Tuula Yrjö-Koskinen is the new director of Institut finlandais. Read her interview to learn more about her career path and the way she approaches her mandate.
Introduce yourself in a few words, who are you? Where are you from?
To begin with, I would like to express that I am thrilled to be here in Paris and to have taken on the post as director of the Institut finlandais. I have a deep connection with France as well as with French language and culture, and I am very happy to be able to reconnect with this essential part of my life. With this mandate, I feel like a circle is closing in a wonderful way.
I am from Finland, but ever since childhood, I have led a rather international life with years and experiences abroad alternating with returns to work and study in Helsinki. However, my roots and point of reference have always been strongly based in Finland, where my family and many of my friends also live. I find myself in my element in a role that allows me to actively connect Finland with countries abroad, and to act as a bridge between the two.
Languages, the arts and culture, and music, in particular, have always been my passion. I have been fortunate to have exciting opportunities come my way in the form of interesting mandates, often at the cutting edge of the arts and culture, with a strong social dimension. I have a Masters’ degree in French language and literature as well as in Musicology. I feel I am a lifelong learner. More recently, my interest in the development and leadership of cultural organisations, their relevance and potential, led me to embark on related studies at Aalto University.
Before coming to Paris, I have worked, among others, at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, as Education Manager of the London Sinfonietta, as Production Manager of the Helsinki Festival, Cultural Counselor of the Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC, and as Director of the City of Helsinki Cultural Centre Stoa. Recently, I have also been involved in municipal politics with the Helsinki City Council’s Culture, Youth and Sports Committee, an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In which direction do you want to develop the activities of the Institut finlandais?
It has been clear to me from the start that we have a great team at the Institut finlandais – a real équipe. We are fortunate to have beautiful premises in the heart of the Latin Quarter, designed by Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, then renovated by architect Pekka Littow (Littow Architectes), with interior design by Studio Joanna Laajisto.
I have wanted to fully appreciate the institute’s current programme and profile, while starting to actively plan the future. I think it is important to develop a receptiveness and an awareness to Parisian, and French life and culture, to be able to offer a programme – both at the institute and off-site – that engages with the audiences here. The most important thing, I think, is to facilitate and to create meaningful connections. The way I like to approach my work is through actively maintaining and developing networks, collaborations and partnerships with Finnish, French and international creatives. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are more relevant than ever.
I like to plan strategically, and whenever possible, to aim for long-term impact. At the institute, this could mean several things. First, I believe that it is necessary to prioritise. In the future, we will aim to plan and to present our programme under larger thematic entities and series, with individual projects approaching the topics from different angles and perspectives. Communication will have a key role to play in reaching, informing, and inviting our audiences to share and to partake in the programme. My goal is to attract and to bring together diverse professional partners and audiences, to create a forum that inspires trust, that is conducive to authentic encounters and dialogue, and to inspiring new openings.
Do you already have plans for the institute, and if so, what are they?
The institute is home to Café Maa, which is a very attractive place to discover Finnish gastronomy, and a real oasis in the heart of Paris. Café Maa invites us to connect with nature through sustainable gastronomy that reflects the passing of the seasons. Chef Alexandra Marschan-Claude and her team will continue to offer culinary events connected to the themes in the institute’s programme.
Between now and next year, we intend to explore the possibilities of presenting more ambitious art exhibitions within the institute, seeking to integrate the exhibitions with Café Maa in the great hall. It is a prospect that I find is very important and that inspires me a great deal. We also intend to host cultural encounters and small-scale concerts within the space, experimenting with its potential.
Otherwise, we will present each season a cycle of films around a new theme in our auditorium, thereby aiming to create a rhythm for our audiences. The Aki Kaurismäki retrospective has been received very well this autumn, which is a good sign.
What kind of collaborations would you like to carry out?
The role of facilitator is at the heart of our activities, and I am very enthusiastic about the prospect of pursuing collaborations with cultural organisations in Paris and France. We will also continue to collaborate with our Nordic, and European partners, and we will carry out joint programmes with the network of Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes in the world.
As far as off-site projects are concerned, I believe one important field will be contemporary dance and choreography. Since the opening of the Dance House Helsinki in 2022, dance has seen a wholly new momentum in Finland, and there is now a real call for internationalisation that we hope to seize here in France.
On the other hand, the fields of architecture and design will play an increasingly crucial role with the forthcoming opening, expected to be confirmed soon, of the new Museum of Architecture and Design, proposed in Helsinki for the year 2030. This museum with international ambitions will highlight the power of design as a driving force for sustainable change. I believe this would open many opportunities for projects and collaborations around design and architecture with local partners in France, and beyond.
On the other hand, it is expected that design and architecture, embedded in Finnish identity and culture, will play an increasingly central role when the plans for a New Architecture and Design Museum, proposed for Helsinki’s historical waterfront, move forward. This museum with global ambitions will highlight the power of design as a driving force for sustainable change. I believe this would open many opportunities for projects and collaborations around design and architecture with local partners in France, and beyond.