The artists transforming Helsinki one wall at a time

When you picture Finland you probably don’t think about urban street art, but dozens of local and international artists have recently started changing the face of Helsinki’s historically industrial neighbourhoods, wall by wall.

Dozens of stunning murals have changed train stations, residential buildings, underpasses, and just about every blank wall in Helsinki over the past few years, and this public art is transforming more than just the scenery. No longer a sleepy port town, Helsinki is quickly becoming an international cultural and artistic hub.

The Murals of Helsinki

While street art has been around in Helsinki since the early 2000’s, 2015 saw a explosion of intricate murals on buildings and public spaces in forgotten neighbourhoods or out-of-the-way places across the city.

Spearheaded by the artist collective More Street Art In Helsinki, artists see murals as a way to “enliven the city”. Within months, this simple goal of beautification and community building captivated Helsinki. International artists began to visit (and paint) the murals of Helsinki as dozens of local artists—like street art group G-REX—joined the project.

These talented artists and illustrators quickly adorned dozens of buildings in neighbourhoods all over Helsinki, including murals at train stations in Pasila and the metro stop at Sörnäinen, as well as residential buildings in Kannelmäki, Martinlaakso and Punavouri, including an 8-storey apartment block in the Arabia district.

Helsinki has welcomed this urban revival with open arms, commissioning pieces from local and international artists like Maikki Rentala, Laura Lehtinen, Sara Multanen, Otecki and Milu Correch. The first wave of murals was so well received that the city of Helsinki Culture and Leisure Division, Housing Corporation, and The Neighbourhood Project partnered with artists to create the UPEA Summer Mural festival.

However, the biggest draw to the Helsinki urban art scene is the UPEA17 Urban Arts Festival. 2017 marks the second year of this street art festival, which attracts international talent from across globe including Fintan Magee (Australia), Apolo Torres (Brazil), and Pat Perry (US).

This year dozens of painters are creating works big and small across Helsinki, including a 40-artist collaboration for a mural on the 300-metre noise barrier in Kulosaari. The biggest installation is a series of murals on the walls of three 8-storey buildings in Kontulankaari.

The chief curator of UPEA17, Jorgos Fanaris, believes that Helsinki’s limitless blank canvases and mountains of goodwill toward talented artists will “increase the international appeal of the Helsinki street art scene”. In just a few short years, the urban art of Helsinki has changed how locals see their city.

You can plan your own Street Art Tour of Helsinki with this interactive mural map. Start at Hotel Indigo Helsinki — Boulevard, where the wallpaper in the rooms pays homage to Helsinki’s murals with designs created by local artist Linda Linko and international illustrator Pietari Posti, The “Electric City Cabinets” mural is just outside, on Fredrikinkatu Street.Thanks to festivals like UPEA, many neighbourhoods of Helsinki are literally covered in murals of murals of all shapes and sizes. Some murals are obvious—on metro station walls and central plazas—but others are more subdued, tucked away behind bushes, in small parks, or even under bridges and overpasses. But even electric generator boxes don’t escape the mural treatment.

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