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The publication Suomen ulkomailla toimivat kulttuuri- ja tiedeinstituutit (Ministry of Education, 1998) gives a thorough account of the Finnish cultural and scientific institutes abroad.

A network of Finnish Institutes for cultural development

Päivi Setälä


We Europeans have committed ourselves to one fatherland, Europe, where culture constitutes the basic identity of citizens. Finland has a dozen cultural development agencies, Finnish Institutes, mainly located in the capitals of other European countries. Other Nordic countries lack such a network. The message of the Institutes is targeted at the civic society. It aims at reaching people to whom ‘highbrow’ embassies are too distant. Although the funding mainly comes from the Ministry of Education, whose budget for the Institutes is not huge, operations are based on a foundation model. Foundation-based activity is also one of Finnish innovations.

The directors of the Institutes are usually re- cruited from academia which is reflected in the alliance between culture and science. The capitals of the European colonial empires can boast substantial research material, which is often more extensive than in the countries from which the material originates. One example is the research centre specialising in Arabic cultures in Paris. Berlin, London and Madrid also have similar centres. The cities where the Institutes are located are important for researchers. For example, the Finnish Institute in London promoted the ‘export’ of women’s studies from Finland. The Institutes also provide a significant source of information – and not only on issues related to EU funding.

Now, following exhibitions on glass design and the works of Alvar Aalto, it would be wise to expand the definition of Finnish culture and start using the skills of young professionals. Such skills are definitely available in Finland after Helsinki’s successful year as a European City of Culture in 2000. We surely have the ability to create a more modern approach and appearance, such as the display of Finnish pavilions at the Hanover World EXPO, realised by the Finnish Science Centre Heureka and the Faculty of Art and Design from Rovaniemi. We must not, however, forget the saying: “Culture has roots but knows no boundaries.”

Interaction and dialogue are the pet terms in cultural policy. Besides these, the Institutes also have to remember their role as promoters of culture among Finns. The Institutes put out feelers to cultural developments and spot new things, thus serving the cultural life of Finland as a whole. In the amalgam of cultures, spontaneity and an ability to respond to even weak signals is a privilege. This is why the Institute staff could be more forthcoming about the news of the country where they are based.

One of the future slogans conveys a message that culture is not only our fundamental right, but also a productive industry bringing culture to the national agenda – as an employer and part of the economy. It will provide competent and international-minded young Finns with a purpose in life. Cultural tourism is expected to experience rapid growth. Amidst the Internet hype, the quality of the contents is not, however, adequately discussed. Creative occupations will be crucial when determining the aspects of the good life in future.

The annual budget of all the Finnish Institutes is slightly over FIM 20 million. Much has been achieved: a multi-faceted cultural supply, new audiences and opportunities for Finns operating in cultural fields. Each Institute has its own, distinct profile and introduce a new kind of Finland to other countries.

Cultural credibility is an important aspect of Finland’s image. The ambassadors of Finnish music are an excellent example of the advertising value of culture. The same applies to Finnish Institutes abroad.

Päivi Setälä, Chief Cultural Officer of the University of Helsinki