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We Are Family (WAF) Choir

The City That Never Sleeps’ four-day-affair with Estonian culture 0

Q&A with Kadri Napritson-Acuna, organizer and Executive Director of Estonian Cultural Days in NYC

Weronika Trojańska*

Estonian Cultural Days in New York
April 5 – 9, 2017

For almost five decades, the Foundation for Estonian Arts and Letters has been organizing Estonian Cultural Days in New York (“Eesti Kultuuripäevad New Yorgis”). This annual multi-day event, featuring Estonians from both the local diaspora and abroad, is at the center of the foundation’s activities. This year’s edition – full of concerts, performances, lectures and other events – will be celebrated over five days in April (5-9), and takes place mostly in the historic New York Estonian House, which was founded in 1946 as a cultural center for Estonian refugees.

The festival will start with a screening of Janno Jürgens’ film “They Say Tomatoes Love Rock Music” (“Räägitakse, et tomatid armastavad rokkmuusikat”), a stirring story about an older gentleman, Alexander, who cultivates his blooming garden, and the trials and tribulations of his family; and the road movie “Chasing Ponies/Ameerika Suvi”, which is loosely based on a group of Eastern European students’ adventures with summer work in the US. Among other events, the audience will be able to experience a unique concert by WAF, the most renown Estonian pop choir, as well as see the prominent Tallinn City Theater’s production of “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (written by Edward Albee and originally directed by Mladen Kieslov). One of the featured guests of Cultural Days 2017 will be the art historian Heie Treier, who will give a talk presenting her research on the Estonian-born, world-famous architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974); Teier draws attention to medieval Estonian architecture, analyzing how Kahn's birthplace might have influenced his creative work.

Additionally, the Foundation for Estonian Arts and Letters annually presents an award to a cultural figure of Estonian decent for her or his work in the cultural field outside of Estonia. This year the prize will be given to Mardi Valgemäe, the founder of the Estonian Cultural Days in New York, an author, and a former English professor at Lehman College NYC. spoke to Kadri Napritson-Acuna, organizer and Executive Director of Estonian Cultural Days in NYC.

How and when did the idea of establishing Estonian Cultural Days come into existence? 

It is very interesting to respond to this question. This year I am publishing “47 years of Estonian Cultural Days in NYC”. During this research I came across many articles and people who have organized this event. Mardi Valgemäe, the first organizer of Estonian Cultural Days in 1970, said that “Young Estonians born in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s have no understanding of Estonian cultural heritage. If the Cultural Days could influence the youth and get some interest among them about their history and heritage, we will have already made this event worthwhile”. This tradition has lasted 47 years, so I guess it can be said that there was an influence back then and there still is, as we are going strong.

What are the premises of the festival?

Whereas in the past, during difficult political times, the goal was more to get Estonians together and to introduce the culture among ourselves, as times have changed, we would like to concentrate more on how to introduce our rich culture and great talents to the rest of the world. Many of our lectures and events try to meet these new aims, but at the same time, we do not forget the old traditions, and so we continue with introducing new music and arts that have been made in Estonia to fellow Estonians and locals here in America. Not many people in the world know that one of the biggest folk music festivals in Europe takes place in Estonia. Arvo Pärt, the world-famous composer, is Estonian as well, and we also have invented Skype and TransferWise. And there are only 1.3 million Estonians in the world.

How do you choose the participating performers, artists, etc.? 

We come up with a list of currently relevant and impressive performers in Estonia, as well as the most recent productions and art projects made by Estonians here in the United States. This year we've had the great honor to introduce two singers and songwriters who have entertained millions of viewers all around Europe, and who represented Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest. We're also presenting a local New York City-based musical production that was inspired by the love story of two Estonians during WWII. Our focus usually becomes clear after traveling through Estonia, as well as by communicating with Estonian Americans and determining what are the relevant topics currently within the community. As this event is organized by volunteers who write numerous grant requests to get funding from different organizations and donors, we can only offer as much as we can afford. 

What would you especially recommend? 

Well, I would recommend everything, of course, as it is just so amazing what we can offer this year, but for the non-Estonian-speaking audience, I would say to definitely come and see Estonia’s most famous pop-rock choir, WAF, together with a small introduction to the musical “the innocence” at Scandinavia House on Friday, April 7th, at 7 pm.

*Bio: Weronika Trojańska is an artist and arts writer. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts (Art Criticism and Art Promotion) in Poznań, and from the Sandberg Instituut (Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. In her practice she investigates the notion of artists’ auto/biographies as fictional constructs. She writes regularly for the art magazine Metropolis My, among others. Currently she lives and works in Poland.