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Helsinki is the new victim of the Guggenheim Museum’s World Tour of Corruption

By Pedro Aibéo*

The Guggenheim Foundation has been the focus of corruption scandals in cities it has attempted to build its franchise in. There have been many failed attempts including São Paulo, Vilnius, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Soho (1992-2001), Berlin (1997-2012), Las Vegas (2001- 2008), Salzburg (Austria), Guadalajara (Mexico), Abu Dhabi, [1] and now its HELSINKI’s turn! So stay tuned to see which politicians will fall after the corruption details start to come out!

This Wednesday the 30th November 2016 the city will vote on a renewed proposal to build a franchise of the Guggenheim in the heart of the Finnish capital. Their proposal is to build a private museum funded almost completely by public money, and with all the financial risks carried out by the City alone, that is, its citizens.

The City Council of Helsinki has voted NO to Guggenheim in May 2012, yet an architectural competition for the building was launched soon after. In 2016, there was another attempt to make the Finnish state foot the bill for their project, and it failed again. Surprisingly, as they did in so many other countries over the past decade, they managed to push this topic back into the discussion table, when so many other pressing issues are pending.

Now, in a rush-rush vote, they want again to take our TAX money and pay for their very private gallery, which goes masked as a Museum.

According to a PETITION launched as a last-minute response to this surprise gambit over the weekend, this Wednesday’s vote asks for:

– 98 Million Euros for the building and plot improvement – in cash from the City

– 33 Million Euros in loans – guaranteed by the City.

– 1.3 Million € annually from the Ministry of Education and Culture – which falls to the City if unpaid.

– 0.9 Million € annually in maintenance costs – in cash from the City

– 3 – 6.5 Million € annually to plug expected budget-gaps

– An unprecedented exemption from VAT on the building (when other private museums like the new Amos Anderson Rex pay their taxes!)

– A free grant of the plot (one of the most expensive land plots of Finland)

– Almost a million Euros, every year, just for the Guggenheim brand

In return they, the Guggenheim Foundation, promises:

– Private investment of 15 million (not confirmed)

– and a total number of visitors per year of 550.000

According to the researcher Merja Puustinen, comparable museums (Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Louisiana Museum, or the entire Finnish National Gallery including Kiasma, Ateneum and Sinebrychoff COMBINED) have only an average of 300.000-350.000 visitors a year. Furthermore, only an average of 60% of visitors to the mentioned museums actually pay for their tickets (school classes, professionals, etc. get free entry). Guggenheim is expecting half a million visitors, all paying full ticket, so in fact their projected real visitor’s number would be close to 900.000.

Let’s take the NYC Guggenheim for comparison. It gets approximately 1 million visitors per year. The New York metropolitan area has approximately 23 million inhabitants, and is one of the most visited cities worldwide. Greater Helsinki has approximately 1.5 million inhabitants, is not anywhere to be seen on the list of top tourist sites. The resulting budget deficits from only this gross overestimate in visitor figures, anti-Guggenheim campaigners say, would cost the city around 4 million Euros a year… In short, the proposal seems to be filled with major budgeting flaws. This creates financial risks – all of which the City of Helsinki is liable for according to the proposal to be voted on.

I can see the rise of a new business model here. If I can guarantee tourists to fly in to Helsinki I can from now on (if yes wins) demand a subsidy from the City for it! So if we take just the first number of 98 million, divided by 550000, we may demand therefore 182 euros per tourist to the city!

For all those who say, its better to have a Guggenheim than continuing having a parking lot on that planned site, please click here  to see some alternatives we proposed last year.

Lee Rosenbaum said it best that “launching and managing a satellite museum in a foreign country that is capable of conceiving and managing its own cultural institutions is not collaboration; it’s colonization.” also known as business. [2]

Many well-known figures have come out to publicly denounce the proposal. The renowned architect Juhani Pallasmaa writes:

“I cannot support a branded and franchised global art museum business in Helsinki, to be largely paid by municipal tax funds. In my view, the project is initially a ruthless business, although it has been presented as a cultural project.

There has been very little public information about the planned activities of the museum, and the financial calculations underestimate costs and overestimate income. The political preparation has been too secretive for a major public project, and mainly focused on expected economic benefits. The project emphasises a consumerist and touristic view of art at the expense of the cultural and humane task of art. instead of strengthening local artistic traditions and practices, the project strengthens the already doubtful globalisation and commercialisation of art. The public funds could clearly be used in a more innovative and efficient manner to support Finnish artistic culture.

