to avoid future problems and to ensure that the artwork commissioned best suits the specific context. The main key to avoiding problems regarding the artistic format of the artwork is actively engaging the professional competition evaluation jury, provided by the law and comprising in two thirds of art professionals[4], in all phases of the commissioning process. Also, in some cases the public buildings have been erected but the builder has failed to commission artwork. These cases are currently under scrutiny of the Ministry of Culture and hopefully more public art is to be commissioned in the near future.


Kadi-Ell Tähiste

Specially for



[1] English version available here:

[2]For example:

[3] The art works can be seen on the webpage of the Ministry of Culture (note: not all have sent the proper documentation and there are some competitions still ongoing)

[4] See Commissioning of Artworks Act, § 33 (1)


Preview photo: sculpture "Viewpoint", authored by Mihkel Masso and Kristjan Feodorov source: