Korjaamo Culture Factory is one of the largest art centers in the Nordic countries. Formerly the old tram depot, it produces nearly 400 cultural events a year across various fields including music, theatre, movies etc., and provides spaces for private or corporate events. Different from common impression towards a “cultural center” like “educational” and “serious,” Korjaamo is a cultural and leisure space created from the needs of citizens. While providing meaningful cultural contents, it may surprise you that it can be that commercial, entertaining and even with so much fun. We invited Marianne Mäkelä to share their experiences in operating such an urban cultural space.
The chief operating officer of Korjaamo Culture Factory. She has worked as the director of marketing and communication in one of the biggest Finland TV station, and has helped many traditional cultural institutions develop new ways to get back their audience and improve the operation as well.
A Cultural Sphere Born out of the Demands of a New Urban Lifestyle
In recent years, Finland has faced the dual challenges of an aging population and a demographic shift from rural areas to its urban centers. The existing urban space and resources haven’t been enough to keep up with the pace of migration and a demand gap has formed. Meanwhile, the younger generation is more educated than ever before. They seek more meaningful life and work styles and new experiences and activities that they can do on their own, and look for opportunities for social participation. Because of this, traditional cultural institutions no longer hold a significant attraction for them.
Korjaamo Culture Factory, located in Helsinki’s Töölö neighborhood, was born out of such urban people’s need for new cultural institutions, leisure venues and more events. It was founded in 2004 and is operated by the Korjaamo Group, part of a business group Töölö Urban Oy, who renovated the old tram depot into a mixed-space cultural sphere. With its meeting room, collaborative work spaces, concert venue, gallery, theater etc., Korjaamo meets a civic need both for space and for cultural activities.
▲ Korjaamohalli (Korjaamo Hall).
▲ The original look inside the old tram depot.
However, Korjaamo Culture Factory is more than a venue for activities; it hosts cultural events as well. For example, the group hosts Stage Theatre Festival in August every year that showcases a selection of Finnish and international performances. It has become one of Finland’s major cultural events. Mäkelä notes that many cultural institutions create and deliver contents by outdated methods. “They open right on the dot, and close right on the dot, and people just aren’t that interested.” The group’s constant goal is to come up with new and meaningful cultural experiences for people. Mäkelä brings up opera as an example and says that they try to combine opera with other elements and activities and even present it in alternative locations like parks to reach an audience beyond the confines of the opera house.
To Experience and Create Culture with a Modern Twist
Korjaamo’s projects have received kudos both locally and internationally in recent years. “The international media often notes that Finland is fast adding its position in the world as a famous travel destination because so much here is ‘new’.” But Mäkelä says that most of Korjaamo’s projects don’t spring from new or particularly innovative concepts; rather, they are drawn from traditional culture and life. It’s just that Korjaamo presents them with a fresh, more intimate, more urban perspective to create and provide a new and alternative experience. The idea for the Jääpuisto Ice Park in downtown Helsinki, another business of Töölö Urban Oy, for example, emerged from the collective memory of the staff of skating and playing in rural areas during their childhood. Thus, they chose to build the outdoor ice rink next to the central station so people could enjoy on-ice activities even in the city.
The Allas Sea Pool, which began operations in fall 2016, is another interesting business attempt brought out by Töölö Urban Oy. Situated at the southern end of downtown Helsinki, the artificial pool extends from the shoreline of the harbor district. Formerly it was only a fenced-off concrete area. Even the beach was built and converted from a parking lot. They hope that Allas Sea Pool will allow people to enjoy a traditional Baltic spa experience while benefiting from its more updated facilities and intimate, urban atmosphere.
▲ Allas is not only an outdoor sea pool but a leisure place with a mix of urban culture, old Baltic spa culture and local cuisine.
With that as their fundamental guideline, they next wanted to inspire people to participate in and contribute to Helsinki’s urban culture. To further this goal, Allas Sea Pool is designed to be more than just a place for swimming and saunas. In addition to sports facilities such as the fitness terrace and the yoga room, Allas provides venues for cultural events like concert and performances. The group also opted for clean technology in its operations, saving energy and resources, and choosing natural materials, such as the Finland firs used to build the spa, whenever possible. Last but not least, the services are provided at a price that is affordable for the average person—the basic entry price is only 12 euros.
Commerce and Culture Don’t have to be Poles Apart
With a wealth of accumulated experience, the Korjaamo Culture Factory has developed a modular business model. The Korjaamo Hall, Ice Park, and Allas Sea Pool are each split into two major categories, places and programs, which are then further subdivided into corporate services, restaurant services, school programs, and shops to form a number of revenue streams. In the Korjaamo Hall, for instance, about 38% of revenues come from restaurants, 29% from programs, 20% from corporate services, and 13% from rentals. Profits are invested in creating more content such as exhibitions and programs to attract more people to visit and participate. As a response to its modular operations, the group takes the form of a tiered ecosystem of researching/planning, marketing, and sales to run the business more efficiently and reach its goals faster.
▲ Korjaamo also provides space rentals for citizen to organize private or corporate events.
▲ Korjaamo now hosts three concert/theatre venues as well as six smaller creative spaces for meetings and seminars.
Mäkelä states that providing quality, meaningful cultural contents and running a commercial business are not mutually exclusive concepts, but she also laughingly admits that they grapple with this issue on a daily basis. She mentions that she has seen many good concepts in Europe that struggle due to poor profits, a lack of funding, and no sound revenue model, to the point where they need to rely on the government for funding. The goal Korjaamo continuously works toward is to achieve both and allow the business operations to support the realization of good ideas for contents. Mäkelä states that when good contents are offered to bring in more people and a larger audience, it may earn a bargaining chip for your next plan.
After Allas Sea Pool, Korjaamo’s next step might seem a bit surprising. This time they plan to build Tripla, a “nontraditional” mall with an urban green garden in addition to the shopping venue. “It will be an urban cultural center. What we want is a place that offers more comfort and freedom so that people want to spend time here.” Mäkelä says that they are constantly at odds with the architects and designers, telling them that the plans look “too ‘shopping mall’!” She also reveals that Tripla will officially open in 2019. Just look forward to seeing what this new type of urban culture space will look like!
Photos｜Korjaamo Culture Factory