Paide has been home to the Opinion Festival since its beginning. What kind of town does it take to host one of the coolest events of the summer? What is the festival’s influence on this quiet and peaceful place in the heart of Estonia? The mayor of Paide, Siret Pihelgas explains and talks about other exciting things as well.
What are the benefits of Paide being the festival site?
Firstly, we are located in the centre of Estonia so that it’s easily accessible for everyone. Another big advantage is that the town is small and compact. At first, the festival took place only in Vallimägi, which holds many people. Now we have also expanded to the centre, which is actually only a few steps away from Vallimägi. Various themed areas, accommodation places and an opportunity to get to know the town − they’re all close at hand.
Paide already has several years of experience of hosting the Festival. What are the important things to remember when hosting an event this big?
The most important thing is the community and making sure of a smooth cooperation. With these things, you could organise the Opinion Festival anywhere. Any undertaking of this size always relies on people. Therefore, it’s really great that there are so many volunteers who are trying their hardest and are willing to give one hundred per cent regardless of their family and work obligations to make this festival happen. Many of the volunteers are actually from here and every year after the festival they all come together and start planning the next year at once.
What are the festival’s benefits to your town?
The fact that the festival takes place in Paide is a really big gift for us, no kidding. Many people hadn’t been to Paide before or they didn’t have a reason to come here, but thanks to the Opinion Festival lots of people have now discovered our town. Even during those couple of days, it’s good to see young families taking an interest in the abandoned houses of the old town and saying that this place has the right atmosphere that they need to settle down.
Of course, another great thing is that local companies − namely restaurants and shops − earn more money during this weekend than maybe for the entire year.
The festival is also a starting point to many great ideas, many of which have been brought to life right here in Paide or in Järvamaa. For example, last year we had an idea to establish Paide’s own city theatre. We have found some young people from the drama school and they are trying to figure out how to start, what the theatre is going to be like, what the benefits would be for the community; how it would educate kids and so on. We commenced a huge project last year. Paide’s city theatre will be established in 2017 and it will start work in 2018.
Have you had any unexpected obstacles or surprises along the way?
There are always minor bumps on the road, that’s inevitable. It could be anything related to electric power, internet connection, garbage collection or whatever. But everything can be solved. Luckily, we haven’t had any major mishaps and each year we get smarter.
What is different this year?
For example, I know that last year we had some problems with getting access to Vallimägi for disabled people, but this is definitely being organised better this year.
Do you have any wise words for other towns and cities to motivate them to be as brave as you and organise big events like this one?
You have to think big. You can’t be afraid of impossible ideas, you have to put your faith in them and give people a chance to act. It will repay you a hundredfold!
Why do you recommend people to come to the Opinion Festival this summer?
This is a difficult question because I have taken part every year and I wouldn’t even know otherwise. It’s not easy to point out something specific because I believe that there’s something for everyone.
The festival has evolved so fast and it is downright terrifying, in a good way, to think about the future. There are so many discussion stages that there can never be a moment when you don’t have anything interesting to listen to.
Discussing important subjects in the open air creates new ideas and may make you see some things in a different light. Nobody can possibly think all the time, so from time to time you can just ponder on your own or spend quality time with other people.
The positive emotions of the festival last for a long time and once you’ve run out of those, you can start looking forward to the next edition!
Interviewed by Maarja-Liis Mölder.
Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.