The street art workshop of the Taidevaihde project organised at the Revontuli shopping centre brought together local young people, immigrants and art students of the University of Lapland. 

Passers-by were interested in the art workshop and it provided a welcome alternative activity to the commercial environment - though the finished works could only be on display for one weekend. 

Bacchus Burlesque, the Spring Festival of Rovaniemi-based Midnight Sun Burlesque brought fascinating characters to the stage in rock restaurant Grande, including Foxie Fantastico's horn-headed figure inspired by pagan mythologies. 

The low-ceilinged basement bar filled with cheering crowds as the burlesque artists shed their clothes in performances suffused with dance, mimicry and humour. Perhaps the most surprising figure of the event was the deep sea fish presented by Le Noir Fox. 

A joint gig by Jaakko Laitinen, Väärä raha and Reindeer Kalashnikov at the Valdemari dance restaurant has become a May Day Eve tradition in Rovaniemi. 

The event that crosses the boundaries of the music genres gave the May Day partygoers feelings of a happy euphoria. 

Tapiola of Rovaniemi is a park-like residential area designed by Alvar Aalto on the southern slope of Korkalovaara. Residents of this area organised a neighbourhood event called Tapiola's Lights to celebrate the end of the summer and to cheer up the darkening evenings. 

The Tapiola Park was lit with lanterns, and the residents of the neighbourhood enjoyed delicious treats and a fire performance. 

The Rovaniemi Night of the Arts is held annually in early September on Rovaniemi Day, which is perhaps the busiest day of the year in the city. During the event, art and culture can find their way to even the most surprising places, such as a car repair shop. 

During the Night of the Arts people danced among the crowds of the International Grand Markets. 

Early in the summer, the residents' associations of the 1st and 3rd districts of Rovaniemi, together with their cooperation partners, organised a new Hela Picnic park event, in the name of the community of the residents and taking over the urban space. 

The lush courtyard of the old hospital was chosen as the venue for the Hela Picnic. There local musicians such as Älärm known for their long progressive jamming sessions performed. 

The lack of suitable facilities is an unfortunate handicap – but not an obstacle – to the development of the life of subcultures in Rovaniemi. 

For one evening, the local art activists took over an old, abandoned warehouse near the railway station. 

Activism, community spirit and creative madness

Text and photos Santeri Happonen
Translation Maija Myllylä


With these documentary photographs, I want to highlight what the vivid sub-culture scene in Rovaniemi has to offer – this small-scale, grassroots activity outside of the large and established cultural institutions that is difficult to define, made primarily out of love for art and out of a belief in cultural diversity.

In Rovaniemi, the lack of premises for performances and activities poses particular challenges for small cultural operators. After the demolition of the Valistustalo building, the city centre lacks a technically adequate venue for popular music, and there aren’t many spaces for other performing arts.

Construction on the terms of housing and tourism does not make the situation any easier, but fortunately the inventive cultural activists can make use of whatever it is available, showing the way for art even in surprising places such as parks, a shopping centre and an abandoned warehouse.

The pictures have been created as part of my slowly progressing Lapland SubCult project, where I aim to capture interesting Northern subculture events with photos.

More event photos in an interactive presentation:

Santeri Happonen is Master of Arts and a photographer, who occasionally slips into media art and experimental user interface design. Happonen gets his inspiration from passing events and, on the other hand, from reproducing past moments through media technology, not only as single photographs but also as image sequences and sometimes video.