Helsinki Festival open sources Art Gifts

The Art Gift concept and web application allow art festivals and culture venues everywhere to quickly produce intimate city performances at scale.

Helsinki, a forerunner in digital development and new technologies, is home to many urban innovations, and the city’s art festivals are no exception. Traditionally, the summer in Helsinki has culminated in Helsinki Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in the Nordics. This year the festival could not safely convene large audiences, but a new shorter weekend event, Helsinki Fest, will safely bring art to courtyards and streets across the city on 21-23.8.2020.

In the run-up to Helsinki Fest anyone could order an Art Gift to a friend or a loved one – a short five-minute performance of music, dance, circus or poetry, safely delivered in front of the recipients’ house or under their balcony. Three hundred gifts were immediately booked online and delivered by 20 artists in early August. The gifts touched the hearts and minds of people all around the city.

Art Gifts could be ordered online, free of charge, through an application specifically developed for the occasion. The festival paid selected artists a fee per day in exchange for about eight Art Gifts to be performed around a particular Helsinki district.

To encourage other cities and festivals to do the same, Helsinki Fest is now sharing the concept and open sourcing the web application.

“From the very beginning we created Art Gifts as an open source project. This is our gift to our colleagues working on arts and events in cities around the world,” says Artistic Director, Marko Ahtisaari. “We are delighted that the Art Gifts were so well received in Helsinki. Developing such a concept and application for just one week in one city is a big effort. By now sharing the concept and code, we hope to encourage our peers everywhere to present Art Gifts with local artists, and to further develop the system.”

The open source web application enables both the booking and confirmation of Art Gifts, thus simplifying the production process considerably. The application shows available gift times and creates routes for the performing artists. The concept and application were developed by the Helsinki Festival team in collaboration with Counterpoint.  

The application can be easily customised to different cities, performances and visual styles. This makes it possible to implement the concept quickly saving expensive effort in design, development and production. Additional information, photos, videos, and links to GitHub can be found at

Helsinki, crowned as the most innovative region in the EU by the European Commission in 2019, is at the forefront of utilizing digital innovation to create democratic and sustainable solutions for people to experience all Helsinki has to offer. Helsinki has been developing Virtual Helsinki, a digital twin of the Helsinki City centre, created in high-quality 3D for VR in partnership with Zoan. Virtual Helsinki was used in spring 2020, when big gatherings were prohibited, as a platform for traditional May Day celebrations when over 700 000 people participated in the May Day concert. Virtual Helsinki is a unique platform to host different types of events from art, music, city landmarks and attractions to business to business events and international conferences.

“The impacts of Covid-19 have been especially severe for art, culture and events. The pandemic has created conditions where it has been necessary to reimagine the way culture is made and experienced,” says Mari Männistö, the Cultural Director of the City of Helsinki. “The Art Gift concept together with the open source application are a brilliant example of how we can solve problems by combining artistic and technological competence. In this case, how to offer safe physical performances at scale while offering artists work opportunities in these trying times.”

Photo: Saara Autere