Guggenheim Helsinki Plan
Following the initial proposal of the plan by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in January 2011, a debate was waged among local political and culture activists. The project was deemed too expensive; its construction cost was estimated at 130 million euros, to be paid by the City of Helsinki and the Finnish State. Guggenheim's annual license fee was estimated as 23.4 million euros and museum running costs as 14.5 million euros per year. A survey found that 75% of citizens in Helsinki, and 82% of citizens in Vantaa, opposed the project. The Helsinki City Council rejected the original Guggenheim Helsinki Plan in 2012.
In September 2013, the Guggenheim Foundation advanced a revised proposal that sought to address the concerns. Cost estimates were revised downwards, while revenues are forecast by the Foundation to increase. In January 2014, the city board elected by the city council agreed to reserve a site for a potential museum at Eteläsatama and authorized the Foundation to hold an international architecture competition for the design of the potential museum. No decision will be made about whether to go ahead with the project until after the competition.
In 2013, Finland's Parliamentary Ombudsman issued a report concluding that Finnish investor and art collector Carl Gustaf Ehrnrooth, a member of the Board of Directors of the Guggenheim Foundation, had conflicts of interest involving the plan.
In 2009, then-Director of Helsinki City Art Museum, Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, introduced to the City of Helsinki the idea to approach the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York regarding establishing a museum in Helsinki that might stimulate tourism. On 17 January 2011 the Guggenheim proposed a plan to the Helsinki City Council. The proposal was for a 12,000 square meter building, with the museum comprising 4,000 square meters. Helsinki would pay the construction costs, which were preliminarily estimated as 130–140 million euros plus the land costs. The museum was planned to be supervised by a board with 4 members from Helsinki and 3 from the Guggenheim. Five to eight exhibitions annually were assumed. The museum would have also provided pedagogical and educational programs highlighting Finnish art, architecture and design.
The city of Helsinki commissioned the Guggenheim Foundation, for a fee of 1.15 million euros, to study the feasibility of building the museum. Berndt Arell, Director of the National Gallery in Stockholm, Sweden, supported the project and participated in the Steering Committee of the evaluation. Arell was a director of The Svenska Kulturfonden, which contributed 250,000 euros to support the Guggenheim evaluation. The Finnish Cultural Foundation also supported this project. The feasibility study, presented in January 2012, recommended building the museum in Helsinki’s South Harbor.
The Guggenheim's study was based partly on a survey, made by Boston Consulting Group, estimating the museum's annual attendance at 530,000 visitors, 200,000 more than existing museums. Paavo Arhinmäki, Finland’s Minister for Culture and Sport, and a member of the Helsinki city council, doubted the estimate. Under the scenario used in the report, museum running costs were estimated at 14.4 million euros annually. Estimated 530,000 annual visitor entry fees would cover 4.5 million euros of these costs. Costs for the city of Helsinki would be 6.8 million euros and for the State of Finland, 700,000 euros annually. Interest costs were expected to be 7.5 million euros annually. The study provoked fears that the Guggenheim Foundation would have all the decision-making power in the Guggenheim Helsinki plan, while the City of Helsinki would retain all of the expenses and risk. Initially, also, there was discussion that Guggenheim Helsinki might not have an independent art collection, but that the collection would be merged with that of the Helsinki City Art Museum. Later, it was confirmed by the Guggenheim Foundation that the museum would have its own art collection.
In May 2012, the city counsel rejected the plan in a narrow vote of 8 against 7, citing the costs of the project, including the Guggenheim's licensing fee of over 20 million euros, that would have been borne by Helsinki.
On September 24, 2013, the Guggenheim Foundation advanced a revised proposal under which the museum would focus on Nordic and international architecture and design in the context of other forms of modern and contemporary art. Educational programs at the museum are expected to provide opportunities for children and adults to expand their experience of the visual arts. The project's architect would be chosen through an international competition. The proposal eliminates the controversial proposed merger with Helsinki Art Museum, although this results in the loss of a 0.7 million euro government subsidy, and the new museum is envisioned to gradually build up a permanent collection from parts of its exhibitions. The Guggenheim's licensing fee would be funded by private sources. Operating and administrative costs are estimated to decrease by about 10%, and annual revenues to increase, as annual visitors are estimated at 550,000. Journalist Lee Rosenbaum called the new estimates, again prepared with the assistance of Boston Consulting Group, "speculative at best".
In January 2014, the city council agreed to reserve a site for a potential museum at Eteläsatama (on the other side of the bay from the earlier planned location), and the Guggenheim Foundation is permitted to hold an international architecture competition to design the potential museum. No decision will be made about whether to go ahead with the project until after the competition. One of the factors cited was the Guggenheim Foundation's pledge to arrange private funds to pay the licensing fee. Another was that the Helsinki City Art Museum would remain a separate institution. Members of the council stressed that they would make an independent assessment of the costs of the project. Leif Sevón questioned whether the financial support of the Swedish Cultural Foundation for the architectural competition complied with that foundation's rules, because there are no guarantees that the competition will be won by an architect from the Swedish minority in Finland. The foundation's director, however, stated that the board had attached "certain conditions" to the proposed funding.
