How do we create a new Finland?

Dean's Circle, an evening of interesting debate, was held at Aalto ARTS on 26 May.

After a packed week of different Aalto Festival events (, and as part of The Dean's Circle, members of Aalto ARTS faculty and staff met with influential members of society for a discussion about how we might best, Shape The Future through our partnerships and programs.  

The event opened with a dramatic take-over of the Media Center’s LUME first floor soundstage. The room was unrecognizable and showcased over 20 student works including the beautifully designed Aalto ARTS Books and the transdisciplinary CHEMARTS display, that focused on new fibers, textiles, and material processes built hand-in-hand between Aalto chemists and designers.

Following the reception, Dean Anna Valtonen welcomed the crowd and pondered, “how can we best partner to move Finland forward?”  It was the perfect set-up to keynote speaker Jan Meyer of Meyer Turku’s reminder that, "Innovation is everywhere. Design is in everything.”  Meyer Shipyard is something of a niche company operating across Finland with stations in Turku, Rauma and Piikkiö to provide cruise ships with an ever-increasing on-demand and customized product.  With 5,500 employees Meyer Shipyard must scale to a network of 10,000 partners to complete the orders as they rise up.  

Says Meyer, “we can’t work in a vacuum.  We need to work with additional partners across their disciplines to be truly successful”. As Meyer discussed the challenges of constant change in the surprisingly dynamic shipping industry he noted the importance design, art and architecture bring to the mix, “for the steel worker, the optimized structure is a ship without windows.  That obviously wouldn’t work for a cruise.  We need drama and a lobby and of course, windows.”

Following the keynote presentation Dean Valtonen shared some numbers.  For such a design centric country, Finland — as it turns out — has been leaving some opportunities on the table.  While exports are flat, the need to provide increased service for an aging population is growing.  Leaving a sizable gap.  Which leads to the question of how to proactively reclaim ground.  While the creative industry in Europe and the United States is growing and a viable option, the real opportunity for Finland is the need for creatives in the non-creative fields at home.  This area has been skyrocketing with non-Finnish companies investing in art and design culture enjoying a 22% higher turnover growth overall —  a clear winner for economic improvement in Finland.

Following the Dean’s comments, Professors Ramia Mazé, Pekka Heikkinen, Sampsa Hyysalo, and Kevin Tavin discussed their respective areas across the school around the question of, “how do we create a new Finland?” Professor of International Art Education, Tavin explored, “ The we today are a body of networked and interdependent people and things.  The new is not some linear notion of progress, but a constant condition of reinvention.  It can’t be discovered or seen.   So a new Finland can’t be based on time, this is more about our horizon line.”  

Mazé concurred, “Finland is a country in transition.  Landscapes and institutions are rooted in old models of society.   Artist need to be brave.  We need to offer perspective, to be not just on the forefront, but on the far forefront.”  Heikkinen joked, “It’s not just about what’s new, I want to talk about really old things. I want to talk about our dignified timber.” He explained how wood based structures are becoming urban again and how we have a deep need for resources today, not just our forests, but also our young minds. 

Hyysalo closed in on the idea of co-creation, “We must bring the consumer and the designer into the experience.  These things go hand in hand.” Finally, Synes Elischka teased how Virtual Reality (VR) might change the landscape all together, if we give it time.  “[Finland] needs to learn from the iPhone.  When it launched the applications weren’t that compelling, the changes were iterative.  To make compelling content takes time, research and investment.  The pay off can be amazing, but it won’t happen immediately.”

As the panel wound down, Dean Valtonen remerged and asked the audience to consider their role in the future of Finland.  Having just demonstrated the why, she asked the audience to focus on, “the how and the what” instead.

Photos: Lasse Lecklin

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