Last year, the news of a possible collaboration between the Helsinki City Art Museum and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation fired up a fierce public debate on the role of contemporary art and its institutions. When the costs of a Guggenheim franchise in Helsinki – including architecture, venue, license and staff – were reported to the public, it make everyone break into a cold sweat. The debate activated drastically opposing opinions. On the one hand, many were excited about the possibility of having a major international art museum in central Helsinki, while on the other, many were furious about the sudden appearance of such a behemoth, which they argued would damage the local art scene by only exhibiting and collecting international art.
These debate led to the emergence of the Checkpoint Helsinki initiative. Many artists – including Terike Haapoja, Tellervo Kalleinen, Markus Kåhre and Vesa-Pekka Rannikko – were part of the core group leading the actions. Instead of declaring itself an alternative to the Guggenheim controversies, Checkpoint Helsinki took on the task of formulating a shared vision of an ideal institution and in October 2012, Checkpoint Helsinki came out with an objective report about current and long-term aims and strategies. Here, Checkpoint Helsinki states its aim to be a «new contemporary art organization producing internationally relevant contemporary art works in Helsinki».
Naming MAP (Mobile Art Production) in Stockholm and Artangel in London as model organizations, Checkpoint Helsinki declared openness on all levels of activities, stating that with a light and flexible organization model it is able to react to artistic, social and political changes. The emphasis is on small-scale, reoccurring, projects by internationally emerging artists in various venues and sites around the city. These productions will form a Checkpoint Helsinki collection, which will be available for touring. Eventually, by 2037, Checkpoint Helsinki even aims to build a venue to host its activities.
These activities will be launched next autumn, with pilot productions to be selected through an open call. They’ve requested that the proposals address the structures of art production, including subcultures and experimental art forms. The scale of the pilot projects and the continuation of Checkpoint Helsinki’s efforts will be defined by the current fundraising process. The Ministry of Education and Culture supported the writing of the report with €30,000, and the City of Helsinki has approved support of the initiative, with an estimated annual budget set for €1,300,000.
The strategy report states that Checkpoint Helsinki is a collective effort, which has already enhanced the Finnish visual art scene by envisioning exhibition methodologies and strategies, and thereby creating something unique. Many enthusiasts agree. The excitement from institutional and individual actors has been palpable. Finland has seemingly lacked a fundamental, public discourse on the most relevant questions of artistic practices.
By enabling a continuum of novel productions, Checkpoint Helsinki boldly aims to solve all of the problems of a rigid art scene. Many challenges remain however. Checkpoint Helsinki proposes a collaborative structure, apparently a co-production scheme with local galleries and institutions, including the major art museums, in order to strengthen and regenerate the Finnish art scene. This could easily, unfortunately, turn Checkpoint Helsinki into a production tool for institutions, which lack the resources to produce and exhibit international art. Moreover, to progress, sustain and develop the organization and its objectives, regardless of changing city and culture policy, is a challenge that often hits new initiatives the hardest. Even more so, declaring openness within a small group of professionals and planning to collaborate with existing institutional structures does not immediately encourage one to expect new art encounters. However, as a shared statement of art ideals – collective, enabling, international and relevant – Checkpoint Helsinki has, with a constructive approach, outlined the necessary endeavors to create a critical, versatile and engaging art scene. From a counter-act to a pertinent proposal, Checkpoint Helsinki succeeds in underlining the importance of reactivity and responsibility of art practices.