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17. The joyful festival visitor

If design was Finland’s ambassador in the ‘50s, it was now replaced by the summer cavalcade of festivals.

To be sure, our music festivals were not particularly unusual; there were many similar, much older events in Europe. What was exceptional was the large number and popularity, occasionally also the quality of the events. Another original feature was the coordinating organization, which was highly successful in disseminating information about the events and marketing them. Writing in the American Music Clubs Magazine in 1970, Pat Patricof could think of only one parallel: the Holland Festival. Holland had been in Nummi’s mind, too.

“An ensemble like this cannot be found anywhere else”, boasted Maj Nuortila, general secretary of Finland Festivals. According to her, Finland Festivals was a Finnish design product, and the key to its success was people’s growing workload during the winter. Unable to satisfy their need for culture in the winter, people made up for the deficit in summer.

Nuortila was appointed general secretary of Finland Festivals in July 1971. She was followed by Eeva-Liisa Tarvainen (1973), Marianne Kajaste (1975) and Arja Gothóni (1977). Matti-Jussi Pollari took over as executive director in 1982, Tuomo Tirkkonen in 1986, and Kai Amberla in 2007. Finland Festivals opened its first office at Unioninkatu 30, Helsinki in 1973.

Pat Patricof of Music Clubs Magazine was amazed at the spate of events in a part of the world that would hardly come to the mind of the average American in a cultural context. She thought the summer miracle could be explained by the fact that the enterprising Finns had always held education and intellectual pursuits in high esteem.

The Finnish press could not stop marvelling at the alacrity with which the Finnish people had accepted the festival idea. Nummi was not surprised; what puzzled him was why no-one had noticed before that the Finn truly comes alive in summer.

Finland’s leap from an agrarian society into the ranks of the industrial nations had left the urban middle class and especially its youth without summer rituals. They had to be fashioned anew: even society is afflicted by horror vacui, the terror of the void. The relaxed summer atmosphere allowed people to think and act a little more freely, to let their hair down. Nummi had intuitively understood the longing for new rituals. He was always eager to emphasize the social function of the festivals and the significance of a flexible, liberal organization.

“The festival visitor could be characterized as joyful”, Nummi said. Joyful or no, some festival gene must have lain hidden in the souls of the Finns since the days of the song festivals. Jouni Mykkänen, chairman of the Finland Festivals board, wrote in Aamulehti newspaper in 1982: “We Finns have an exceptionally strong need for summer culture. You don’t find the same enthusiasm in other Nordic countries, for instance. – It is partly a new way of seeing people and, of course, of satisfying a kind of cultural hunger at the same time.”

An anxious press warned readers against excessive optimism and predicted disaster year after year. Nummi countered in Uusi Suomi in January 1972: “There are many funeral quests after every summer: for a decade now, we have been told that this is only a fad that will soon die away. And yet the audiences keep on growing at a tremendous rate.”

He thought the festivals’ strengths were variety and geographical scattering:

“The specialities of the member festivals extend all the way from pop, political cabaret and jazz to experimental Modernism in the fields of architecture, design and chamber music; from ballet to symphony music; from the most ancient and solemn vintage in music to folk music performances and spectacular stating of opera in the Olavinlinna castle courtyard of amid the austerely impressive concrete structure of the Helsinki Ice Hall.”

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