Happy Independence Day 2017 Finland!

With the unique Slush 2016 tech event of last week now behind us here in Helsinki, Finland sets out to celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017.

Independence day celebration being about history and looking back on our accomplishments, 100 is a very nice round figure for not only reflection on the past – but also to contemplate where we want to go next.

It goes without saying that there is a major cultural paradigm shift going on for our country, and as for the rest of the world, perhaps too. Over the next one hundred years, Finnish companies, like others, will have to make services and products that put the needs of the customers first, without compromises.

The global stage, especially the digital, is a very competitive one.

Finland has a long tradition of approaching product and service design from a technological standpoint. Perhaps this is a key element in what originally placed Nokia cellphones, as well as many other innovations, firmly on the global market. But equally importantly, we tend to base our design on the needs of our customers, as well as to approach industrial design and IT from a Nordic aesthetic standpoint.

Take the Iittala products, spatial design by Alvar Aalto, Visit Finland’s brand, and the Helsinki-Vantaa airport as prime examples.

For me, this year’s independence day celebration incorporates mixed emotions, as our current government seems to emphasize values that differ from many things that I most value in Finnish culture.

Finland is currently facing heavy cuts of budget on the overall education and cultural sector, and the startup spirit of the Slush event seems to have not hindered our decision makers from reducing the education budgets in Finland to the bare minimum.

However, without our education system and most Finns in the field of IT and design being professionals with a polytechnic institute or university level background, we would hardly be able to host such amazing events as Slush and we would certainly not have witnessed the success of Finnish design and technology globally.

Independence day celebration here in Finland also being largely about fighting the Russians during the Second World War it is a very curious fact that in the ongoing crisis in Middle-East – caused chiefly by the absurd and offensive politics of the United States – is a cause of little or no concern for many Finns – even so much so, that a small minority of us Finns would present racist attitudes towards refugees fleeing from war.

With that being said – I am very happy about being born a Finn and here, as there are still many heavy issues to tackle in many other places in the world.

Finnish women won the right to vote a hundred years ago, and Finland, in fact, was the very first country in Europe to grant women that right.

Equality between the sexes and equality among people from different backgrounds being a key element in how our parents built this country, I wish we as Finns could promote these kinds of values more, both in our own country as well as globally.

On Visiting Finland and the Contemporary Finnish Art Scene

As Finland is a remote destination at the outskirts of Europe, we currently only receive approximately 0,4% of all of the travellers worldwide. And most of these travellers only stay for a very short stopover.

However, Visit Finland currently attracts over half a million visitors to its website every month. This goes to show that a staggering figure of annual visitors to the organization’s website must be very interested in Finland as a holiday destination. How to make more of these visitors book a trip here?

I visited Berlin two weeks ago. The city is, of course, one of the most hip destinations in Europe. During my stay there, I visited various sites related to its history, as well as the most popular contemporary art exhibitions currently going on, and many excellent clubs. Perhaps it is the combination of these three types of attractions – historical and cultural, as well as the nightlife – that makes me return there every so often?

I think that Finland, as a holiday destination, caters for many tastes as well, and we can certainly add the spectacular nature to our list of attractions. Now, as the summer is just about to begin, I am looking forward to spending a few weekends at least outside of my hometown Helsinki. For the Midsummer night, there is no better place to be than one with a view on a still lake in the middle of a forest.

But the nightlife scene in Helsinki is hot as well. A few weeks back, we had yet again the Berghain resident Marcel Dettmann playing an excellent 6-hour set in a club in the vicinity of Kallio. And many local artists are a treat for any house or techno lover. Many outstanding festivals for all tastes in music are organized here, the most hip one being the Flow Festival of Suvilahti, and are featured in international travel publications.

For the history and culture lovers, there are many things to experience as well. But perhaps the country brand would benefit of emphasizing the original culture and the excellent contemporary art scene, for example, instead of merely highlighting Suomenlinna Island and other such sites that have more to do with distant events of the past? Helsinki currently has several exhibitions going on that feature contemporary art’s finest international figures, such as Neto and Weiwei.

While I mention that, the Finnish contemporary artist scene is well worth getting acquainted with! Anssi Kasitonni, one of my favourite Finnish artists, is curating this year’s Mänttä Art Festival, first organized in 1993. Being the most hip annual art event outside of Helsinki, this festival that has a history of over 20 years is a must-see. Certainly worth travelling all the way to Mänttä!

And if you should miss that, the contemporary art festival ARS 17 will be taking over Kiasma next year.

The ARS festivals, much like the Documenta in Kassel, have a history ranging back to the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.

While the Documenta will be open in Kassel again the same year, and will certainly yet again be an event beyond comparison most likely attracting over one million art tourists worldwide, I suggest visiting the ARS festival in Helsinki as well. Kiasma will also be the partner organization of Frame Finland during next year’s Venice Biennale.

In two weeks, Visit Finland will organize a seminar related to travel and the field of culture. I will be attending the seminar, and I am very much looking forward to it. The CEO of Creative Tourism Barcelona, Caroline Couret, will be giving a keynote talk, and there will be workshops on the topic, one of them being on contemporary art and country image and facilitated by the Museum Director of Kiasma, Leevi Haapala.