Director of Culture and Development Mari Aholainen knows the roles of cultural management. When necessary you have to remain in the background, but in other settings you have to step into the limelight and take the lead, so to speak. She enjoys both roles and does not try to avoid either. Her own handiwork therefore shows in many ways. To master her work she has had to get acquainted with various tasks and especially with different organisational cultures during her career.

After upper secondary school, Aholainen applied for journalism studies at the University of Jyväskylä, but she failed to get in. So she headed to a folk high school for a year after which she got an archiving job in Helsinki. In the meantime her interest had shifted from journalism to literature. Her interest in literature derived from her own reading activity and the good teachers she had had at school in Joroinen.

Her university studies began in 1991. Aholainen soon noticed that her minor subjects were gaining emphasis along with her main studies. Soon, cultural management and cultural administration became highly important. This was also influenced by her active participation in the student union’s committee for cultural affairs and working as the cultural secretary of JYY.

“While working in the student union I learned a lot about the organising, chairing meetings, promotion, and especially financial administration. When you know how to talk about money it increases your credibility and it is also part of professional competence!”

During her studies Aholainen had no particular goals for her future career. She boldly seized the job opportunities offered, such as arranging a classical music festival in Germany, the Education Foundation of Opera Festivals, and various associations. Her first permanent job was as the director of Hämeenlinna Cultural Centre.

“The job was highly oriented to children’s culture, and the town was suitably sized to work as an introduction to the tasks of cultural management,” Aholainen says in reference to her years in Hämeenlinna. “You can develop yourself in management and leadership only by managing and leading.”

After Hämeenlinna, her career continued in Pieksämäki as the director of free-time activities. This job brought new challenges because it also involved service provision for sport and physical activities. “I didn’t know anything about indoor ice rinks,” Aholainen says. “But I coped with it, too; you have to tolerate uncertainty and ask for advice when needed. We had active collaboration with the neighbouring municipalities.”

“By networking with others you can carry out even larger schemes cost-effectively. Humanists are well aware of quality and costs – it’s a good combination. It pays to hire them!”

Although Aholainen has been working in different towns, her home has been all the time in Jyväskylä. Commuting has meant a lot of kilometres and time spent on the road. Since 2011 the workplace has been in her hometown, as Aholainen was appointed as the Director of Culture of the City of Jyväskylä. Her responsibilities include, beside cultural affairs, various cross-sectional issues across the service field, developmental tasks as well as financial and HR management.

“At work it has been awesome to see how an abstract thing becomes a concrete one,” Aholainen summarises. “Owing to my university studies and work experience I have a good grasp of both aspects and I am capable of broad-based thinking.”

Aholainen points out that arts studies give possibilities for a wide range of work environments. Work changes and develops over time anyway. New forms of work emerge at the interfaces of various organisational sectors. Professional competence has to be maintained and people have to develop themselves in response to new requirements. Hence, Aholainen has also sought in-service training in management and leadership and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies. In Aholainen’s view, cultural capital through advanced studies helps bring culture to non-cultural fields as well:

“The effect of studying the arts is more than one plus one.”


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