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Culture in the wilds

Filming promo pictures for the market street during Kajaani‘s Poetry Weeks. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / 

Culture in the wilds

The Rauniokaupunki cultural association brings music and theatre to Kajaani, a town in the North of Finland, surrounded by wilderness.

Doing leads to action - these are the words used by the cultural association Rauniokaupunki to describe its philosophy. Rauniokaupunki means “town in ruins”, and during the past few years, some strange tremors have shaken the Finnish town of Kajaani. There have been awesome cultural happenings, concerts and other similar events that were unheard of when I lived in Kajaani. Behind many of these is the Rauniokaupunki Association, founded in 2010. The name partly refers to the town’s ruined castle, but it is appropriate in other ways too, as the association came into being when the town planned to cut its spending on cultural activities.

I moved away from Kajaani in 2003, just when some new and interesting developments were happening in the field of culture. In the same year the town’s three-year Generaattori project was started up, its aim being to empower activities at grassroots level. The project created activities of a new kind under the leadership of artists employed by the town, and at the same time a subculture scene was born – one that took a stand and played an active part in bringing culture to life in Kajaani. Even after the project ended, Generaattori continued, in premises run by a cooperative called G-voima, or G-power. In 2009, however, due to the poor economic situation, the town proposed cutting all financial support for the project. At that point Veikko Leinonen and a group of other local activists stepped forward to act.

We felt it was absolutely necessary – they more or less wanted to rob Kajaani’s young people of their future – the project is our generation’s best achievement. If that’s not good enough – what will the next step be?”, Veikko Leinonen asks. He himself was not involved in the Generaattori project, but took an active part in the discussion in newspaper columns. The protests did in fact bring results – the cuts were cancelled and the project was able to continue in the G-power premises.

  • Soile Savela and Minna Hyvönen of the Association’s weaving section dress up as ‘old wives’ for the marketing of Holy Saturday, on which people gather in a local bar to crochet and knit. | Photo (CC-BY): Veikko Leinonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • Yarn Saturday in the Baron Pub. Veikko Leinonen accompanies the knitters on his guitar. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • Bread and Circuses, an event where bread made by the local bakery and other delicacies are served along with circus fun. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • The Seminaarinmäki male gymnasts team performing at the Bread and Circuses event. Drummer Ilkka Tolonen accompanies their performance. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • Summer excursion to Otanmäki’s Mainari bar, a place visited by former President Urho Kekkonen when he was in his native Kainuu. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • Anna Ahmatova poetry evening at Generaattori. Singer Stina Koistinen recites a poem, interviewed by Veikko Leinonen. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • Rauniokaupunki has also organized flea markets in local pubs. | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • A small-scale short film night in the courtyard behind Kajaani’s Art Museum | Photo (CC-BY): Anna Laakkonen / Rauniokaupunki

  • At the Space Ship event, a local bar was transformed into a space ship for one evening. | Photo (CC-BY): Ia Samoil / Rauniokaupunki

  • At the Space Ship event, a local bar was transformed into a space ship for one evening. | Photo (CC-BY): Ia Samoil / Rauniokaupunki

  • Kajaani Song Contest. The participants are representatives of different town districts. | Photo (CC-BY): Ia Samoil / Rauniokaupunki

  • …Some immigrants from the Congo also take part in the Kajaani Song Contest. | Photo (CC-BY): Ia Samoil / Rauniokaupunki

  • …As in the Eurovision song contest, participants composed new pieces for the competition. | Photo (CC-BY): Ia Samoil / Rauniokaupunki

Money is not the main concern”

This was not enough. When Leinonen moved back from Joensuu to Kajaani in 2010, he and his friends had the idea of creating more inter-arts activities in the town. There was no money on offer but they didn’t need it. “The feeling was that we’re going to do something now where money is not the main concern. And that’s how we did it.” The Rauniokaupunki Association’s activities have for the most part been carried through without funding, and the events have been organized in cooperation with restaurants and pubs.

The association’s core group is relatively small, but in the case of bigger events, about 30 organizers have been involved. Most of the events organized by the Rauniokaupunki Association are musical, but there have also been other happenings, such as pub theatre performances, stand-up comedy evenings, Reclaim the Streets demonstrations, and handicraft fairs. In 2015 there were altogether 20 different events. The same core group has also mainly been responsible for renting and renovating a rehearsal room for more than ten bands. The idea was born after a building previously used by a number of bands had been demolished a few years earlier.

At the moment Leinonen is kept busy by Suuri työttömyysmusikaali, the Great Unemployment Musical he is directing. It literally starts on the streets of Kajaani and moves indoors from there. The musical addresses unemployment. “There are many people, even well educated and trained people, who are just not needed. The labour market simply can’t swallow them all, so there are plenty of people without jobs. Even top-level qualifications are not necessarily worth money”, Leinonen states.

The spirit of Kajaani

At first Leinonen was slightly doubtful about how Rauniokaipunki’s new cultural activities would be received. People’s reactions have in the end turned out to be positive. There is often a very good vibe at the gigs, which has surprised even many of the band members. “It has meant a lot to me, too, to see how people have joined in. The gigs have been great experiences for everybody. Another thing that’s good is that the audiences vary. Even at some of the most way-out events, the audiences may include yuppies and yokels as well as hipsters. And people have gone to these gigs with a very open mind and had a great time.”

The community spirit can also be seen in the organization of events. Participation has been open to all, and many of those taking part have simply turned up and tugged someone’s sleeve. At times, similar ideas from different people were combined. The musicians taking part in the events have been put up in the organizers’ homes. Cooperation like this is absolutely necessary in a small town like Kajaani, where resources are limited. Leinonen sums up: “Kajaani is a fantastic place to work: I have simply asked local vocational schools, theatres and other parties to help, and help has been offered very willingly.”


    January 2016
    Finland, Kajaani

    Rauniokaupunki on Facebook


    Jaakko Blomberg
    is a cultural producer and researcher, who specializes in new participatory city culture and likes alternative ways of thinking.

    Translated by

    Rosemary Mackenzie

    Finnish Version


    Creative Commons License

    This text and these images are licensed under a Attribution 2.0 Germany License.


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