Helsinki Concept and Development Study: Project Update

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Youth think tank for the Helsinki Concept and Development Study

The Guggenheim's Helsinki Concept and Development Study is approaching completion. In this latest update on the initiative, members of the study team reflect on the work accomplished since the project was announced in January 2011 and summarize the activities that may be expected as the process now enters its final weeks.

From Blue-Sky Thinking to Conceptual Blueprint
According to Ari Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the study team began its work in January 2011 without preconceptions. After several months of research, certain conceptual outlines began to come into view. The team has not yet finished studying these possibilities, and when its recommendations are at last made, at the end of 2011, they will need to be reviewed and approved by the appropriate authorities in New York and Helsinki before any action is taken. Nevertheless, by early October, the team felt confident about a number of basic ideas.

The first concerns the ideal relationship between a new Guggenheim, should one be developed, and the city’s existing arts institutions. After looking in detail at museums in Helsinki and elsewhere in Finland, the team determined that there is a robust infrastructure of support for Finnish artists, who are well served by opportunities to exhibit their work and have it acquired by public and private collections. This infrastructure would be complemented—not diminished—by a new Guggenheim.

Second, the team has recognized that by adding to Helsinki a museum with an international orientation and reach, where exhibitions and audiences would mingle without regard to borders, the Guggenheim could expand the artistic and intellectual dialogue and raise the profile of Finnish art. It is expected that this window onto the world for the Finnish community, and portal into Finland for artists and audiences everywhere, could help galvanize many aspects of cultural life in Helsinki.

Third, the new museum would not be a passive recipient of exhibitions and ideas conceived in New York, but rather would play an active role in the Guggenheim’s global network. Through its curatorial staff—envisioned to be based both in Helsinki and New York—and through its connections with the entire artistic ecosystem in Helsinki, the new museum would generate exhibitions and programs in partnership and dialogue with the other Guggenheim museums. This nonhierarchical approach is fundamental to the Guggenheim’s drive to democratize art, connect audiences to art, and reaffirm the radical proposition that art has the potential to effect change in the world.

Fourth, a new building would indeed have to be constructed for the museum. The team has begun to consider the space requirements for such a building and its various functions, which would include a number of conventionally configured galleries. A possible location for a building, at the site of the Kanava Terminal in Helsinki’s South Harbor, is currently being assessed, although no decision has been made.

Next Steps: From Conceptual Blueprint to Recommendations
The research phase of the study came to a conclusion with a flurry of activity. On September 13, the study team conducted its second think-tank meeting in Helsinki, involving 17 participants, including staff of the Helsinki Art Museum and artists. Ideas generated by the think tank helped to advance programming ideas and clarify the direction of the potential new museum.

That same week, on September 12, the Guggenheim collaborated with the Helsinki Art Museum in convening the final meeting of its youth think tank, comprising 25 students from high schools in Helsinki. Members of the youth think tank contributed to the study by discussing what they would want in a Guggenheim Helsinki—a museum that ought to be conceived with their generation in mind.

By October 2011, the Helsinki Art Museum in collaboration with members of the study team had organized and participated in more than a dozen panel discussions for various audiences in Helsinki. These open forums were a valuable source of ideas, enabling members of the study team to listen to questions from members of the general public and from Finnish artists and to learn from them.

As of early October, the market study for the potential museum was nearing completion, including the demand model, financial model, and economic impact analysis. Also, the general counsel for the Guggenheim Foundation was working with the legal representatives of the City of Helsinki and with private counsel in Finland to determine a preliminary legal and governance structure for the proposed museum. Apart from these activities, the fundamental research had concluded.

The team is now actively engaged in drafting the text of the study. The steering committee will convene in New York City on December 9 for its fourth and final meeting, to review the draft. With that, the team will be on schedule to present the finished study to the City of Helsinki by December 30, 2011.

Youth think tank for the Helsinki Concept and Development Study. Photo: Maija Toivanen, courtesy of Helsinki Art Museum