Uniarts Helsinki Reaches Out to its Neighbors


Me wearing original olympic-wear designed for the 1952 Summer Olympics, courtesy of Kansallismuseo.

How it All Got Started

With Helsinki in bloom, the city is once again alive, filled with street art and music, park-picnicking, and a collective feeling that all is well. Amidst the summer festivities the University of the Arts Helsinki has reason to celebrate — thrilled to hold its first joint conferment ceremony since the theatre, fine art and music academies merged in 2013.

The school had a great idea for the momentous occasion: to reach out to the community and collaborate with neighborhood organizations. The task? Create a ‘salute to the arts’ that could be shown on June 9th during the student procession around Töölö.

With little else to go on, a handful of ambitious students, aided by Pia Lindy and Venla Heinonen, set out to see what these collaborations could look like. As a collective, we contacted the National Museum, Parliament, Kiasma, Soitin Laine and others — asking each of them “what do the arts mean to you?”

So began our collaborations.

National Museum: What Does Art Mean to You?

Working with the National Museum’s community manager Elisa Sarpo, I was curious to learn more about the institution and their employees. Always with this lingering question: what do the arts mean to you? Ms. Sarpo was excited by the discussion, sharing with me a series of projects the museum organized, each which used the arts as a way to bring their community together. One in particular involved the museum staff rehearsing, performing and filming an Estonian folk song to celebrate the centenary of Estonia’s independence.

So what could this look like for us? After a few onsite brainstorming sessions with myself, Ms. Sarpo, Pia and Venla, we decided to work with vintage costumes from the museum’s archive.

A Bit About the Work

The first two outfits were recreations of 18th-century Finnish wear, made especially for the museum and designed with historically accurate materials. The second two were olympian’s jumpers, designed for the 1952 Summer Olympics, complete with headbands and pants.

Together, Pia and I decided to build a salute to the arts through body-movement and sound, connecting history to the arts, and the museum to the university. These two disparate outfits would create a backstage showcasing Finland’s cultural history, while allowing us to recontextualize and reinvent these meanings — allowing space for discussion about the arts now and in the future.  

Alongside these costumes comes sound. Obscured and morphed, those outside of the National Museum on June 9th will hear a weird mesh of Merikanto’s Olympic Fanfare and excerpts from little known Finnish composer, Bernhard Crusell.

Our working team outside of the National Museum, Pia Lindy giving choreographic Instruction.

Close up of the 18th-century recreation pieces. 

Writer: Stephen Webb