The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Inna Huttunen - credit by Hanna Juutilainen

Opportunity for Non-traditional Arts Arises from COVID-19

An Interview with Inna Huttunen

Inna is obsessed with interdisciplinary and immersive art, experiences, contemporary circus and more. Since 2016 Inna has been the co-owner and managerial director of the interdisciplinary art company Recover Laboratory based in Helsinki, Finland. She graduated with the MMIAM 7th cohort in 2020 and returned to begin working on new programming with her team.

What are some things that make your organization and its location in Helsinki, Finland unique?

Our organization is unique because it is focused on multidisciplinary, site-specific and immersive art experiences that are based on human contact and connection. Absurd surrealism hangs over our artworks. We have specialized in creating large-scale immersive labyrinths for audiences of one at a time, in unconventional spaces like waste-water treatment plants, underground tunnels and old factories. Much of our artistic influence comes from contemporary circus and visual arts as our co-artistic directors are a circus professional and a visual artist. We are a project-based collective that works with a network of all kinds of artists and artisans to develop a unique experience for every show.

Our productions happen mostly in two different ways: either we produce the whole show and sell the tickets as an organization, which we usually do when we can get a grant from the city or organization, or someone will buy a show that we have produced. In addition to the shows, we organize and curate different kinds of events, collaborate with different organizations, and are actively involved in developing the multidisciplinary art field.

Helsinki is an interesting place for contemporary circus and that’s where we began. We wanted to bring the contemporary circus arts out of the black box theater and develop the audience-performer relationship beyond the “fourth wall”. Finland has a good structure for funding the arts. Government grants, cities and foundations form the base of the financials of most bigger art organizations, whereas private giving is rare. In addition to the bigger organizations that benefit most from the funding structure, the “free” field in Finland is very big. That’s where we exist. This section of the arts is mostly freelancers and small collectives like ourselves that are more interdisciplinary and experimental and harder to attract funding for. Our company often also falls in between the grant structures because of the interdisciplinary and pioneering nature of our operations, and we are constantly seeking to develop more financially sustainable structures by operating in the crossroads of the non-profit and for-profit worlds. As we continue on and grow, however, we’re becoming eligible for operational grants as well as more project-based ones.

Has COVID-19 impacted your organization? How are you planning for the future?

COVID-19 impacted our organization in a number of ways, like canceling our upcoming indoors shows. COVID-19 arrived while I was still in the middle of the MMIAM program in Montréal and things started getting cancelled. However, we’re a small organization used to working in non-traditional ways and we have the flexibility to adapt to changing situations fast.

Musician Aleksi Kinnunen performing in Evening Walk (credit: Tomasz Sekular)

While MMIAM travels were cancelled, and working and studying remotely quickly became the new normal, we spent endless hours on video calls during the quarantine with our directors Miradonna Sirkka and Sofi Häkkinen. We started to develop our corona-safe art experience for the people yearning for human connection during the quarantine. In May, we premiered “Evening Walk”, a promenade performance in the public space. Basically, you would buy a ticket for a certain time and follow a path through Helsinki during which you would see artworks and different performances like theatre, circus, dance, and live music. The performers and artworks were located in the windows of restaurants and apartments, and empty sport fields. The journey was combined with a live soundscape played through headphones that enhanced the journey while you have these face to face experiences with artists. The performance got great feedback and was also featured as one of the interesting initiatives in a global webinar “Performing Arts Deconfinement Initiatives Around the World” organized by Cinars.

We also premiered a built-for-livestream performance in April as our immediate reaction to coronavirus. It was performed through Facebook Live using virtual means like Google Drive to perform and interact live with the audience. This show helped us build an understanding of what distanced digital art collaboration could be like during the pandemic, instead of just livestreaming performances that were built originally for stages and live audiences.

Screenshot of Donna Drive’s livestream performed at PlayDate Remote by Center for Everything (credit: Inna Huttunen)

Beyond our events, we have been working on our new collaboration project that goes under the working title YDIN (“the core” in Finnish). It will be both a network and a physical space for creative professionals to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations of art and science. We had started to work with the concept already before Covid, but the pandemic accelerated the development. The project was born from the need of creative professionals for more sustainable solutions and if anything, the pandemic has shown us that now, more than ever, the field needs new methods, deeper community, innovations, and sustainable solutions. We‘re building  a new kind of stage and laboratory to lead the change.

What skills that you gained from the MMIAM Program that have helped you succeed at your organization?

I would say that, in addition to gaining the international network through the MMIAM family, the biggest thing was to learn to look at the bigger picture and from an international perspective. It helped me see how the arts operate on a larger scale which was super important since I’m so often focused on day to day developments in programming and decision-making. I had the opportunity to continually look at my business through the lens of the program and get feedback on it by focusing my projects on it. I even did a business plan for my thesis on the YDIN project of my company.

What do you think are the long term implications of COVID-19 for your organization and the arts and culture world at large?

Sadly, many people are struggling and losing work, but interestingly for our organization, it is opening up more room for us. There are new opportunities and places in the market to be filled by young, small, quickly operating and adapting organizations like Recover Laboratory. Bigger organizations are being forced to reevaluate how they’re working, so I think there will end up being more diversity in cultural offerings. The more traditional organizations will have to start adapting and learn to change with what is going on because their model has been disrupted. We have to find new ways to produce shows because it will be awhile before we’re back to normal. I am especially curious and excited about the possible movement away from traditional stage models into more immersive, site-specific or experimental structures. While the struggle is real, here in Finland I’m noticing a lot of new possibilities in funding, as new pools are opening to support innovation and re-modeling operations.

I think that this crisis could also force people to use new technology, increasing the “tech savviness” of the average person and organization, which opens up new possible structures, mediums, and ways of production. While many of us are sick of video calls, in the best case, this shift allows for increased productivity and efficiency, which leaves more resources for the art itself. In addition to that, it can lead to more innovative digital performances. Management wise, hopefully, since the leaders are now forced to look at the bigger picture and develop new approaches, I hope they will rethink their operations on a wider scale. The year 2020 has also been a big year for important themes like equality, representation and social sustainability. I’m hoping that many organizations take Covid as a kind of wakeup call that we cannot continue to do things the way we have been doing and while they reorganize their programming and structures, we’d also enter into a more responsible art world.

Inna Huttunen and Sofi Hakkinen scouting locations for YDIN (credit: unknown)

*Headshot credit: Hanna Juutilainen.