The active tenants of Hernesaarenkatu 17 set a good example for other house committees to follow. The tenants were unhappy with the electrical cabinets located at the corner of the nearby Hylkeenpyytäjänkatu, which were vandalised with unsightly black scribbles. Instead of just grumbling about it, they decided to take action.
“We wanted to take the initiative and do something for the local environment and streetscape. We had noticed and admired the artistically decorated electrical cabinets and transformer stations we had seen elsewhere in the city, so we wanted to have something similar in our neighbourhood,” says Mikko Eräkangas, the chairperson of the Hernesaarenkatu 17 house committee at the time.
The house committee soon came up with the idea of organising an art contest that would give the tenants the opportunity to influence the way the electrical cabinets would be decorated. The contest attracted a lot of participants. Clearly, many of the tenants were interested in making their neighbourhood pleasant on the eye.
When the owners of the electrical cabinets — Helen Electricity Network Ltd and the City of Helsinki Public Works Department — gave the idea the green light, the house committee announced the start of the contest by putting up colourful posters on the noticeboards in stairwells as well as the housing company’s website. “Your art on our electrical cabinets?” was the heading of the contest poster.
“We also included a few of the neighbouring buildings in the contest to get as many entries as possible so we would have a lot of alternatives for decorating the electrical cabinets,” Eräkangas explains.
Pets and the sea had strong appeal
The results of the contest were announced at a stylish cocktail party in the housing company’s club room. The winners were Mates by Nina Kataila and The Sea by Pau Ribas. The winning artists are inspired by nature and pets and they are both tenants of Hernesaarenkatu 17.
Eräkangas says both of the winning entries were a great fit with the spirit of the building. Mates reflects the fact that many of the tenants of Hernesaarenkatu 17 have dogs or cats as pets. The nearby sea is also an important element for the tenants, and it speaks to the building’s history: this city block by the sea used to be a base for fishing and it once even housed a fish market.
The prizes received by the winners included Moomin mugs, bookstore gift vouchers and a gift voucher for the Dockyard restaurant located in the building. Everyone who entered the contest received a book and a gift voucher.
Inspired by the colours of the neighbourhood
Taking a break from painting his design, The Sea, on an electrical cabinet, Pau Ribas says he’s flattered by being chosen as one of the winners.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea to paint art on these electrical cabinets. I’m happy to put my skills to use to liven up Helsinki’s streets,” Ribas says.
According to Pau, the inspiration came from the local environment around his building.
“I wanted to use imperial yellow as one of the colours because it ties the electrical cabinet with the building’s exterior wall. The blue colour calls to mind the sea, and it’s also in line with the dockyard across the street. The pink and green tones bring warmth and freshness to the streetscape. The fish painted near the bottom of the cabinet symbolise the district’s history.
For Pau, an artist and musician who moved from Barcelona to Finland five years ago, this painting project is a labour of love. In addition to creating art and music, he works as a teacher and school assistant at Ressu Comprehensive School.
“Painting an electrical cabinet is a first for me. It’s more demanding than I imagined it would be. I had to rethink some of the sketches I had done on paper. The surface of the cabinet makes it a challenging canvas,” he explains.
Pau is satisfied with how his painting turned out and he promises to look after it in the future.
Setting an example for other apartment buildings
With its nicely composed colours, wave patterns and fish, the electrical cabinet is now an elegant addition to the urban landscape of Hernesaarenkatu. The grey cabinet has been transformed into a stylish art installation. Having more of these works of urban art would only be good for the neighbourhood.
“This project turned out very well and it makes the area more attractive. The transformed electrical cabinet is now a work of art in its own right, which will hopefully make people think twice before vandalising it. Our art contest was a good way to activate the tenants and engage them to look after the local environment,” says Minna Muikku, the current chairperson of the Hernesaarenkatu 17 house committee.
Muikku hopes that the campaign to paint the electricity cabinets will inspire other housing companies in the area to consider doing the same. With only a little bit of effort, ordinary people can take the initiative to liven up the streetscape while also increasing engagement and community spirit among the local residents.
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