Can Iconic Building Help Deprived Area Through ‘Art’?

Posted on May 16th, 2012 by Editor in Culture

‘Culture Power Station’ renovates disused Alvar Aalto building to create artistic and community hub.

According to Kari Lunnas, the Project Manager of ‘Culture Power Station,’ the Oulu district of Meritoppila has something of a reputation. It is home to a relatively large amount of immigrants, from around thirty different countries, as well as Finns who don’t have much money or education. This is why Lunnas, who had been based in Kemi until four years ago, was invited to Meritoppila: to revitalise it with an arts-based community centre.

‘I think that art is important because it gives people an opportunity to be critical of their society,’ the adult educator and former journalist told 65DN. ‘It also means that they can express their culture and feel more accepted. And it allows them to meet other people from the community. I don’t think social work is the only way to make a place better.’

Four years ago what is now called the Culture Silo was empty and falling into ruin. ‘We went to see this building. Nobody was using it. It was quite a beautiful building, but it was just going down and down all the time,’ Lunnas recalled.

Built in 1931 by the noted Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the building was originally a factory for producing sugar, but it closed in the recession of the early 1990s and was simply left to fall apart. Previously, in Kemi, Lunnas and his organization had renovated a disused power station and turned it into an art gallery and community centre and this disused Silo seemed an ideal opportunity to do the same in Oulu.

‘The idea is to renovate the building and develop the community. We are not an artistic organization,’ he emphasises. ‘We are a cultural organization. But as part of this we aim to bring in artists from all different parts of the world.’

Culture Silo is not fully renovated yet but, nevertheless, it recently held an exhibition by two artists from London: Neil Edward and Slam Daniels, a pair who specialise in Street Art. On Saturday, it will play host to the ‘Market of Possibilities’ which include various arty stalls, while in August or September American photographer and University of Pennsylvania professor Lori Graham will present her pictures of the time she spent in Finland a year ago.

Culture Power Station is not the first organization to take a disused power station and turn it into an art gallery. London’s ‘Tate Modern,’ on the banks of the Thames opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, surely boasts that. But Lunnas emphasises that, ‘Our idea is not the same as the Tate Modern.’ As well as bringing in professional artists, he says, ‘we encourage community art through people working together.’

The renovation of the Culture Silo is also, Lunnas hopes, bringing the local community together and helping the disadvantaged.

‘Some people give their labour for free,’ he says, ‘with others it’s part of a work placement scheme organized by the employment office or part of a salary support system.’ The project is also funded by the European Culture Foundation, in addition to other foundations and charitable sources.

When the Culture Silo is finally completed, there will be space for a community centre, art workshops, art galleries, temporary flats for artists-in-residence and even ‘some kind of restaurant. There will be a different cook – offering a different culture’s cuisine – every month.’

Apparently, there has already been a French Evening and a Somali Evening. Lunnas describes Somali food as ‘delicious.’ In addition, three days a week, the Culture Silo already offers a ‘very cheap lunch’ to anybody who wants it.

For Lunnas, even though it is not completed yet, the Culture Silo is already beginning to justify itself, with Finns and immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t have spoken to each other becoming friends and even teaching each other their languages.

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