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18. Night frost bites cultural summer?

Judging by all the success, praise and growing audiences, one might think the work of the festival organizers was just one big party.

Far from it. Lack of funds threatened most festivals every year. The Savonlinna Opera Festival hovered on the brink of the precipice in 1972, and the Turku Festival was also in trouble. Savonlinna suffered from rains, which kept audiences away. Turku was menaced with the closing of Ruisrock, as the rock festival’s drunken audiences could not be kept in order. The worst of it was that money from rock fans largely kept the other concerts in Turku going.

Ticket sales covered part of the budget for nearly every event. Public support was indispensable: the State provided approximately one-third of the requisite funds. There was, of course, a constant squabbling over this kitty. The organizers vied with each other in asserting how cheaply they put up their events. Enthusiasm, voluntary effort and hospitality made up for small budgets.

“Art festivals must be watched over!”, the press – especially the left-wing papers – demanded, grumbling that the ordinary taxpayer had no place at the festivals. “Despite State subsidies, ticket prices are relatively high. Therefore the artistic experiences provided have already become virtually the exclusive right of the wealthy.”

The international energy crisis heightened the problem in the mid 1970s. Johannes Virolainen, chairman of the Centre Party, added fuel to the flame. “The fat years of the late 1960s and early ‘70s cannot be expected to return. – The good times for the Finnish people will never return”, he predicted in Uusi Suomi in August 1976.

The speaker was as good as his word: Finland Festivals received no State aid at all the following year. An Aamulehti headline in May 1977 ran: “Night frost bites cultural summer?”

Was this the end?

Maj Nuortila, bureau chief of the Helsinki Festival, proclaimed:

“Talk of the devil and he’s sure to appear. – The budget is two million marks. This may seem a lot, but if you compare it with that of the Edinburgh Festival, they spent this sum just on advertising.”

State subsidies were not the only grief. The tax bill of 1973 came close to killing off all festivals of international stature. A 30 per cent tax was to be withheld from the fees of all foreign artists.

“This is like a bad dream”, groaned Jyrki Kangas, director of the Pori Jazz Festival, and went on to demand a special exemption. “They exempted mother’s milk, too…” Matti-Jussi Pollari calculated that Finland would have to pay 60 per cent more than other Nordic countries for foreign performers. Kalevi Kivistö, chairman of the Finland Festivals board, estimated that fees would rise 82 per cent once the new legislation on artists’ pensions came into force.

Finland Festivals launched appeals and campaigns; the press took up arms on behalf of the festivals; a period of organ grinding was predicted for music unless the withholding tax was abandoned. A compromise was reached three years later. The subsidies for some festivals were raised enough to cover the cost of the tax.

The reverses met by the festivals had softened press criticism. Suomen Kuvalehti showered them with praise in a leader in summer 1978:

“The Finland of open-air dances, agricultural exhibitions and historical pageants has developed into a country of music – with a rich, varied cultural summer the value of which may not be fully understood yet. Many projects have been pruned for financial reasons. Public support has been scanty or nil. Still, one must remember that such proof of a nation’s culture cannot be bought with silver of gold…”

Still, silver and gold were also needed. In the early 1980s, the festivals entered a new age: they started seeking business sponsorship. The economy was thriving. A festival brochure from 1986 states: “The business world is increasingly realizing that a sound culture provides the best foundation for all economic activity…”

By the summer of 1993, Finland had come full circle. The Ministry of Education proposed that funding for the festivals could be experimentally guaranteed for several years at a time, permitting longer-term planning. In the eyes of the decision-makers, the cultural summer was no longer passing fad but an established part of Finnish life.

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