The will of the people, the good of the people, impartiality and equal rights were the banners under which the cultural debate of the 1970s was waged. Elitism was a four-letter word; popular culture and art sociology were in.
It was little short of a miracle that the Finnish festival summer – elitist as it was – survived these years virtually unscathed. Perhaps the spontaneity characteristic of the summer events, the heritage of the Jyväskylä spirit, ultimately silenced the critics.
“In art sociology terms, the summer events, untouched by senility, come out to meet their public,” as Seppo Nummi put it in the jargon of the new age. He described ways in which new forms of communication could be tested in the summer in order to reach age and social groups who had “been less in touch with the art world, but whose involvement is most desirable and important.” He also pointed out that the summer festivals sought to counterbalance the rather institutionalized character of culture at large.
This was all that was needed. The most elitist cultural aspirations of the time had struck the right note for the left wing. Nummi himself did not jump on the leftist bandwagon; he remained on the opposite side, styling himself a monarchist or a royalist.
The ‘elite festivals’ eventually found its severest critics among private citizens. Especially at the venues of the more ambitious festivals, angry voices were raised, demanding to know why expensive foreign performers had to be imported, when the local people, too, could sing and play music.
“We cannot help feeling that the festivals are arranged by a self-sufficient clique who look for praise elsewhere and money here”, Elina Juntunen wrote in Karjalainen in 1985. Her target was the Joensuu Song Festival, the principal venue of the Kalevala sesquicentennial. The writer complained that the common people felt sidelined in the high-calibre international music programme. “I cannot express my surprise that 33 productions should be brought to these ‘song lands’ from outside. Was there faith in our resources?”
The question was reasonable enough, though it was undermined by the writer’s own observation that North Karelia in those days could not boast of the excellence of its choral singing.
Kalevi Kalemaa wrote in Suomalainen kulttuurikesä (The Finnish cultural summer, 1974): “Generally the moving spirits behind these events do not bother to find out about the musical interests of the local people. The choice is made by some committee of outsiders, whose preferences the programme reflects.” Kalemaa did not call for a radical revision of programming but proposed a much more moderate recipe: concerts with programmes by popular request to be included in the festival.
In some places, culture and its peculiarities gave rise to moral indignation. Pirjo Nenola writes in her historical overview Aina täysillä (Full speed ahead, 1991):
“Some think the Iisalmi Camera Festival an elite event which devours taxpayers’ money without offering anything much to the local people in return. The festival has even been thought morally dubious, as models of the nude photography workshop have been observed at work on the roof of the cultural centre…”
Worst of all, however, was art that was incomprehensible. John Cage’s ‘paper bag concert’ in Viitasaari Church in 1983 raised such a storm that the new music festival, which had only just got off the ground, almost collapsed there and then. A petition for withdrawal of the festival subsidy from the municipal budget, initiated by disappointed concert-goers, went round from door to door. The organizers applied for 100,000 marks and received 50,000 from municipality. Executive director Veikko Korhonen surmised that Cage had been invited to Viitasaari too soon: people were not ready for him.