Kaarina Gould works as the Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York. We talked with Kaarina about her job and found out that Finnish art and culture are blooming in the city.
I have been working in the field of arts and culture all my professional life. I was originally trained as a designer, but moved on to work in programming, curating and managing events and projects. Before my current job I had always worked in Finland, but in projects that have had a strong international aspect. Working abroad was thus just a matter of the right position coming available at the right time.
Having grown up in a half-American family, the U.S. was a very natural choice for me. When the position of the Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute opened up, I applied and got the job. The Institute focuses on visual forms of art – contemporary art, architecture and design – so my background in the field and experience in managing organizations seemed fit.
The Finnish Cultural Institute has been in New York for 25 years. The core of what we do is residency and mobility programs for visual arts professionals: artists, designers, architects, curators and so on. We are a small team of only five people in New York and one person in Helsinki, so as a director I’m very hands on with everything that's going on – from administration to project-management and communications.
Every few months we welcome new artists-in-residence and do our best to help them get the most out of their time in New York. Recently we have been working on an exhibition, fashion after Fashion, which opened at the Museum of Art and Design on April 27 and runs through to the beginning of August.
Since I am a curious person, meeting so many artists and creative professionals and learning about their practices never cease to inspire me. The most challenging part is navigating a new city, connecting the dots in a landscape that is hectic in so many ways. Time flows very differently here. I’ve had to teach myself new tactics of managing time, which are yet to proof their success.
Having visited frequently since childhood, I had a good idea of what I was up for, but naturally living here is completely different from cherry-picking while just stopping for a short time. New York is a beast of a city; it takes a lot but it gives a lot, too. The magnetic energy is real, and when you find yourself in sync with that energy, it’s like nothing else. I love what New York has to offer in terms of arts and culture, culinary experiences, architecture and street styles.
I am a multivore in what comes to consuming arts and culture. I’ve worked extensively with different forms of visual and performing arts, from world music to contemporary circus to cinema, but I’ve maintained the ability to also enjoy them as a spectator. I guess my most influential experiences come from projects or performances where different disciplines and practices meet and cross-pollinate. For balance, I have a teenager at home who’s enthusiastic about musicals, so we go see Broadway shows whenever we have a chance.
There is almost a festival of Finnish arts and culture happening in New York at the moment. We have two feature films, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki and Tom of Finland, running. Two exhibitions featuring art from Finland have also just opened: fashion after Fashion at the Museum of Art and Design and Independent Visions – Helene Schjerfbeck and Her Contemporaries at Scandinavia House.
I think Finland's strong suite in the field of arts lies in education, and that is highly recognized in the U.S., too. The education in Finland is free from primary school to university, which allows for creative thinking and making mistakes without the pressure of high tuition fees going into waste. A platform like that may nurture artistic expression of unique quality. What we should learn from our American peers is how to talk about the arts. We are still very much a silent people – the silence of course also being a valuable characteristic of our culture and identity.
I just turned 45, an age where taking care of yourself and spending more time with family and friends suddenly feels more valuable than ever. I’m lucky to have a job in the arts, because my work and personal interests intertwine in a very nice way. I enjoy all kinds of arts from visual to performing as a spectator, but I’ve also just taken up figure drawing after some 20 years.
I am yet to find my go-to yoga class in New York, but I still roll out my yoga mat almost daily and do my own routine. Thankfully, the jogging season in New York is way longer than in Helsinki, and the parks are plentiful.