Skip to main content

Tips and Tricks from Kultuurikompass: The Helsinki Biennale Shows That Environmentally Friendly Events Are Possible

Helsinki Biennale shows that recycling is the future of art.To reduce the CO2 footprint of an event, it is necessary to reorganise the current use of materials.European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 shares practical tips for organisers on how to easily make sustainable choices.

Esineja seisab laval.
22. Jul Kaidi-Lisa Kivisalu

The words sustainable and culture are at the core of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 programme, because all projects stand for the same environmentally friendly values.

The cultural sector has a weighty responsibility to make itself more sustainable. European cultural organisers, creative people and policy makers gathered in Tartu in April at the Kultuurikompass forum to jointly discuss the future of environmentally friendly cultural organisation and share experiences with Estonian colleagues. Kiira Kivisaari, coordinator of environmental activities of the Helsinki Biennale, presented simple steps on how to reduce the ecological impact of your event

at the forum.

Recycling in high art

The Helsinki Biennale is a contemporary art event that takes place on the island of Vallisaari. The first biennale took place from June to late September 2021. At last year’s event, the works of 41 artists and art groups were exhibited to 150,000 visitors. The event is organised by the Helsinki Art Museum, which is related to the Helsinki city government, so the event must abide by the city’s environmental requirements.

“The main values ​​of the Helsinki Biennale were responsibility and environmental friendliness. Right from the beginning of planning, we focused strongly on environmental issues. We used the EcoCompass system to manage our environmental activities. We also assessed the CO2 footprint of our event to identify the biggest areas of concern for our activities. We discovered that these were transport and materials and purchases,” said Kivisaari.

The environmentally friendly use of materials was also expressed in the art works presented at the biennale. For example, Jaakko Niemelä’s “Laituri 6” was taken to pieces after the event, and the used materials were returned to their owners. Tadashi Kawamata’s work “Vallisaari Lighthouse” was created from materials the artist found on the island.

Even the Helsinki Biennale shop was decorated with recycled materials and elements collected from the island’s nature. Event organisers’ equipment was rented or reused. For example, microwave ovens, refrigerators and bicycles were found in the local community. In addition, the year number was not printed on the work clothes, because this way the same clothes can be used in the following biennales.

“Organising the first biennial taught us a lot. After the event, we conducted an impact study, the results of which we will take into account organising the next biennale. In the near future, we will work on reducing the negative effects of transport. In addition, we want to expand the sustainability of our event in the social dimension as well. For example, we want to increase the accessibility of our event to all people,” Kivisaari summed up her experience.

Simple tips for sustainable choices

Similar to the Helsinki Biennale, the events of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 are environmentally friendly. This means that the organisers of Tartu and South Estonia also consider environmentally friendly principles when it comes to materials and purchases.

Tartu 2024, in cooperation with the City of Tartu and Acento, created a guide for organising environmentally friendly events, which outlines the minimum requirements and recommendations for cultural organisers.

Namely, visitors’ name card holders and all decorations must be reusable, single-use items (except food) should not be given as souvenirs and gifts.

The guide also recommends designing your materials in a way that enables reuse.

  • If possible, avoid printing expiring information on the materials (dates, years), then you can use the remaining materials at the next event.
  • When it comes to decorations, prefer reusable solutions, natural materials that are brought from nearby and the collection of which is not burdensome to nature, or various products made from recycled materials. Check with your local nursery or florist to see if they would rent plants for your event.
  • Make the return and collection of reusable materials convenient and clearly understandable for the visitor. 
  • Replace paper materials with electronic alternatives. If this is not possible, use recycled paper or print on production waste and paper produced from waste paper.

Give out souvenirs and gifts as little as possible.

  • Prefer edible gifts.
  • For larger orders, contact the manufacturer directly, for smaller quantities, suitable edible gifts can be found in organic stores and farmers’ markets.
  • A great gift is a ticket to a cultural experience in your local municipality or city. You can also consider as a gift, for example, a donation to a nature conservation organisation.
  • If there is a definite desire to give something more permanent, then prefer a gift created in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner.

When ordering inventory, materials and tools, choose moderate quantities to ensure that surpluses are kept to a minimum. When purchasing large quantities of material, inventory, etc., cooperate with other organisers of similar or concurrent events to reduce the need for packaging and transportation. I

  • If you need inventory or have something left over, use SmartSwap.
  • If you build decorations, stage, etc. yourself, rent or borrow tools.
  • Contact construction companies, other organisers or stores and ask for paint or other construction material leftovers, product samples, scrap products that you can use.

The Tartu 2024

Guidelines for Organising Environmentally Friendly Events
summarises the minimum requirements and recommendations for organising environmentally friendly events. The manual is accompanied by practical recommendations and checklists that help the organiser to navigate the requirements. Change starts with small steps and with you. Check out the guide and feel free to start experimenting. Standing up for change and making it happen is an Art of Survival.

Kultuurikompass is a forum for Tartu and Southern Estonia that invites cultural organisers, creators and entrepreneurs to learn from each other.