Finnish Room Committee, University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Chapter, Finlandia Foundation
Where We Are in our Campaign
At this time, we would like to take a look at what has happened during our campaign for the Finnish Room and where we are now.
In 2003, we had $5000 in our account and that enabled us to start the Room Project. Since then we have raised money for the Room with our fundraising and proceeds from events. At the same time, we were looking for suggestions for the design. A break came when Professor Backstrom in Oulu, Finland, was contacted by a University of Pittsburgh alumni member. Anna-Maija Ylimaula, Professor of Architecture at Oulu University, organized accredited coursework among the students in Finnish universities to design a Finnish Nationality Classroom to fit the space of the chosen room, Room 306 in the Cathedral of Learning.
In 2014, the winning design of this competition, Mika Gröndahl’s drawing, Big Dipper, was introduced at the University of Pittsburgh. It shows the living room, tupa, in a Finnish farmhouse with a smokehole in the ceiling above the oven and the Seven Stars of Otava (the Big Dipper) lighting the ceiling.
It was clear already then that getting our supporters to understand what really was required from a Nationality Room would be our biggest obstacle during fundraising. This proposed room did not have any permanent artifacts or other symbols to display the culture. All that was left to be shown on a TV screen during tours.
It is very critical that we are presenting a real culture with roots in the past which presently shows such high values of humanity to support a high-quality life. The Finnish coats of arms date far before 1778, the required time for this culture to exist in America. Other collected material shows Finland as an independently ruled country also before its independence.
The log construction in the design is well presented and there are no arguments about its reality and uniqueness. The Kalevala plates and their rhymes show the same uniqueness once they are seen more realistically than they are usually presented. The rhymes in Kalevala were collected and carefully chosen from poems which give information from history and advice for learning good behavior from past mistakes. These poems were passed on by singers who repeated the songs using the same words they had heard. The common language among all Finnish tribes is used in these poems creatively picturing in the listener's mind what had happened and how people had been acting.
In January 2016, the plans for the classroom design were brought to completion. Under the direction of architect Steve Altherr the University finalized the plans, which reflect a “Smoke Farmhouse” main dwelling room and adjoining sauna. These elements represent well the agrarian culture of 18th century Finland. The Committee now have computer simulations of how the room will appear.
Presently, we have made some new plans to add to already existing fundraising, especially searching for and contacting potential sources for funds available.
We are submitting grant proposals and doing targeted fundraising with the assistance of available non-profit services this spring. Our small Finnish Room Committee continues to raise funds and is always on the lookout for new funding sources. One of our summer activities will be to search for potential donors in the massive database of philanthropic foundations which has been compiled by the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library. However, two main obstacles remain: the Finnish-American community in Pittsburgh is quite small and many of our members are students and faculty who only remain here for relatively short time periods. Additionally, the cost of the room construction, having to satisfy the University’s building requirements, is high and steadily increasing.
The Room Committee is sending representatives to the Finnish Expatriate Parliament in Helsinki in June, where the project will receive some publicity.
The Finnish Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh will highlight two important aspects of Finnish culture in 1778: first, the high literacy rate and variety of schools and, second, the unique construction technique found in Finnish log houses.