The architectural project itself is far from satisfactory. The village-like setting with charcoaled wood facades is very strange, next to one of the finest Neoclassical urban centres of Europe. Regardless of the exceptional number of entries, the competition did not produce a project worthy of its unique location.” [3]

no-guggenheim-in-helsinki1Abu Dhabi is the only city where the construction of a new Guggenheim franchise is currently funded. However, the construction plan agreed in 2006 is highly contested, and construction has lapsed in the midst of accusations of human-rights violations and other problems. The whole process stands in the shadow of a boycott by over 100 artists. The group Gulf Labor, and its many friends and associates worldwide, including in Helsinki, have accused the Guggenheim of being complicit of serious human-rights violations.

On social media, citizens have demanded an investigation into the democratic legitimacy of the entire Guggenheim Helsinki process, including calls for an investigation into possible corruption. They are asking why as the City Hall, whose political composition is still the same as in 2012, has shifted its position. Why, they are asking, are such foolishly generous and risky conditions being offered to this US-based corporation?

I repeat, as an experienced architect, who designed and built Museums, and as a politically conscious person, please vote firmly against it. The reasons against such a project are manifolded among these:
– Tax payers should not be paying huge sums of money for a private gallery disguised as a museum
– The Guggenheim Foundation has a record of income inequality and corruption scandals all over the world (Mr. Armstrong’s salary is over 600.000!)
– There will be no tourism flood of people to Helsinki for this project, as you can read by all relevant independent reports.
– Helsinki has already a record number of museums which cannot take further cuts
– etc.

no-guggenheim-in-helsinki2Along with the TTIP and Trump’s election, we are seeing a trend of export from the USA, on private corporations growing power over people’s elected governments. We must stop this abuse and protect the values which Finns hold strong to, of social welfare and equality. Guggenheim business men use the current poor state of our democracies where the majority of our elected politicians do not event read the facts of what is being voted for, and decide according to the glamour and free dinners offered to them. Ignorance is not compatible with democracy and we will see heads rolling soon from corruption scandals.

*Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect (M.Sc., Dipl. Ing., TU Darmstadt, Germany) and Civil Engineer (M.Sc., Licenciatura, FEUP, Porto) with over 50 buildings designed and built on 15 countries. He is also a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer, Research Assistant and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on “Architectural Democracy”. He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, Germany, with written and directed theater plays at the United Nations and the Staatstheater Darmstadt on urban slavery and astronomy. He is a professional Musician at “Homebound” and the founder and Chairman of the “World Music School Helsinki ry”. He is a drawing teacher at the croquis nights in Helsinki and a comic novel writer on mathematics.

[1] http://www.iltasanomat.fi/koti maa/art-2000004882267.html

[2] http://www.artsjournal.com /culturegrrl/2016/11/snowballs -chance-in-helsinki-guggenheim -again-seeks-council-approval- plus-abu-dhabi-update.html

[3](https://www.architectsjour nal.co.uk/news/finnish-archite ct-demands-guggenheim-helsinki -rethink/10015089.article)

*Some facts, figures and positions:

http://suomenkuvalehti.fi/jutu t/kotimaa/tutkija-ruoskii-gugg enheim-hanketta-pitaa-suomea-k ylmana-ilottomana-itseaan-vapa htajana/?shared=945975-8cd2025 e-1

http://www.hs.fi/mielipide/a14 79613484119

https://www.architectsjournal. co.uk/news/finnish-architect-d emands-guggenheim-helsinki-ret hink/10015089.article

http://suomenkuvalehti.fi/jutu t/kotimaa/guggenheim-helsinki- kiistellyn-hankkeen-salatut-ta ustat-ja-piilovaikuttajat/

http://suomenkuvalehti.fi/jutu t/kulttuuri/donner-guggenheimi sta-sk092011/

http://www.artsjournal.com/cul turegrrl/2016/11/snowballs-cha nce-in-helsinki-guggenheim-aga in-seeks-council-approval-plus -abu-dhabi-update.html

http://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/a14 78142673905

http://www.guggenheimhki.fi/

http://www.aibeo.com/no-guggen heim-in-helsinki

https://www.theguardian.com/wo rld/2013/dec/22/abu-dhabi-migr ant-workers-conditions-sham

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