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One Night In Helsinki – Where Heaven Meets The Sea

Posted on November 28th, by Peter Parkorr in Finland, Picture Perfect. 1 Comment

Helsinki, ‘the land where Heaven meets the Sea’, that’s what they like to call it.

This is a city that people live in for its design and culture, the art and nightlife, and for its quality of life. It’s getting better known on the international stage in recent years, and the strong food scene is a big draw.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-10

The steps up to Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square are a popular place to meet, relax and people watch

So how do the Finns celebrate all this?

Paris has the Nuit Blanche, Florence, Rome and other Italian cities have their Notte Bianca.
Even Melbourne has a White Night too. What about Finland?

Night of the Arts

Helsinki has Night of the Arts, or Taiteiden in Finnish, part of the two-week long Helsinki Festival. Several other Finnish cities celebrate Night of the Arts too. A night where all around the city, artists and performers take to the streets, museums and galleries are open til late, and live events are happening everywhere, for one night only. Surprisingly, Helsinki’s Night of the Arts started in 1989, years before most of the other international White Nights, so visitors here look forward to the recurring events each year.

This isn’t the only way Helsinki celebrates in summer – far from it. Free live music events in public spaces are a big part of Finnish summertime, and there are several other festivals too, but Night of the Arts is one night packed with enough entertainment to last a week.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-8

Art is not always serious, it can also… take the piss.

Therein lies a problem – how to decide what you should see at the festival? Especially as events are located in different parts of Helsinki, some further from the centre than others.

I’ve put together a roundup of things I checked out during Night of the Arts this year, and you can see plenty more photos from this and previous years on their Flickr account.

Festival City

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-17

One hub of Night of the Arts is Festival City, where people can eat, drink, listen to music on the big stage, attend a tiny circus, or get involved in other live events. The music was a mixture of acts and pre-arranged open mic slots, so locals came in droves to watch their friends perform. The Festival City area, set in plain view of Parliament House, was symbolically ‘enclosed’ by open walls that allow people to come or go as they please. They put together a short video from the two weeks of Festival City here;

As I passed by earlier in the day there was also a cool street art project, with local high school students painting human-animal creatures inspired by the rather deep subject of love in Greek mythology.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-3

We all know how he feels… don’t think too hard about love!

Helsinki Love Is Hard Draamateam Night of the Arts 2014

The ‘Love is hard’ project by local students and Draamateam

RAKSA by Olivier Grossetete

In my second meeting with Olivier’s art installations this summer (the first being at La Strada in Graz), I saw three grand structures built in Senate Square entirely from cardboard boxes and parcel tape. These were built by volunteers off the streets and are likenesses of publicly debated ‘real’ construction projects in Helsinki that are yet to be realised.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014 RAKSA Senate Square Olivier Grossetete

People tape the bottom layer of boxes before the whole building is lifted and the next level slid into place

One was the central library, the second is the new children’s hospital design that is supposed to replace the current outdated children’s hospital, and the third is a potential Guggenheim museum for Helsinki, which local people are both for and against.

Helsinki Senate Square RAKSA panorama-1

A shot from the top of the steps at Senate Square showing all three RAKSA buildings in progress

The festival team put together a great video of the cardboard construction as it happened, and the most fun is at the end of the night, when they pull the structures down again!

Hotel Manta of Helsinki by Tatzu Nishi

Tatzu Nishi is a Japanese artist who built Helsinki’s most exclusive (and temporary) hotel, over one of the city’s fountains by the port in Market Square. People who were lucky enough to make reservations got to sleep in this extravagantly designed room, with the naked statue sticking up into the room right through the middle of their double bed.

Three is either a crowd or quite a kinky party, but this (f)rigid lady may have just been in the way!

Hotel Manta Tatzu Nishi Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014

Marks out of 10, sir? Visitors to Hotel Manta investigate it’s quirks

For the rest of the city, entrance into Hotel Manta during daytime hours was €3 to see what it was like and most probably take a selfie with the naked fountain.

Hotel Manta Tatzu Nishi-1

The butt of all jokes at Hotel Manta.

Live music at Korjaamo

Korjaamo in Finnish means ‘repair shop’ and this used to be where they repaired trains in the city. Now it’s a very cool venue that had live bands in the central courtyard for the evening. Inside it’s a mixture of art space, bookshop, bar and restaurant, so I recommend checking it out whenever it is that you visit Helsinki, festival time or not.

Korjaamo Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014

Enjoying a few beers within earshot of the live band at Korjaamo

The Slow Walk

Ok, this… is exactly what it sounds like! People walking, very very slowly. It’s part meditation, partly an opportunity for anyone to get involved, and also… quite an amusing thing to watch! There are no big banners, no huge announcements, no roped-off space. Just a group of people that appear to be stuck in slow motion, much to the bewilderment of other passers-by…

The Huvila Festival Tent

Not strictly part of Night of the Arts, there were various gigs on each night of Helsinki Festival in the Huvila Festival Tent by the bay.

Traditional Persian music meets contemporary Electronica – Azam Ali & Niyaz

A great performance came from Azam Ali & Niyaz, who sang so beautifully in no less than five languages that the audience gradually lifted out of their seats to dance for the rest of the concert.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-2

Singer Azam Ali who has an open personal way with the crowd

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-1

People from the audience couldn’t help but dance and the band encouraged it

Finnish yoiker Wimme Saari and electro-saxophonist Tapani Rinne

This pair gave a stirring warm-up with the voice of traditional Lappish yoiker Wimme Saari. His yoiking was at once reminiscent of tribal African songs, yodeling, and something by Faithless.

Have a listen to see what I mean. I recorded a short solo piece by Wimme on my phone, and he introduced it in Finnish as a tribute to the Reindeer;

Things I missed

Like I mentioned before – there is so much going on, you won’t get to it all, and Helsinki is a large city. This year members of the public were openly invited to take part in Night of the Arts, and they had nearly 300 events of some sort happening. 

There was a bustling night market that looked fun but was too far north for me to make it, with a festival dedicated to Smell also happening nearby…

A jazz orchestra played at the scenic Blue Villa above the water, but I missed hearing them by a few minutes.

And in the opposite end of the city to the south, a group were creating music (which they have recorded and released in the past) from the sonic aura of plants.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-16

The pretty Blue Villa sits on rocks above the water on one side of Helsinki’s bay. Several food stalls were serving food and treats as well as the cafe inside

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-15

View over Helsinki bay towards the Opera House from the Blue Villa

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-5

A heart-warming ‘private’ performance from this clown with a clarinet for a toddler as they passed each other on the street

The festival organisers created a nice animation using their app that shows festival goers movements during Night of the Arts, so you can see what I mean about events being everywhere!

Night of the Arts takes place on a Thursday, and next year’s festival is on Thursday the 20th August, 2015. So plan to arrive a day early next summer if you have a long weekend in mind to discover Helsinki.

Helsinki Night of the Arts 2014-12

History, design, art and entertainment come together for Night of the Arts

Peter Parkorr

A big thanks to Sirje from the festival who helped me with lots of info about Night of the Arts on my visit. This trip was part of the MustLoveFestivals project, supported by the festival, VisitFinland and Expedia. As ever, my posts contain No Bias!  :)