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Private funding keeps Finnish music festivals alive

by Matti Tuomisto

Festivalisation has been a trend in Finnish musical life since the 1960s. As the number of festivals increase, more and more music events receive government aid, for Finland takes equality seriously. Public funding's share of festival budgets is on the decline, however, and it is not easy to find compensation in the form of support from private companies.

Finnish musical life is affected by three fairly independent trends: institutionalisation, festivalisation, and privatisation – and the last mentioned includes the problematic aspect of marginalisation.

Establishments such as the publicly funded arts institutions ranging from the Finnish National Opera to the municipal orchestras enjoy reliable public funding. For example, the total aid received by orchestras from the city and the state represents about 90% of all revenues. The still growing Finnish public music school system also enjoys the great benefits of institutionalisation.

Finnish festivals are younger than the year-round cultural institutions. The foundation for the Finnish festival summer was laid in the 1960s, when the project’s prime mover was the composer Seppo Nummi (1932-81), famous for his impact on municipal and national cultural policy. The joint organisation of the most important Finnish summer festivals, Finland Festivals, was founded in 1968. Its ten founding members were the Kuopio Dance Festival, the drama festival Vaasa Summer, the Jyväskylä Arts Festival, the Savonlinna Opera Festival, Pori Jazz, the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, the Turku Music Festival, the Tampere Theatre Festival, and the Helsinki Festival.

In 2006, Finland Festivals already comprises 79 events. In the early years, only large festivals were included, but even small weekend events have been accepted in recent years. The nature of the organisation has indeed changed completely over the years.

When public support is scarce, festivals play it safe

In addition to providing information and joint marketing, the tasks of Finland Festivals (FF) include lobbying the authorities for the general interests of festivals.

In early December 2005, the organisation drew attention to the tax authorities’ new tax regulations concerning non-profit organisations. These endanger the exemption from taxation of some forms of voluntary work, which is one of the cornerstones of many festivals. For example, local sports and other clubs are traditionally paid nominal wages or a club donation for helping to set up and usher events.

FF also collects statistics on the activities of festivals. Its director, Tuomo Tirkkonen, feels that Finnish festivals as a whole are not on a sufficiently firm financial footing.

“Taking artistic risks under these conditions can be disastrous, and therefore risks are consciously avoided”, Tirkkonen points out.

Currently, the Finnish government’s total funding of festivals amounts to €3.67 million. This can be compared to the government’s appropriation for symphony orchestras, for example, which is €12.26 million this year.

Tuomo Tirkkonen considers the share of state aid appropriated to festivals insufficient: “The minimum annual increase in government aid necessary is €200,000 to €300,000 for each of the next five years.

Savonlinna takes care of its own marketing

It is estimated that the annual total number of performers in all of the FF festivals is about 20,000. Including attendance at the free events, a total of about two million people annually attend the FF festivals. Of these, 70,000 are well-paying opera-goers at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, the biggest Finnish festival in terms of total revenues.This very professionally managed festival is the internationally most esteemed Finnish music festival.

The general director of the Savonlinna Opera Festival, Jan Hultin, recounts that the festival itself takes care of its promotion and media relations. Hultin feels that it is perhaps time to reconsider in a more general sense too whether the festival’s interests are adequately represented by FF or whether it is time for a change.

“The question is whether public funding of festivals should be uniformly increased or on the basis of some policy. In my opinion, we should have the courage to see that there are a dozen or so internationally noted festivals in Finland. Keeping them alive is not enough; they need active development efforts. It would make sense to channel additional public funds especially into these”, Hultin proposes.

“A second category of festivals consists of those to whose funding the government can contribute a smaller share than in the previous group. The third group consists of regional and local festivals. Their upkeep could become the responsibility of the municipalities or of civil society organisations.

Pressures to develop independent fundraising

The strong downward trend in the relative share of public aid can be seen at the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Whereas in 1993 public aid still represented about 25% of the festival’s revenues, it is now, in 2005, at 14% (state 9%, city of Savonlinna 5%). In addition, the state grants the festival a rent subsidy for the venue, the Olavinlinna Castle, whose value represents 3% of the festival’s budget. Ticket sales cover 66%, business sponsoring 13%, and other fundraising 4%.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival has been criticised in Finland for its high ticket prices. These however prove to be average in a Europe-wide comparison, and downright cheap compared to the Salzburg Festival’s prices.

The Savonlinna festival’s marketing manager, Helena Kontiainen, estimates that in Finland’s strongly subsidised cultural landscape, the festival’s ticket prices are already at the “pain threshold”. As the relative share of public aid sinks, pressures to develop independent fundraising continue to grow.

