Launched in May, HKI Art Guide is one of the rare English online guides to the contemporary art scene in Helsinki. Founders Alexandra Marila and Diego Barros tell us why their services as art-focused city-sherpas are urgently needed in town.
What is HKI Art Guide about and who is it for?
Alexandra: HKI Art Guide is an online media channel for discovering art in Helsinki area. It features museum and gallery exhibitions, art events and happenings, as well as videos, articles and interviews with artists. In October, we will also add artist profiles on the platform.
We’ve dedicated HKI Art Guide to anyone interested in exploring art. Our audiences range from seasoned art enthusiasts, museum and gallery visitors or art collectors to people that are less initiated in the art field but are curious to learn more.
The main scope of HKI Art Guide is to make the art scene more accessible by offering quality, advertising-free content in a clear and easy-to- use format.
How did you get the idea for founding HKI Art Guide?
Alexandra: My background is in communications and marketing. Before establishing HKI Art Guide, I worked in different companies, in Finland for the past five years and before that in Belgium, Spain and Romania. At the end of 2015 I decided to shift my career towards the art sector, because I have always had a huge passion for art.
Diego: My background is in theatre. I’ve been working several years in the cultural field organising festivals and developing programmes related to theatre and visual arts in Finland, Portugal, UK and Brazil. I was in charge of the cultural centre of the Brazilian embassy in Helsinki in 2015.
Alexandra: We met in January 2016 through a common friend. At the time we were both free from our previous working roles, and we were searching for something to do on our own in the art area. We spent a couple of months brainstorming and thinking about projects that could add something new, different and necessary to the art field in Finland.
Diego: From the very beginning, our common goal was to increase visibility for art, so the idea of HKI Art Guide came quite naturally when we realised that there is no Helsinki-focused online publication that lists all of the exhibitions and art events on one platform, in English. Then the articles, interviews and videos started adding more in-depth content to the guide, and slowly but steady, people started subscribing to our weekly newsletters.
Alexandra: HKI Art Guide was launched in May 2016 under the umbrella of a non-profit art organisation and is now owned by HKI Art Communications Oy, a communications agency dedicated solely to the art sector. HKI Art Communications allows us to offer a broader array of services to our clients, including website development and consultancy.
You both have long worked abroad before moving to Finland. How do you see the local contemporary art scene?
Alexandra: Helsinki is very different today compared to 2011, which coincidentally is the year both Diego and I moved here. Only a few years later, in 2016, Helsinki has a more cosmopolitan, international vibe. Many cultural projects and festivals became bigger and more beloved throughout the years. There are a lot of art happenings and new art spaces that keep popping up, and we are definitely happy to be experiencing all of it.
At the same time, there are many art events and exhibitions that are not as visible, people do not know so much about them. Except for the art connoisseurs, most people are not as used to visiting galleries, despite their affinity for art or potential interest in buying art. Somehow people tend to feel self-aware or intimidated in an art gallery, despite the fact that galleries are open and free to visit for everyone.
Through HKI Art Guide, we want to increase visibility for contemporary art and lower the threshold for entering gallery spaces. We provide accessible content and encourage our audiences to participate in the conversation. Finding galleries, museums or art spaces is easy with HKI Art Guide’s maps for each venue and exhibition. The exhibitions can be filtered according to the date, keyword or location, so users do not need to spend so much time and effort to find art that would really interest them.
Our effort is also strongly geared towards making Helsinki’s art scene more international and show that the city has a lot to offer in the space of contemporary art and beyond.
When you have a free day in Helsinki, what do you like to do?
Alexandra: I’m a bohemian dreamer at heart, so many of the things I love to do in my free time are often related to art, culture, architecture and sometimes design.
I really enjoy visiting Ateneum, Kiasma and Didrichsen, not only for the exhibitions, but also for the life and history of the buildings. Among galleries I like are Galerie Anhava, Helsinki Contemporary, Galleria Heino and Galleria Duetto – which is specialised in graphic art.
There are also two fusion gallery spaces I sometimes visit, they show art but also have a design concept store. One is downtown – Lokal Helsinki on Annankatu – and the other is a perfect artsy weekend getaway: Gumbostrand Konst &Form in Söderkulla, near Porvoo.
Diego: I really appreciate the fact that Helsinki has so much to show, in different artistic fields. I love seeing theatre shows at the Finnish National Theatre, as well as performances in its cosy, inspiring Lavaklubi. The first meeting I had with Alex was there in Lavaklubi, by the way!
As a huge fan of latin rhythms in general, I also love going to concerts in bars such as Woolshed and Oficina, especially during the winter. It’s impossible to feel cold at a good, caliente salsa concert!
Text: Heljä Franssila
Photo: (C) HKI Art Guide