Tartu: Art solutions for pilot area buildings

New tree

Main sector:

  • Citizen engagement
  • Other: attractive urban environment


In addition to fully renovating its pilot area buildings and turning them into modern and energy-efficient houses during the SEC project, the City of Tartu has planned another activity for turning the pilot area into a unique and attractive urban space. For this, an international art competition was organized for finding artists to create works for the Khrushchev-era buildings in the city centre. A total of 54 artists from Estonia and abroad were interested in contributing to the urban design project.

The artworks will be created from scratch, taking the specific location and surroundings of the buildings into account and based on the wishes of the residents in terms of what kind of art they would like to see on their buildings. In order for all of the works to fit together as a whole, the project will be overseen by curators who themselves are art experts and artists. Working with residents, the curators will choose which artists will make artwork proposals for which building.

The art project is carried out as part of Tartu's SmartEnCity activities related to energy retrofitting, which focus on transforming the Khrushchev-era buildings in the center of Tartu into smart and energy efficient buildings. Since most of the smart solutions that will be implemented in the project are technological in nature, the visual appearance of the buildings is now also considered in cooperation with artists. By the time the refurbishment activities come to an end in 2019, the city center in Tartu will boast a unique urban space as well as a distinctive urban gallery for the enjoyment of both locals and visitors.

Business model:

The artworks will be completed during the renovation activities and for this, the financial support of the City of Tartu will be combined with the housing association’s own funds (a total of 8000 EUR for each piece). The renovation contractors will help prepare buildings for the artwork and in the process, will cooperate with the respective curator who is responsible for the end result.

Citizen engagement:

The art project heavily engages citizens and pilot area inhabitants into creating the visual urban environment for their community. With the help of the SEC members and curators, all decisions will be made together with the citizens who also are the final voices for selecting artworks for their houses. A number of meetings with the pilot building residents are organized in order to reach a solution for each house that is also approved by the citizens.



  • Unique and aesthetically pleasing urban environment
  • Opportunity to design facades as a cohesive gallery
  • Motivating residents to improve their houses
  • Attracting visitors to the city
  • New way for artists to gain visibility 
  • Increased citizen satisfaction with the urban space



Ca. 5,000€ for each building (if exceeded, the housing association will make up the difference)

Potential for replication:

The replicability potential of this solution is high and it can be planned and implemented almost everywhere without any major preconditions or barriers. City and street art can be effectively used in all urban spaces in order to create a coherent visual story of the area and enrich the urban space. It is important to have the local government’s will and effective citizen engagement processes in place as, in essence, this is largely a community-building solution.

Pre-conditions: Effective citizen engagement is necessary, as is effective cooperation with curators, who will pre-select suitable solutions according to the set criteria and coordinate the selection process of the final solution together with the citizens.

Required knowledge: Knowledge of the technical requirements, suitable materials and capacity needed for creating large-scale street art pieces (either large murals on the buildings or sculptural solutions). Necessary stakeholders: City architects, art curators, artists, housing associations/communities in the city

Potential barriers: Strict architectural requirements in the city that may hinder the replication of this solution.


Ms. Andra Somelar
Institute of Baltic Studies

Picture source:
Institute of Baltic Studies