Northern exposure through new Arctic residency centre

Plans are under way to set up a new Arctic residency centre in Northern Finland as part of Res Artis, a global network of artist residencies. If all goes well with the fundraising, the Arctic chapter of Res Artis will open its doors next year. Frame’s Heljä Franssila chatted with the President of the Board of Res Artis, Leena Vuotovesi, who is brimming with bright ideas for enlivening the Arctic community.


Often when a new director starts in a new job, she finds herself asking two crucial questions: What is the point in this? How can I do this better?

These were certainly the questions that Leena Vuotovesi found herself asking six years ago, after having been appointed as executive director of KulttuuriKauppila, an arts centre in the small northern Finnish town of Ii.

Vuotovesi felt she needed a deeper understanding of how to run a successful artist residency, which was one of her core tasks at KulttuuriKauppila. She felt it was time to rethink how the local community and artists would mutually benefit from the residency programme.

Before long, Vuotovesi was actively involved in Res Artis, an international residency network, where she was soon elected as a board member. Her commitment to improving her own organization rapidly saw her become involved in developing residencies on a wider scale at Res Artis. Her work did not go unnoticed:  Last October she was elected president of the Board.

“As the newly elected president I felt it was important to develop a new strategy for Res Artis. After a year’s hard work, the new strategy has now been finalized. It recognizes the organization’s need to extend its outreach globally, which means establishing new local chapters outside our headquarters in Amsterdam,” she explains.

“Another great piece of news is that we have recently appointed Eliza Roberts as the Executive Director of Res Artis. She will start her work in November when we meet in Tehran for the first-ever Res Artis meeting in the Middle East.”

Leena Vuotovesi Res Artis

Mobility is the new normal

Both the contemporary art world and society have changed dramatically since Res Artis was founded in 1993. Today, artists work internationally to a greater extent, and for many, mobility – travelling and working abroad – is a key element in their artistic practice.

Vuotovesi sees this as good news for both Res Artis and all its member organizations. Artist residencies have raised and sharpened their profiles, and their importance in the art field is growing steadily. Res Artis is the world’s largest residency network, with over 550 centres in over 70 countries, offering a solid basis for strengthening its foothold globally.

Res Artis has already taken the decision to establish two regional chapters in addition to the headquarters in the Netherlands, where the communications unit will continue their work as before.

One of the new chapters will be located in Eliza Robert’s home city, Melbourne, Australia. The other will be set up in the Oulu region in Northern Finland.

“The Arctic region is very dear to me, and I always love campaigning on its behalf,” states Vuotovesi.

Vuotovesi believes the Arctic chapter would benefit northern residencies especially by strengthening their networks and visibility. At present, many Arctic artist residencies operate with limited resources, and remain relatively unknown. The new chapter can help them to widen their scope from a local to an international context.

“The Arts Promotion Centre Finland supported my participation in Res Artis from the very beginning, and I’ve been thankful for their backing. Having the new Arctic chapter located in Finland is something I want to leave as the legacy of my work in the field of artist residencies.”

The only challenge is funding, as often tends to be the case in cultural endeavours. If Vuotovesi succeeds with the fundraising, the Arctic chapter can begin its work as early as 2017. Luckily, Vuotovesi  knows a thing or two about finding money for cultural projects through her prior work at KulttuuriKauppila and Res Artis, which is a non-profit organization funded only through membership fees.

Today the former director of KulttuuriKauppila is CEO of Micropolis, a company promoting growth and employment, with a focus on green energy solutions. The company is co-owned by Technopolis and the municipality of Ii.

“We’re aiming to make Arctic Scandinavia energy self-sufficient. I also want to see Ii become a testbed for international start-ups,” says Vuotovesi, full as ever of ideas to promote prosperity in the Arctic region.


Text: Heljä Franssila, Photos: Antti J. Leinonen