The circus is fun and could be used more in this area, although it’s worth remembering that everything here is still quite new. - Circus Helsinki / Martina Linder, Director (Photo: Outi Törmälä, Quiet)
“Back in 2001 my daughter’s circus group was being discontinued and it seemed like this group of seven really talented young people were going to break up, so I decided to start a circus school to keep them together. We started very small. We trained in storage facilities at the Caisa Cultural Centre, half in secret. Once we had around a hundred students and practicing in different locations began to be problematic, we decided to look for permanent space.
Our first own premises were at an old train depot in Vallila. Despite its temporary nature and cold conditions, it was a wonderful space that helped form the Circus Helsinki identity. At the same time, however, we were looking for safe, long-term premises that we could invest in without having to worry that we could be kicked out at any moment.
I heard about our current space in Kattilahalli from Maksim Komaro at Cirko Aereo. We subsequently moved to Suvilahti in November 2013. We worked together with the landlord to convert the space for circus use. On the whole this is a very beautiful space. Through the large high windows you can see the gasometer, and daylight floods in from morning till night. Many visitors and international guests have come here for the first time and thought “Wow, what a place”. We keep it really tidy and in good shape; we want to maintain the spirit and appeal of this historic space, which is protected by the National Board of Antiquities, while introducing the world of circus to it.
These days we have around a thousand students, and even more would be interested. Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of hours in which to practice in a day. In the daytime professionals train here, while children and young people come here in evenings and on weekends. We also host performances. Our open-stage nights are for amateurs, professionals and young groups and provide audiences with a good overview of contemporary circus. Our Christmas performances, which continue into the spring, feature our young groups, who are among the best in Europe and have received international awards.
The Suvilahti area is only just taking shape, and our cooperation with other actors here is increasing all the time. In the future the courtyard area could be used in fun new ways. The playful nature of the circus could continue also outdoors. It would be lovely to see a big colourful circus tent in the yard. Suvilahti could have better signposting and access to different areas, so maybe the courtyard and asphalt corridors could be painted in different colours: “Follow the red road to Circus Helsinki” or “Follow the green road to Cirko”.
The circus is fun and could be used more in this area, although it’s worth remembering that everything here is still quite new. We’ve only been here two years. Everything is possible in the future.”
Many of those who visited us in the beginning must have thought “what kind of a dump is this?” – but we saw beneath the surface and recognised the building’s potential. - Oranssi / Aino Toiviainen-Koskinen, Director (Photo: Oranssi)
“The old daycare centre where we were originally located in Herttoniemi was torn down, so we were among the first to move to Suvilahti. Cultural actors were just beginning to discover the area. We were involved in a semi-official takeover here at a time when the Cable Factory was only just arriving. This was back in 2007 or 2008. Initially we had an office in building 6, and we organised clubs in Tiivistämö and Garage.
The current Oranssi premises in building 11, formerly Valvomo, were in pretty bad condition. There was water in the basement, and the two-storey building didn’t have doors or windows – not to mention toilets or heating. But we liked the place. Many of those who visited us in the beginning must have thought “what kind of a dump is this?” – but we saw beneath the surface and recognised the building’s potential. The location near the metro and proximity of other cultural actors were more important.
We became official tenants in 2009. We agreed to renovate the premises ourselves with the help of volunteers. During the renovation we didn’t have to pay rent. The do-it-yourself spirit has been our philosophy from the start. We began to negotiate a long memorandum of understanding with Stuba (Nikula, Cultural Director at the City of Helsinki): we now have a 30-year lease agreement, which provides a completely new level of security for our activities.
The renovation is progressing bit by bit. A complete renovation is a lot more labour intensive than a cosmetic renovation. A lot depends on what kinds of subsidies and funding we can get. Our warehouse and archives are now in the basement, and the middle floor has around 200 square metres of club space. Upstairs we only have an office and meeting room, but eventually we will have an open space for studying, working and socialising where you could also get coffee.
Our activities are in full swing. We organise all kinds of activities here, from open workshops, circus training and “radical cross stitching” – in which we make combine cross stitching with anarchic slogans, to improv performances and radical cheerleading. In one of our workshops this autumn we are knitting sweaters for refugees. The club space is an important aspect of our operations, hosting gigs by young bands from across Finland and the world from two to four evenings a week.
We are completely unaligned politically and religiously, so we offer opportunities to organisers across a broad scale. We have an active team of around ten volunteers, but we don’t require any commitment from them. It’s lovely to see how people are so keen to come and vacuum and carry the same pile of bricks from one place to another for the umpteenth time!”
We have to remain visible to both local residents and those arriving here as the districts of Kalasatama and Sörnäinen continue to grow and develop. - Cirko - Center for New Circus / Karoliina Kuosmanen, Production Manager (Photo: Cirko / Kaapo Kamu)
“The organisation known as Cirko – Center for New Circus was established in 2002 with the aim of promoting and developing contemporary Finnish circus. Our original venues included the Savoy Theatre, Ateneum Hall and Kiasma Theatre. We moved to Suvilahti in 2011 after the former machine room in the gas plant was converted for use as a circus. We still get positive feedback for our facilities here: our rehearsal space with its ceiling attachments is as if made for circus performances.
Getting our own space at Suvilahti allowed us to begin year-round performances and residence activities. Cirko developed into a unique venue, the only national centre focused entirely on circus and whose programme consists entirely of circus performances. Our festival and residence activities are quite large scale now, and we support new circus art and its creation.
Many new circus centres around the world are located on the outskirts of town, in former industrial areas and the like. In terms of its location and image, Suvilahti is very similar – still rather rough and industrial. The height requirements for circus performances are usually met by former industrial buildings, and the transportation connections here are still very good. I believe that Cirko plays an important role in the rejuvenation of this area. We have to remain visible to both local residents and those arriving here as the districts of Kalasatama and Sörnäinen continue to grow and develop.
Suvilahti is a centre for the creative industries that I hope will continue to attract more public-oriented organisations. The year-round rejuvenation of this area would benefit everyone. For Cirko it’s great that Suvilahti has also attracted other circus actors.”