Situated 186 kilometres (116 miles) southeast of Tallinn and 245 kilometres (152 miles) northeast of Riga, you’ll find the second largest city of Estonia, Tartu. Not only is it home to the nation’s oldest and most established University, but it’s also the hub of Estonian street art. The Tartu graffiti and urban art scene is booming.
There is a range of street-art styles too, some are playful and others are political or based on satire. You’ll find some created from Stencils, some are lifelike, others are cartoonish. Sometimes tiny, other times are giant murals. The street art in Tartu is diverse.
My home town of Bristol also boasts a thriving and vibrant graffiti scene as well as probably the famous street artist, Banksy. I love seeing how other cities rival my home town in terms of urban artwork. The Tartu street art scene certainly gives my beloved Bristol a run for its money!
The single word answer; Everywhere! You won’t have to walk far or look too hard to find graffiti in Tartu, it adorns nearly every doorway, bridge, wall, abandoned building, power box and archway imaginable.
When you’re walking about the city, don’t forget to look up and back over your shoulder. You’ll be surprised with how much you can see.
Naturally, urban art is constantly evolving, some of the graffiti in Tartu has been painted or tagged over, what’s there today isn’t guaranteed to be there tomorrow, but that’s part of the excitement of going to see Estonia’s street art capital – you never quite know what you will stumble upon.
Tartu Street Art Map
By no means is this map exhaustive or up-to-date even such a short time after visiting Estonia’s street art capital. Despite the Tartu graffiti scene is constantly changing, the map still provides a good starting point. However, even when I visited, some pieces had been removed or painted over as well as lots of pieces I discovered that aren’t even on the street art map of Tartu.
Why is Tartu called the capital of Estonian street art?
The festival consists of various local and international artists producing work in urban spaces around Tartu. The locations of these spaces are kept a secret until after the festival to protect the identity of the artists working on them. To coincide with the festival, various workshops, tours and talks take place at the same time.
Considering urban artwork is prohibited by the law in the country, the local city council actually encourage it! So much so, that in 2013 Edward von Longus was presented with a cultural award for his technically illegal pieces of street art.
With a local government promoting and encouraging urban art in Estonia, it’s easy to see how Tartu has become the nation’s street art capital.
This year, as part of the Stencibility festival, the organisers introduced Europe’s largest sticker exhibition called SLÄP! This travelling exhibition featured over 11,000 stickers from over 250 artists representing 30 countries who literally stamped their mark on a van.
The SLÄP! exhibition van than set out to 11 different cities across Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany. I coincidently caught up with the van while it was in the town of Parnu in Estonia. It was there one day and then gone the next.
The Street Art of Tartu – ‘Freedom Gallery’
Under every bridge crossing of the River Emajogi in Tartu, you’ll find hundreds of pieces of street art. Some are giant murals, but more commonly are smaller stencilled pieces.
Murals in Tartu
If there is a blank wall in Tartu, you can be sure that before long it will be donning a piece of artwork or beautiful mural. The Tartu street art scene is accepted by the local government as well as the residents. Tartu graffiti has given the city and identity. Along with the university, there is a cultural vibe throughout with tons of hipster cafes, bars and small independent artsy shops. It’s certainly a city with a lot of charm
Edward von Longus stencil work in Tartu
Known as Estonia’s answer to Banksy, due to the use of stencils in his work, the Tartu based street artist also draws parallels in his topic of work which provokes and highlights political and social problems. Like any reputable graffiti artist, Edward von Lõngus keeps his identity hidden. Some say he’s a single person operating under an alias or a fictional character, and others say a group of people acting under one name. Who knows?!
His iconic style of work can be characterised by his signature EvL stamp (seen on the bottom corner of the coat in the picture above). His work and can be found all over Tartu as well as internationally including Berlin, Riga and London.
Tartu Street Art on Electricity Boxes & Residential Areas
Wandering about in the neighbourhoods just outside of the main city of Tartu, you will find pieces of urban art everywhere. In particular, the Electricity boxes, shed walls and people’s houses have all had the blessing of the local street artists.
The urban art gallery of Tartu is certainly worthwhile exploring beyond the centre. I spent a whole afternoon walking around the nearby residential areas, in reality it’s not far by foot, but there was so many beautiful pieces of graffiti to look at, it took a few hours to do it justice.
If you like street art, I highly recommend the Tartu graffiti scene
If you are travelling in the Baltic States ot are in the capital of Talinn for a few days, it’s certainly worthwhile taking a trip to Tartu to explore the street art vibe. There are hundereds of pieces all over the city and certainly should be on any urban art lovers bucket list.