Conflicts of interest
In May 2013, Finland's Parliamentary Ombudsman issued a report concerning conflicts of interest affecting Sirén and Finnish investor and art collector Carl Gustaf Ehrnrooth, who has been a member of the Guggenheim Foundation board since 2008. While serving as director of the Helsinki City Art Museum, Sirén acted on behalf of the City of Helsinki in the preparatory work for the Guggenheim proposal and was also the liaison with the Guggenheim Foundation. During this period, Sirén joined the advisory board of Ekoport Turku Oy, a Finnish oil company chaired by Ehrnrooth, and Sirén’s wife was employed by the oil company. Sirén developed a friendship with Ehrnrooth and an admiration for the Guggenheim organization and for the proposed project. Sirén helped to coordinate both the presentation of the feasibility study on the project and the Guggenheim Foundation's proposal to the City of Helsinki, and he advocated for the museum's plan.
The report found Sirén's impartiality with respect to the project compromised and stated that he should have recused himself from participating in the proposal. Paavo Arhinmäki, who opposed the project, commented that "most decision-makers thought [Sirén] tried to push [the Guggenheim project] very hard". Nevertheless, he called the findings in the report "problematic but minor", saying: "Finland is [such a] small country that it's very difficult to even find people who are not connected with each other." Sirén pointed out that he had been cleared of wrongdoing by an independent investigation by the Helsinki City Council before the report was released. He stated that he had obtained permission from Helsinki's deputy mayor to serve on the Ekoport Turku Oy board and noted that Ehrnrooth did not participate in any consideration or decisions by the Guggenheim Foundation board concerning the Helsinki proposal. In any event, Sirén left the Helsinki City Art Museum in late 2012 to become director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in the US.
Criticism of the original plan
Critics of the original Guggenheim Helsinki Plan, Leena-Maija Rossi, director of Finland’s Cultural Institute in New York, art critic Marja-Terttu Kivirinta and researcher Hanna Johansson argued that the Guggenheim Foundation would gain benefit from the project without financial risks. Minister of Culture Paavo Arhinmäki noted that his ministry had no budget for the proposed museum, and that he was already forced to cut funding to other cultural institutions. Therefore, funding for construction of the museum would need to come from new taxes or further drastic cuts in other museums and cultural institutions. Arhinmäki stated that the Helsinki brand is stronger than the Guggenheim brand, and so the museum would benefit the latter more than the former. Jorma Bergholm, a member of the Helsinki City Council, believed that the figures estimated for construction of the museum 150 million euros too low, overestimated its revenue-earning capacity by 50% and ignores some of the ongoing expenses. He also pointed out that a commercial building on the museum's site could bring in rental income of nearly 60 million euros.
Statistics expert Aku Alanen estimated the economic impact of the museum and concluded that the museum would not be an economical investment for Helsinki with respect to tourism. A March 2012 survey conducted by Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, showed that 75% of Helsinki residents opposed the project, and 82% of residents in neighbouring Vantaa also opposed the project.
A group of more than 100 Finnish artists suggested that the construction funds would be better used to renovate the Helsinki City Art Museum. The Association of Finnish Artists stated that Helsinki museums have had 57 national exhibitions from 2000 to 2012, and the Guggenheim plan would reduce such opportunities for Finnish artists. Tuula Karjalainen, Helsinki City Art Museum director from 1993 to 2001 and Kiasma director from 2001 to 2006, noted that some museums in Helsinki reported loss of customers during the Picasso exhibition at the Helsinki city museum. She wondered what impact the proposed Guggenheim museum would have on other Helsinki museums.
Support for the original plan
Helsinki mayor Jussi Pajunen and deputy mayor Hannu Penttilä favored the original proposal, concluding that the museum would be an economic opportunity, based on the estimates of the Boston Consulting Group. Pajunen argued that the museum would "greatly increase tourist interest and strengthen Helsinki as a cultural city". Another deputy mayor, Tuula Haatainen, said: "By giving artists, designers and architects access to major international networks, and by promoting new types of conversations of the arts, a Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki would offer global exposure and unprecedented opportunities to practitioners in the field of visual culture in Finland as well as in the Baltic and Nordic regions in general."
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen saw the museum as a good long-term investment and believes that it would promote the export of Finnish art, including the display of Finnish art works in other Guggenheim museums. He suggested that the museum would reinforce "appreciation for Finnish design, education, and culture around the world [and promote] increased tourism", although he emphasized that the decision belonged to the City of Helsinki rather than to the Finnish government. Jan Vapaavuori, Finland's Minister of Economic Affairs, also supported the proposal.
Support for a new plan
In 2013, Defence Minister Carl Haglund told public broadcaster YLE that he welcomed the Guggenheim's continued interest in the project. Mayor Pajunen continued his support for the museum, saying that it would "greatly increase tourist interest and strengthen Helsinki as a cultural city."
In February 2014, Lars-Göran Johnsson, founding member of Kiasma's Friends, and Albert de la Chapelle, Academy of Finland, wrote an op-ed in Hufvudstadsbladet, a Swedish-language newspaper, arguing that a Guggenheim museum is needed in Finland and its capital. They reason that all of the Nordic capitals, except for Helsinki, have internationally known museums that present Western art movements from the 20th century.
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