Has the Guggenheim arrived and arrived for sure? Now, that the battle site for the new Museum has been selected, it is time for us to review in retrospect, shoot darts for the future and set up tents and demonstrations..(or not!).
This project in becoming has not been an easy task, the battle for Guggenheim has been raging in Helsinki for almost over two years now. No dear, its not related to the Winter War (can’t get enough). It does rather have signs of the Continuation War, a prolonged battle, Superpower vs Suomi, a battle between the taxpayers (citizens like myself), the Helsinki City and Guggenheim Foundation. And of course, the Government too, dug deep in the trenches, politicians as usual on the fences. This is the battle to build a museum of the arts in the likes of Bilbao, Dubai and others, in the fashion of massive, mega-structured, corporately administered, cultural money-making machine. And you wonder why this proposal has met (and will meet) with so much opposition!
A top-down approach, of a large private institution from abroad (that too American!) trying to force down a multi-million dollar tax burden in the name of culture on us poor tax-paying Finnish people! And justifying it all the same. What do we stand to gain from this? Will this be any different? Another gatekeeper of arts among the others already present? A forum for the cultural elite? A global recognition of Finland’s place in design and art? How Helsinki is an international city of culture and arts? More jobs, tourism and revenues for the City? Another competing museum in a country of a thousand lakes and short-funded museums? Whatever we gain, it is still not very apparent: to Guggenheim or not to Guggenheim? The flags of the negatives flutter dominant over the positives.
So lets get back to the real question shall we, do we really need the Guggenheim? Or do we need better schools, hospitals, day care and retirement homes (as a colleague pointed out)? Where do museums figure in the strata of Finnish society? Why not living culture than culture inside vitrine! These last few years surely have been an opportunity for us museum-elitists to engage in a critical discussion of the role of museums in urban life and arts and the impending staggering hole in the pockets of museum non-goers (believe me, they number in hundreds of thousands). Could this be an opportunity both for us citizens (and Guggenheim too) to think fresh, turn the page, move to a new frontier in the evolution of contemporary museums, and fill our pockets with cultural cash (the exchange rate for tax payer money into culture has yet no index!). Can the Guggenheim Foundation turn the tables, switch its strategy and get down to planet Naboo with us…really down to a grassroots approach? (or not!) A top-down yet grassroots approach (contradictory but doable), a chance to redeem one-self, show that one has evolved to understand the realities of the ground. Guggenheim could do that or not. It could be stubborn and stick to the traditional 19th century industrial way of doing things. Or, it could transcend its past organizational structure, mission and vision and adapt to a Finnish and broader Baltic and Nordic future by putting its head into the roots. Guggenheim could do crazy things that no other museum in Finland has done, in fact no other museum in the world has ever done. It has the power, the money, the personnel and the reach. Let’s see what could be more crazier than:
Saying NO to Frank Gehry & Building the Guggenheim Village!: Build the Guggenheim ground-up from scratch! Start with an Open-Source Museum Pavilion on the proposed site in the city-Centre. A cultural village built with the help of citizens and community. Forget the avant-garde architects with “concrete” mindsets, what we need is closer to kitsch, but meaningful people’s kitsch.
Join the Music Club: Be a catalyst for the Local Arts and culture, sponsor local events of arts and music. Help upcoming artists, theatre performers, musicians and what-not to reach their potential. Give them a stage.
Go Pub Crawling: Build citizen and artist focus groups – go pub crawling, meet the people on the streets. Make future plans, pop-up pubs for citizens to come and post their comments, look at photos, data and budgets.
Go Hip Hop – Social Media & Claim to be the Underdog!: Organize public events, seminars, rock and hip-hop concerts. Reach the young. Reach the Instagram-crowd, connect with all the social media of the world….hang out in Kamppi Shopping Centre and the Tennis Palace. C’mon, don’t be an elitist now! And, please fire the Ad agency running your Facebook and Twitter account.
Try Acrobatics & Circus: Get ahead of other museums, go experimental and look cool! Try to connect with the more eccentric arts and culture of Finland. It will show that you are different, you care.
Take Classes with Kids: Focus on learning and dissemination of knowledge with art schools, share the wealth with the education system of the nation. Start open courses, training in the arts, help people get creative! Build a place where we get to shape our future in scale and digital models and children get to show what they dream of the future of their city.
Be a Tour Guide & Friend: Bring museum visiting folks from around the nation, build a friendship network, be a host in a Guggenheim village, let your friends explore and guide the process of establishing the museum.
Kickstart the Sharing Economy: Support business innovation through the arts, get business and community to invest and let them participate. Promote the sharing economy and get community groups and individuals to hold stakes in the museum.
Crowdsource the Budget: Find private sponsors from around the world, dangle them “New Knowledge”, give them shares, lunches with locals, and free tickets to the theatre. Go to flea markets, raise money from your old assets, sell art, do a world tour!
Lastly, if nothing works:
Think of a Floating Guggenheim!: Forget the harbor, get a Cruise-liner, rent it from Viking Line and make a “Floating Museum” running between all the Nordic and Baltic capitals. Look at the example of Logos: the floating library.
All the above might just as well apply to any other museum in Helsinki.…(or not!) But hey, we all know how hard it is to change the established and how much easier it is to mould the future. Ideas get shot down faster in a museum boardroom controlled by a previous generation costumed in expensive designer dresses. Which is a tragedy since my pocket is already straining from the cultural tax hole and I have literally no say in the future of the cultural wealth deemed for my future generations.
But, yes, a public funded Guggenheim built from the grassroots with the people, by the people and for the people would be more respectable and have a long-term people’s mandate. And, to reiterate again, Guggenheim does not need Frank Gehry. He and his tribe of mega-structures-loving architects belong to the 90s idea-bank, and a very industrial one too. We don’t live in the era of endless-oil and free energy anymore, and we are a small country of plurality of creativity, a democracy with a chance for everyone, we start small, from a tiny little wood cottage (I love that “museum” called Regatta Café!). For us, the age of mega-size-me is over. Its time to start from small, the local and from the ground….(or not!)