2011 puts two European cities in the spotlight as cultural capitals: Turku, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. Turku will offer an unusually interdisciplinary program with Finnish culture at the core.
The Aura river flows through the center of the city of Turku
Turku in southwestern Finland will celebrate its year as one of two European Capitals of Culture in 2011 with a focus on the connection between wellness, science and culture.
Under the motto "Culture does you good," the Finnish city founded in 1229 is set to host 155 cultural projects alongside events planned by fellow culture capital Tallinn in Estonia.
"We want to emphasize that culture has a positive impact on mental and physical well-being, and we're the first European Capital of Culture to focus on this aspect," said the head spokesperson for Turku's 2011 programming, Saara Malila, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
The city has already drawn attention for an unusual program in which doctors will "prescribe" tickets to cultural happenings as part of their treatment of patients during 2011.
A revival of the musical "Hair," performed entirely by middle-aged actors with no previous stage experience, also puts the connection between health and culture in the spotlight. The performers' blood pressure and other health indicators will be systematically studied during rehearsal and the shows to help draw conclusions about the relationship between creative endeavors and physical well-being.
"We have a lot of smaller-scale, intimate projects that involve going into nursing homes, daycares or institutions for the disabled and bringing people together," Malila said.
Actresses in "Hair" will have to get ready for both the stage and the stethescope
Combining research with culture
The 155 projects selected for presentation during 2011 were culled from over 1,000 proposals submitted during an open call in 2008. Over 15 of the selected projects focus on the intersection of science and cultural activity.
"Science and research are important in Turku, given the long tradition of academic life with three major universities here," Malila noted."Those institutions were very active in submitting proposals."
An interactive exhibition titled "Fire! Fire!" combines the science of fire with the history of Finland's oldest city and current culture capital, which was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1827. Another series of events titled "876 Shades of Darkness" takes up themes undoubtedly on the minds of many of Turku's guests during the long winter months: what is darkness, how do we perceive it, and how do we deal with it?
The 14th incarnation of an event titled "Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-useful Knowledge" also will also take an academic approach to culture. At 50 tables set up for the "knowledge market," scientists, artists, craftsmen and philosophers impart their knowledge to guests one-on-one in ways that intersect with performance.
"Photomontage IV" by Melinda Gibson is part of the Alice in Wonderland show
'Alice in Wonderland'
Much of Turku's 50 million euro ($66 million) budget is also given over to more traditional cultural programming, including dance and theater performances and gallery exhibitions, like a major, year-long presentation of contemporary photography titled "Alice in Wonderland."
It will be the largest exhibition of contemporary photographic art ever held in Finland, presenting works from Finnish and international artists that explore the intersection of fantasy and reality.
"Our inspiration for the show came from noticing that many Finnish photographers today are producing work that examines the fantastical aspects of life," exhibition curator Elina Heikka told Deutsche Welle.
"Every one of us is living between these two worlds of fantasy and reality, and we wanted to present that issue," she added.
Located on the Baltic Sea, Turku has a population of 175,000
Stories around the campfire
Finnish tradition is also reflected in one of the other major themes of Turku's programming: storytelling, according to festival representative Saara Malila.
"We want to raise the importance of storytelling for a new generation of people growing up around constant media and the Internet," Malila explained. "It goes back to those long, dark winter nights in Finland where there wasn't much to do except gather together and tell stories."
An event titled "Nordic Voices" will draw professional storytellers from across Europe to Finland's capital of culture to share tales both ancient and modern, while a program titled "Poetry Portraits" offers participants the chance to spend anywhere from several minutes to hours with poets and hear a piece about what the writer observed.
Turku's own story as a year-long culture capital will kick off with the opening ceremony on January 15 and last through December, 2011.
Author: Greg Wiser
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn