Utö is Finland’s southernmost inhabited island. It has also been a base for an artist residency for eleven years, offering the students and alumni of the Uniarts Academy of Fine the unique opportunity for independent artistic work in the stunningly beautiful but also demanding conditions of the outer Finnish islands in the Baltic. Over the past twelve years, the Utö residency has been visited by hundreds of the Academy of Fine Arts alumni, giving a uniting and formative experience for many artists.
The Academy of Fine Arts Foundation, which promotes and supports the careers of young talented artists, has awarded an award of EUR 10,000 to the artist residency of Utö. The award is part of the 170th anniversary celebrations of the Academy of Fine Arts.
The residency is managed by the volunteer-led residency association, Kuvan Residenssiyhdistys, which collaborates with the Academy of Fine Arts. The residency building is Finland’s southernmost building in year-round use, with a history going back more than 100 years.
Being part of the small village community on the outer islands gives residency artists a chance to detach themselves from their normal routines and focus on their work without disruptions in a calming environment, as the world around us is becoming increasingly hectic. The conditions on the island are dictated by the Baltic Sea, and many residency artists have noted that the landscape has an inevitable impact on thinking and work that stays with them even after their return to the city.
“The award is an injection of strength and energy to continue the operations that have proved so important to many,” says artist Ulla Leppävuori, who chairs the residency association. “Just the other day, I was sitting on the porch of the residency, basking in the warmth of the sun, which lingers on the islands later into the autumn than on the mainland, thanks to the sea. Watching migrating hawks fly above my head, I contemplated what the award was actually for. I believe that it is a recognition of independent, autonomous work, dedication and an enormous amount of selfless volunteer work, which shows that we can still make choices in this profession that come from the heart,” Leppävuori muses.
Over the years, numerous volunteers have worked countless hours to take the residency forward. “The volunteers are often motivated by their personal experience of how rewarding the residency work on Utö is for one’s artistic development and thinking. On Utö, you are left to your own devices, and it can be quite challenging to be left standing alone, face to face with your work,” Leppävuori says.
Mauri Niemi, Chair of the Academy of Fine Arts Foundation, sees the Academy of Fine Arts as a place where deeply individual instruction and an active community life come together. “The Academy of Fine Arts Foundation wants to give this award to acknowledge an organisation that empowers and supports the academy as a community in a most excellent way,” says Niemi.
Jan Kaila, Dean of the Academy of Fine Arts, thinks the award was well-deserved and also points out how important it is that the residency operates as an integral member of the local community and island culture. “On Utö, the students and alumni can, for a short moment, live the real island life, which for most of them would otherwise be out of reach,” Kaila says.