Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Helsinki’s own cultural institutions reached approximately 1.43 million visitors per year (about 2.5 visits/resident). Services provided by the City were estimated to account for around 25% of the total cultural sector service production in Helsinki. The City’s eight cultural centres hosted around 2,000 events a year, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra performed around 50 symphony concerts and the six museums of Helsinki City Museum and Helsinki Art Museum hosted 23–25 exhibitions a year. The City of Helsinki distributes around 17 million euros annually to support the organisation of arts and culture activities, including basic education in art. The criteria for awarding these grants include the consideration of equality, non-discrimination and ecological aspects in the organisation of the activities.
The restrictions on gatherings caused by the pandemic had a severe impact on cultural events, which in practice could only be held intermittently and with reduced attendance in 2020–2021 and early 2022. The cultural sector is recovering from the break slowly, and in 2023 many areas of culture are focusing on strengthening general confidence in the future and operational structures, and restoring public confidence to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021–2022, the City invested significantly in the revitalisation of the cultural sector.
The City of Helsinki has identified the promotion of cultural equality as a priority for the wellbeing of the city’s residents. In 2021–2023, measures have been planned and implemented with a special focus on cultural diversity and inclusiveness, children and older people, and Helsinki residents in a vulnerable position. The City’s extensive library institution, which serves all Helsinki residents in a diverse manner, is an excellent promoter of cultural sustainability.
Promotion of cultural equality
The promotion of cultural equality is guided by the principles of inclusiveness and diversity, which include both people’s diverse backgrounds and functional impairments. In planning arts and culture activities, it has been recognised that it is not possible to cater precisely to the needs of all special groups at the same time; instead, the essential thing is to find practices that do not exclude anyone. Practices that increase inclusiveness are sought first and foremost through the promotion of the agency and participation of special groups. In particular, the activities of Caisa, a cultural centre managed by the City of Helsinki, support the strengthening of diversity and inclusiveness in the City’s cultural activities. The City of Helsinki also pays attention to the promotion of the Swedish language and bilingual culture, as well as regional equality. Cultural means are used to strengthen the identity of the different areas of Helsinki.
Focus on children and older people
In the promotion of children’s culture, the City of Helsinki aims to orient its activities in such a way that it can ensure equal opportunities for all children to experience art and culture. The City also implements UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities model. At the heart of the activities is Annantalo Arts Centre for Children and Young People, which organises activities such as the 5×2 art education for all of the City’s primary schools, introducing around 6,200 children each year to artistic activities under the guidance of professional artists.
All Helsinki residents born in and after 2020 are invited to become Culture Kids. The Culture Kids sponsors organises activities for the children based on their stage of development until they start school. The Culture Kids sponsors include 32 arts and culture operators. At the beginning of 2023, around 11,500 families had already joined. The participating operators work together on ways of implementing culturally responsible art and cultural education.
Accessible special programming for older people is produced in a coordinated manner by health and social services and the City’s cultural operators. Notable examples include the cooperation of Helsinki City Museum and Helsinki Art Museum HAM with service centres, Age-friendly Orchestra activities and Helsinki Art Museum HAM’s senior panel. The cultural equality of older people is also supported through grants. In 2023, the Culture and Leisure Division will allocate a total of 2 million euros to promote the physical activity and cultural activities of older people. The supported projects will strengthen the participation and active agency of older people.
Reaching vulnerable residents
In LiiKu support, developed in multidisciplinary cooperation, health and social services professionals guide and support their clients to participate in exercise and cultural events that interest them and engage in independent recreational pursuits.
Participatory local cultural work (the Helsinki Model) strengthens the communality, comfort and positive profile of neighbourhoods and enables residents to have experiences of inclusion that support empowerment and the expression of their own voice and creativity.
Libraries as drivers of cultural sustainability
The library institution is a strong driver of cultural sustainability both in Helsinki and elsewhere in Finland. Libraries are a kind of backbone of culture – easily accessible and free of charge, they are meeting places where you can find not only information but also cultural experiences, equipment for various activities and facilities for gathering. Helsinki has 37 regional libraries, two mobile libraries and two hospital libraries and five service points at service centres. The library has been able to renew itself as the city has changed. The library also offers Helsinki residents services such as the Multilingual Library and eLibrary, which contains thousands of books, magazines, newspapers, films, music, courses and databases. The library is an important place for learning and literacy, serving residents from infancy to old age.
Individual artists and art institutions, as well as many other cultural operators, constantly raise issues of sustainable development in their public activities and produce works that increase the understanding of Helsinki residents on these issues and their ability to find creative solutions to the challenges that arise.
The promotion of cultural equality has been made an important priority throughout the cultural sector. In particular, the City has identified children, older people and vulnerable residents of Helsinki as groups whose cultural rights should be focused on.
Areas for development:
The visibility and involvement of different minorities in the planning and implementation of cultural services and the inclusion of content relevant to them in the provision of cultural services must be increased.
More discussion and common understanding is needed among cultural and art operators on the principles of art and culture education and other cultural activities that take into account diverse cultural backgrounds.