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Outsider Art for All: Pertti’s Choice is Taking Over the World

In London’s trendy Shoreditch, Protein Studios is full of people with a punk attitude. The space, opening up to the street in front, is housing a shop and an art exhibition for a few days. The one offering these fruits of creative labour is Pertti’s Choice, or Pertin Valinta in their native Finnish. The popup shop and exhibition presents and sells art and products made by Finnish outsider artists. The exhibition’s opening night has quickly filled both halls with Finns living in London and other locals interested in creative work and working with people with learning or intellectual disabilities. Here, centre stage belongs to the artists themselves.

People sat in a row, behind them a wall with several rows of black and white drawings framed in black frames.

At the opening night's panel discussion, from left: artist Tanya Raabe-Webber, Director of the Finnish Institute in London Emilie Gardberg, model and photographer Maija Mattila, CEO of New Beat Heini Merkkiniemi ja artist and entrepreneur Sami Helle. On the wall art by Kalevi Helvetti from the series New York Plague.

Pertti’s Choice is a Finnish artist collective that offers people with learning or intellectual disabilities and others making so called outsider art, or art made by those outside the mainstream art world and the traditional art institutions, a platform for presenting and selling their works. Pertti’s Choice also does project-based productions and events, and acts as an agent for artists to facilitate the sale of their art, which is what they have now come to London to do. The men behind the collective, Pertti Kurikka, Sami Helle, Kari Aalto and Toni Välitalo, were previously known as the punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät and Pertti’s Choice operates through their company Daatso Oy. Lyhty ry, an NGO that provides disabled people with support in everyday living and their participation in society, was also part of the founding process of Pertti’s Choice.

Part of a leaflet, yellow paper printed with black text in FInnish.

Pertti's Choice had four artists' works for sale.

In addition to Daatso and Lyhty, AGMA’s member New Beat has also helped Pertti’s Choice to come into its own. New Beat’s CEO Heini Merkkiniemi has designed their business concept and is the Business Development Director for Pertti’s Choice. New Beat is a company that builds partnerships and acts as an agent with a view to renewing our working life and societal phenomena via art. ”In this context, as an exportable product, outsider art is a completely new idea that brings together creative industries, sustainability and ethical business as well as new forms of social inclusion and employment. Our goal is to facilitate multidisciplinary work in a fresh, new way in business cooperation, art and the developing of disabled people’s status in society,” Merkkiniemi says.

Two men, one sitting, one standing, in front of a wall that has two photographic portraits hung on it.

Members of the audience at the opening night with photography by Kalle Pajamaa and Pekka Elomaa from the collection We're Coming to Let's Go.

Pertti’s Choice presents a changing a portfolio of artists and other creators. The collective runs a store and gallery in the Alppila district of Helsinki, where you can find contemporary Finnish outsider artists. At the London popup, more than thirty artists from the fields of visual art, music, photography, film, performing arts, literature and crafts are represented in the form of performances and products. “This is the first time that outsider art has been highlighted this strongly via the Finnish Cultural Institutes. I value this foray very highly, as well as the work of all people and organisations who have supported it. It’s wonderful that even new technological innovations come from the margins of society and make art more accessible, like in the case of virtual storytelling. In London, we are strongly presenting the causes of employment for special groups and entrepreneurship, which would seem to be a good way into employment in the culture sector for those with disabilities, for example. We have received a lot of positive feedback and great ideas from our British colleagues, and can apply those to our work in Finland. Right now we are in the process of developing model contracts with lawyer Lottaliina Pokkinen from the Musicians’ Union. AGMA has also provided valuable expertise on agenting. This kind of multidisciplinary approach is very important and will make artistic work and acting as an artist’s agent both domestically and internationally easier in the future,” says Merkkiniemi.

A small, black basket with rolled up black and white prints in it. At the front, two trays, one round with mushrooms on a pink background, and a smaller, blue, square tray on top of it with a skull motif.

Design products available at Pertti's choice.

While commercial ends remain central, at the very core of Pertti’s Choice is equality and its pursuit in all they do. Pertti’s Choice is a social enterprise and its gains are directed back into developing its operations and into employing people with disabilities. “Our goal is to achieve Europe-wide equality. When someone looks at me, I want them to see me and not my disability. It’s also important to ensure that everyone has the right to work. Right now that’s not the case, because getting employed is difficult, if not impossible, as soon as disabilities are mentioned. I would also like people to be freed of the fears and suspicions they have about the disabled and about being different,” says Sami Helle, listing goals in his opening speech. Great goals and a great change of attitude are required, and Pertti’s Choice is here to make it happen.

Pertti’s Choice popup took place at London’s Protein Studios on 7.-10.8.2019 and was produced by Pertin Valinta and the Finnish institute in London. Also organising the event were, among others, Lyhty ry., IPI Kulmakuppila, the Finnish Embassy in London, Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Finnish Musicians’ Union.

Eva Lusenius playing the keyboard.

Musician Eva Lusenius performing at the opening night. Eva's skirt from Muotikuu.

People having conversations in small groups, in the background a wall with four large, black and white photographic portraits hung on it.

Audience at the opening night.

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