Leena Arkio-Laine, long-time director of the City Museum, has passed away
The long-time director of the City Museum, Leena Arkio-Laine (1942–2022), has passed away after a brief illness. She served as the director of the City Museum from 1990 to 2003.
We remember Leena as a strong and innovative leader, whose term saw the City Museum renew the content of the exhibitions and its visuals along with the museum’s operating methods in general in all the key areas of operation. Her creative and strong personality spread the spirit of progress and new ideas throughout the organisation. Many remember her as a charismatic speaker.
The exhibition trilogy Muisti (memory), Aika (time) and Tunne (feeling) represented a new type of exhibition narrative, in which set decorators and artists were utilised. Museum visitors were invited to participate long before it became mainstream, when the visitors were asked to hang their memories on clothes lines in the Muisti exhibition. The Horisontissa Helsinki (Helsinki on the horizon) exhibition was designed by Italian Giada Ricci. Residents of the city had the chance to meet old-timey residents of Helsinki in the ‘Rendez vous’ project, which was created to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of Helsinki. The City Museum received the European Museum Forum Special Commendation for the ‘Muisti’ (memory) exhibition (1995) and the Street Museum held on Sofiankatu and the ‘Kohtaamisia’ (meetings) project (2002).
The City Museum engaged in active networking with museums abroad and Leena was a prominent character on international forums. Cooperation with the Stockholm, Tallinn and St Petersburg city museums generated an exhibition entity consisting of the ‘1809 – Eri teille’ (1809 – parting ways) and the ‘Kuningas matkustaa’ (the King travels) exhibitions in Sederholm House and a museum pedagogic project on the life and times of Erik Sederholm, an ancestor of the Sederholm family. Cooperation with Russia also resulted in the Moskovan muoti (Moscow fashion) and Kehon muisti – neuvostoajan alusvaatteita (the body remembers – Soviet era undergarments) exhibitions. The Joulu (Christmas) exhibition toured Brussels, Lyon, Luxembourg and St Petersburg.
The museum network grew intensely. In 1995, the museum was able to open a new exhibition space on Sofiankatu to supplement the Villa Hakasalmi facilities, and the museum administration along with photo collections also moved to the Sofiankatu premises. Sederholm House was renovated for museum use. The Children’s Museum in Tuomarinkylä and the Tram Museum were established, similarly to the School Museum and Voimalamuseo (power plant museum), which have since been closed. The inhouse museum expertise of the City Museum was strengthened, as new posts for conservators, museum lecturers and building researchers were established. The first ever collection policy, going by the name of collection strategy at the time, for the museum was also written during Leena’s term.
Leena Arkio-Laine started steadfastly steering the museum towards the digital era in the 1990s. The City Museum employed a database that utilised images in a new, more prominent role, and the idea was to create small databanks using the material accumulated in the database, which could then be browsed during museum visits. This was a progressive idea at a time when no one could have even dreamed of online databases open to the public. The first online exhibition was held as early as in 1997, and a 3D model of the Govinius House and a presentation of the archaeological excavation of the site were published in 1998. There were no visual records of Govinius House, which used to be located at the site of the Government Palace, meaning that the meticulously executed and research-based 3D image was the first and so far only visual presentation of the buildings on the plot. 3D technology was new and amazing at the time, and only a few museums or other operators in the field of culture had utilised it.
Leena Arkio-Laine’s career at Helsinki City Museum started in 1971, but she had engaged in pioneer work in the field of building conservation and protecting cultural environments even before she became a museum director. She played an active role in the renovation and restoration of the main building and annex of Tuomarinkylä Manor. Other important sites included Aino Ackté’s villa, the Stansvik and Kulosaari manors as well as the library on Rikhardinkatu. In the city centre, the so-called Burgher’s House on Kristianinkatu was an important project. We have Leena to thank for identifying the building as the oldest remaining wooden building in the city centre, leading to it being opened to the public in 1980.
Leena Arkio-Laine was actively involved in the planning of the renovation and restoration of the city hall block, or so-called ‘Leijona’ (lion) block, and the renovation of the buildings on the southern side of Senate Square as a whole, which was completed in 1988. The renovation of the City Hall was completed in 1999.
Sederholm House was an important research and renovation site, which saw its first museum exhibition in 1995. The reconstruction of the building sparked a debate about recreating the original 18th century facade of the building, but ultimately it was decided to let the historical layers of the building be visible in the form of the window openings from the 1860s.
Later, as the director, Leena’s vast networks within the City organisation helped the conservation, repair and protection of the City’s own properties. This also increased awareness of the significance of the buildings with value in terms of cultural history as something the City should treasure.
Her multitude of interests included house plants, on which she published the pioneering work Blomma kruka! Krukväxternas kulturhistoria i Finland (1991), and cuisine, which manifested in her museum work as the cook book Pique-nique. Eväsretki Helsingin historiaan (2000), which exhibited the cuisine of the capital city.
In the photo: Museum Director Leena Arkio-Laine (1942–2022) as the mayor’s wife Katarina Lydikintytär Jägerhorn during a picnic organised in celebration of Helsinki’s 450th anniversary in Kaivopuisto in summer 2000. Photo: Helsinki City Museum.