Citizens prefer collectively produced urban culture
Neighbourhood festivals, block parties, Restaurant Day, Cleaning Day – all these are examples of new, innovative and collective urban culture. Informal events arranged by citizens and communities have been extremely popular. This article examines how collective urban culture manifests itself in the consumption of culture and cultural activities in Helsinki.
The cultural activities of Helsinki residents and their opinions of Helsinki as a city of culture were analysed with a new kind of approach in the autumn of 2013. Survey responses were collected using a snowball sampling method by disseminating the questionnaire through e-mail and Facebook. Many of the respondents received the invitation to fill in the questionnaire from a person they knew, which increased their enthusiasm to participate and answer the questions more carefully. Almost 100% of the respondents answered all questions. A total of 838 respondents returned the survey.
The questionnaire included 12 questions around the following subtopics:
- respondents' consumption of culture
- most interesting cultural experience in past 12 months
- problems and shortcomings in cultural offering in Helsinki
- use of Internet in consumption and creation of cultural content
- satisfaction with cultural offering in Helsinki
- respondents' relationship to culture (as member of audience, amateur, student or professional)
Despite the short questionnaire, an extensive amount of information was gained. Nearly every question also included the option of typing in a supplementary free response. All these answers were analysed in a subsequent research report (Keskinen & Kotro 2014).
The question concerning the role of the respondents as consumers of culture already provided new information on the cultural audiences in Helsinki. Most of the respondents indicated themselves to be members of the audience, spectators or listeners. More than a quarter (29 per cent) stated that they are involved with culture as a leisure-time option or because of studies. 13 per cent of the respondents were culture professionals. Depending on the situation, the respondents could naturally take multiple roles – most commonly as an amateur and a member of the audience.
Respondents were asked to indicate which types of cultural events and activities (rock concerts, opera, theatre, etc.) they had attended at least once in the course of a year. They turned out to be active consumers of culture, having experienced an average of seven events of different genres of the 14 options provided.
The cultural activities could be divided roughly into three groups according to popularity. The majority of the respondents (75–85 per cent) had visited a library, cinema, art exhibit or gallery or theatre, within the past year. Approximately half (49–61 per cent) had been to a major free event (Night of the Arts, Tall Ships Race, or similar), a pop, jazz or rock concert, a neighbourhood event, a classical music performance or opera, or a jumble sale on a street or in a park. A smaller part of the respondents had attended a dance performance or ballet, Restaurant Day, Helsinki Book Fair or the circus.
The proportion of people who had taken part in neighbourhood events was highest in the postcode districts of Länsi-Herttoniemi, Alppiharju, Roihuvuori, Kallio, Kumpula, Vallila, Tapaninkylä, Aurinkolahti, Mellunmäki and Kontula. 90–75 per cent of the respondents from these areas reported they had visited a festival. By contrast, less than a third of the respondents living in the postcode districts of Pikku Huopalahti, Jätkäsaari and Munkkivuori had attended neighbourhood events.
A particularly large number of the residents of in the inner-city districts of Vallila, Kallio, Alppiharju, Torkkelinmäki, Kumpula and Käpylä as well as the city centre had attended jumble sales on streets and in parks (87–64 per cent of the respondents from these areas). Lower attendance of such events was found in areas including Laakso, Veräjänmäki, Tapulikaupunki, Laajasalo, Länsi-Pasila, Munkkiniemi and Itä-Pasila.
In the postcode districts of Torkkelinmäki, Pikku Huopalahti, Lassila, Itä-Pasila and Vallila, over half of the respondents (75–56 per cent) had taken part in Restaurant Day. Among those living in Lauttasaari, Mellunmäki, Kivihaka, Tammisalo and Kontula, the corresponding proportion was 25–21 per cent.
The City of Helsinki supports local culture through urban culture grants. In 2013, the City supported 152 events. The City of Helsinki Cultural Office may grant support for the basic costs of arranging an urban culture event, be it a 'village festival' or a Chinese Moon Festival. The grant sums range from a few hundred euros to a few thousand. In 2014, the City assisted cultural community initiatives with grants totalling €230,000.
High ticket prices, 'too many events'
Some 30 per cent of the respondents felt that there were no problems or shortcomings in the cultural offering of Helsinki. This percentage remained fairly constant irrespective of the respondent's age, gender or role in the field of culture (audience, amateur, professional).
Eight possible issues were suggested on the questionnaire. On average, respondents mentioned 1.7 problems. The issue that the respondents were most unhappy about was the high ticket prices of cultural events in Helsinki.
Slightly over one fifth of the respondents (113 people, equivalent to 23 per cent) also listed other issues besides those suggested in the form. The following is a summary of the entries:
- There is an overabundance of interesting events – this is a 'positive problem'.
- A need for better information on the events was indicated – it was suggested that a website or online portal would list everything offered at a given time (the information is currently scattered across a variety of sites and media.
- The cultural offering is too focused on the peak seasons of summer and autumn – the most interesting events overlap.
- General bureaucracy and the arduous process of obtaining a permit are still obstacles.
What were some of the things the respondents wished to add to the cultural offering of Helsinki? The written responses strongly indicated the popularity of local, smaller-scale events with a community or collective focus. By contrast, the respondents were less interested in major events such as expensive performances by international stars in Helsinki.
A report based on the survey material has been published online (Keskinen & Kotro 2014). The results of the survey were also used in compiling the cultural statistics publication Arts and Culture in Helsinki (2014).
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'Snowball sampling' method
The method made it possible to reach out to specific groups better than a normal sample. For example, Facebook helped us connect with groups such as graffiti artists and junior football teams. We also got responses from a large number of culture professionals (110 persons or 13 per cent of the respondents), whom a normal sample would not have been likely to unlikely to reach.
The method employed is a fast and affordable means to collect fresh information on a limited and non-controversial topic. It would be worthwhile to test the potential of the snowball method in reaching citizens with a foreign mother tongue.
The data obtained is not representative of the population of Helsinki 'in miniature'. There was no sample. Nevertheless we were able to later analyse the responses by age group, educational background or place of domicile. On the other hand, a low response rate in a normal survey causes the same problem.
It was not possible to send reminders to those who have not responded.
We did not reach many people aged under 18, despite our wish that the recipients of the questionnaire would disseminate it to people of different ages. The difficulty of involving young people is a common problem with all survey- and interview-based studies.
Since well-educated, culturally active adults were overrepresented among the respondents, the study in fact describes the views of this group about cultural life in Helsinki. However, if the survey had been conducted by traditional means (sample, paper and online form), we would have arrived at a rather similar result because women, elderly and culturally active people would have been generally the most eager to respond.
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Vesa Keskinen is Researcher at City of Helsinki Urban Facts.
Keskinen, Vesa & Kotro, Helena (2014). Kohti yhteisöllistä kaupunkikulttuuria. Mielipiteitä Helsingistä kulttuurikaupunkina. ['Towards a collective culture in the urban space. Views on Helsinki as a cultural city']. City of Helsinki Urban Facts, Study Reports 2014:4.
Arts and Culture in Helsinki (2014). City of Helsinki Urban Facts & City of Helsinki Cultural Office.