Globalisation carries off Mikkeli Music Festival partners

The opera company of the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre arrives at the Mikkeli Music Festival for its week-long summer residence in the first days of July when the Savonlinna Opera Festival is already underway. Mikkeli is located about 100 kilometres west of Savonlinna.

“The farther away one is while looking at this corner of Finland, the closer Savonlinna and Mikkeli are. Many Savonlinna visitors also come to hear concerts directed by Maestro Valery Gergiev in Mikkeli”, suspects the administrative director of the Mikkeli festival, Kari Moring.

While the Savonlinna Opera Festival has achieved a high European status and can look for its main sponsors among the globally active Finnish companies such as Finnair, Nokia, and Patria, the festival in Mikkeli relies mainly on locally active businesses.

The region of southern Savo, where Mikkeli and Savonlinna are located, is a net loser in internal Finnish migration. Globalisation can be felt here too, and several companies in the Mikkeli region have been bought up by companies located elsewhere. Among those have been traditional supporters of the Mikkeli Music Festival.

As a result of this change, the share of business partnerships of the festival’s total revenues has dropped from 40% in the best years to the current 20%. Public aid accounts for 30-35%, and ticket sales for 40-45% of the total festival budget.

The Ilmajoki Music Festival in western Finland is also a Finnish opera festival. The festival has gone through financially difficult years. The turning point came with the successful 30th anniversary celebrations in 2005. Expenses were cut and marketing was directed towards businesses and the entire country.

Turku and Naantali join up with island events

The Turku and Naantali music festivals represent an equally strong pair of collaborators in their combined efforts to attract music crowds to southwestern Finland in the summer. The Turku Music Festival is one of the oldest Finnish medium-sized festivals. It has recently founded an offshoot in the spring, the annual Aboa Musica festival of contemporary music. The cello virtuoso Arto Noras directs the Naantali Music festival, which concentrates on chamber music just like the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in the east, close to the Russian border.

The basis of the Turku festival’s funding consists of support received from the city, which covers half of the festival’s budget. Together with the government aid, the total public funding amounts to nearly two thirds of the festival budget. Ticket sales provide an additional 20%, and the remaining share is covered by the help of old, established partners.

Whereas Turku’s population is 170,000, Naantali has only 14,000 inhabitants. Picturesque Naantali has developed into a tourist attraction, and the Moominworld theme park, for example, lures about 200,000 visitors to Naantali each summer. The summer crowds also benefit the chamber music festival, which sells more than 17,000 tickets per summer.

The Naantali festival covers about a third of its expenditures with public aid. Ticket sales and the festival’s own fundraising cover about half of expenditures, and the rest comes from sponsors.

The Turku and Naantali festivals have coordinated their marketing since summer 2005 with each other and with small festivals in the Turku archipelago. One example is the Nauvo Chamber Music Festival established in 2002 on the island of Nauvo.

In the winter, the island has 4,000 inhabitants, but the number increases tenfold when the summer cottage season opens. The town’s small festival received a major boost when it was accepted into the EU’s Leader+ programme. Despite the financial aid this provided, the programme was also seen as problematic due to the bureaucracy it imposed on the festival. Since 2005, the festival has instead sought funding in the form of small business cooperation and sponsoring agreements, of which the festival already has about twenty.

Helsinki Early Music Week concentrates on networking

New large music festivals have no longer been founded in Finland for decades, but new small events spring up regularly. One of the new ones is the Helsinki Early Music Week, which was organised for the first time in autumn 2005. The festival’s policy is to give the public the chance to hear talented young musicians.

“Our funding consists of many small sources. It includes one-off public aid sums, contributions from foundations, and small-scale business sponsoring. Plane tickets for performers from abroad have been received from various sources. Guest performers have been lodged in private homes. We have been successful in selling advertisement space in the programmes. In addition, we founded a ‘friends of the festival’ society”, describes the festival’s producer, Márta Schmidt.

All expenses incurred by the first festival were covered by such fundraising, so all ticket revenues could be used for developing the 2006 festival. The festival indeed trusts in “organic growth”.

The festival is networking with the other early music events in countries around the Baltic Sea. The network’s participants are mainly small organisations, but they represent an interesting specialised field, which is united by a continually growing pool of freelance musicians.

Márta Schmidt considers marketing important and reserves a significant portion of the Helsinki Early Music Week’s budget for it. She however does not intend to apply for membership in Finland Festivals or any other umbrella organisation:

“We prefer belonging to a network instead of an organisation; it’s a considerably more sensible way of doing things. I don’t want to bind funds in a way that lets outsiders use them in ways that we can’t ourselves decide.

Translation: Ekhart Georgi