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Elina Anttila

Anna Elina Anttila (née. Lähteenmäki)
Born April 11, 1963, Helsinki

BA 1990 (Art History, General History), PhD 2001 (Art History), University of Helsinki

Director General of the National Museum of Finland 2014-
Director of museum services at the National Museum of Finland 2013–2014
National Museum of Finland’s reorganization project director for the National Board of Antiquities 2013
Acting director general of the National Museum of Finland 2012
Director of museum development and information management at the National Board of Antiquities 2011–2012
Head curator of picture collections at the National Board of Antiquities 2008–2011
Researcher at the National Museum of Finland’s Collections and research division 2001–2008
Researcher at the Cygnaeus Gallery 1991–2001

Photo: Kristiina Mannikko
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Joe McVeigh

The National Museum of Finland – Fascinating and Irreplaceable

One of the defining features of the National Museum of Finland is its irreplaceable role in society. Its Director General Elina Anttila says that the Museum has a great responsibility.

‘There is only one National Museum with collections from all over the nation. You have to be able to depend on our collections. If there is ever a moment when someone thinks that “wait a minute, Finland has nearly vanished, what was it again?” the answer has to be found in the collections of the Museum.’

Being irreplaceable does not just mean that the collections are comprehensive and that they are kept in perpetuity.

‘It also includes the notion that we have a meaningful connection to the people. This relates to the re-evaluation of the professional identity of museum workers as well. Earlier it was commonly held that knowledge of history, cultural development and the collections was a sufficient foundation for making the right decisions.’

Museums are changing rapidly both in Finland and around the world. Dialogue with visitors is becoming more and more important.

‘We have to put more thought into figuring out who our collections are created and preserved for. It takes particular skills and networking to give the public a chance to have their say in what purpose the Museum should have. The collections are after all kept because of the value they have for the society.’

Picture by Kristiina Männikkö.​
Picture by Kristiina Männikkö.​

Anttila thinks that it is also important for museums to be able to fascinate.

‘I am talking about a comprehensive emotional experience we want to foster with our services, exhibitions and events. Museums should not just be about disseminating information. Our wish is that the work we put into our exhibitions can make the public feel and experience the significance of cultural legacy so strongly that it touches something inside them.’

How to get people to visit museums? Anttila considers this to be one of the fundamental problems of running a museum.

‘We have to create a place that is both accessible and fun to spend time at. The exhibitions and activities have to be designed to be easily understood. Subtitles and descriptions for instance should not be something that requires higher education to make sense.’

The National Museum is currently also engaged in developing other activities besides the traditional exhibitions.

‘The museum atmosphere has to be such that a visitor will feel at home. We are now developing our cafeteria and shopping services so that a museum might be a pleasant place to go to even if visiting an exhibition was not the first thing on your mind. Perhaps someone will think that a museum store could be just the place to find a unique birthday present.’

At Vintti, the interactive exhibition of the National Museum, one of the possible activities is putting together jigsaw puzzles of Finnish maps. Photo: National Board of Antiquities / Hanna Forssell.​
At Vintti, the interactive exhibition of the National Museum, one of the possible activities is putting together jigsaw puzzles of Finnish maps. Photo: National Board of Antiquities / Hanna Forssell.​

Anttila says that the National Museum plays an important role in the Finnish museum sector, particularly when it comes to directing the surrounding discourse. As part of the National Board of Antiquities, the National Museum is actively involved in several projects aimed to develop the entire museum sector.

‘In the wide and varied museum sector of Finland everyone has their own responsibilities which can be very different from one another. If we use a small local museum as an example, it fulfils a purpose that the National Museum cannot hope to replace. A local museum is near and dear to local people and represents particular values inherent to that region, making it impossible for a national one to match it.’

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