Guggenheim Helsinki Design

Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, “Art in the City,” the winning proposal for the Guggenheim Helsiniki Competition (© Moreau Kusunoki Architectes / Guggenheim)

Political opposition in Finland could sabotage longstanding plans to build a Guggenheim outpost on the Helsinki waterfront. During budget talks last week, the co-ruling Finns Party blocked all state funding for the project, claiming that building the museum would waste taxpayer money in the economically troubled country, Reuters reported.

The Guggenheim Helsinki has faced setbacks from the get-go. When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation first proposed the project in 2011, a majority of Finnish citizens objected to the plan in newspaper polls, largely because of the burden it would place on taxpayers. Some feared a Guggenheim outpost would force the closing of the city’s existing art museums. After the city’s board rejected the original plans to build the museum in 2012, the Guggenheim Foundation essentially had to start from scratch.

By last year, however, the museum seemed well on its way to construction, when a design by Moreau Kusunoki Architectes won an international competition. The proposal, described by a jury as “a fragmented, non-hierarchical, horizontal campus of linked pavilions where art and society could meet and inter-mingle,” beat out 1,714 other applications from 77 countries.

Now the Finns have refused to allot a proposed €40 million (~$45 million) in funding for the project. The decision comes after a decade of economic decline in Finland and coincides with the government’s multibillion austerity plan to stall public debt.

“This is the end of the matter, we have ruled out state funding (for Guggenheim) once and for all, for this government,” Sampo Terho, the parliamentary head of the Finns Party, told Reuters. “We are not opposed to the project as such, we just don’t think it is something that the state should participate in.”

Supporters of the project believe the museum could stimulate the cultural economy in the Finnish capital and boost tourism in the country as a whole. They cite the example of the Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, which helped turn the Spanish city into a thriving arts hub — a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the “Bilbao effect.”

“The project is extremely important for Finland and it’s a real shame if it collapses,” Ari Tolppanen, chairman of Finnish hotel group Kamp Collection Hotel, told Reuters. “The state would be by far the biggest beneficiary of the project due to a boost on taxes and employment. It is difficult to find any losers here.”

Champions of the Guggenheim Helsinki don’t plan on giving up. The Guggenheim Foundation said it will continue talks with the government and the city to find other funding options. But without the state’s help, plans for the outpost could now be dead in the water: at an expected cost of $134–$156 million, the museum would, according to Reuters, be too expensive for the city and private financiers to cover alone.

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.