Meet our European Leadership Summit Hosts: Finland and Estonia

As we announced back in December, the 2020 Burning Man European Leadership Summit will take place in two amazing cultural hubs: Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. Let’s take a closer look, and learn more about what Burners are up to in our host cities.

Helsinki, Finland

The Finnish Burner community emerged out of Aalto, a pioneering interdisciplinary university based in Helsinki. This dynamic community has developed through the dedicated efforts of our Regional Contact Anssi Laurila, community leader Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, and a group of capable and kind Burners affiliated with the school.

Since 2015, the Finns have been bringing ambitious art projects to Burning Man and to other Regional Events and communities. Their projects have included: The Pike of Mana (2015); Koulu School (one of the 26 interactive environments in the guild space of the 2016 Man piazza), which they then took to a post disaster zone in Nepal and a refugee camp in Jordan; “The Cosmic Egg” (2017) that integrated Space on Fire;  and, most recently, Steam of Life (2019), which was a sauna in the middle of the Black Rock Desert.

The Finns aren’t afraid to try new things, involve new people, and to tackle the hard lessons as part of the process. “I’ve allowed myself to fail,” Jukka-Pekka says. “Nothing ever goes as planned with these projects and that is the beauty of it, perhaps even the magic of it.”

Anssi Laurila (Photo by Tommi Mäntysalo)

Many faculty members at Aalto and grantors in Finland have supported their forward-thinking initiatives and approaches to community-building.

Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä  (Photo by Terje Toomistu)

“We got to use Aalto’s Design Factory to build our first two Burning Man projects,” says Finland Regional Contact Anssi Laurila. “We were able to use the student union as a legal entity to apply for grants and received funding our first year from a foundation that awards grants for Aalto student projects. We were able to have the projects [bound for Black Rock City] labeled as projects from Aalto University, which lent a lot of legitimacy to what were were doing back in 2015.”

For the past two years, Jukka-Pekka has also been leading an art-driven research project called “Burning Stories.”

“We study individual transformation and its impact on society,” he says. “The ELS Pre-Summit at Aalto will be a great opportunity for our group to share some of our participatory culture research results.”

Helsinki will host the ELS’s two-day academic pre-conference. 

Day one, March 31, will take place at Aalto University. This day will focus on Participatory Cultures and Capitalism, and sessions will explore some of the biggest challenges of our time and explore actionable solutions for bridging social and environmental sustainability. A series of short “Lightning Talks” will serve to inspire individuals and organizations to adopt purpose-driven, self-organising and decentralized leadership as operational models that aim to create a more sustainable future.

Click on photos to see details

Day two, April 1, will take place in the city of Helsinki (venue TBD). It will explore Participatory Cities and will bring together urban and cultural leaders to co-create solutions for participatory, inclusive, and expressive urban environments. The aim of day two is to better understand the challenges our cities face, from gentrification, rising rents, reduced social space, and cities losing their uniqueness. 

Tallinn, Estonia

Over the past two years, the Tallinn community has been positively flourishing. They created their very own art car, the Traveling Hedgehog or “Siil” in Estonian, and shipped it to the States for its grand Black Rock City 2019 debut. The Siil appeared in Tallinn last December, where it caught the attention not only of their neighbors, but also of the media. We really can’t wait to show it off to our ELS participants!

“Our Burner community is very active and strong,” says Estonia Regional Contact Ivo Upan. “We share the same values, care for each other, and want to make this world a better place. With this creative and enthusiastic community, we aim to make a strong and positive impact in Estonia and beyond. For that, we are engaged in art projects, civic activation, our permanent space and different events.”

Click on photos to see details

The Estonian Burners also set up their own Creative Space, a community-run hub where they host events, build their artistic projects, and where we’ll host a social gathering during the ELS.

When one experiences Tallinn as a city, it’s easy to see how the local Burner community has thrived amid its culture, warm wonderful citizens, and creative vitality. Estonia has been a frontrunner on the world’s tech stage since launching e-residency in 2014 and enticing many innovators across the world to create a homebase in Tallinn, mainly in Telliskivi Creative City where we will hold many of the ELS sessions.

Formerly a railway station-turned industrial complex during the Soviet era, Telliskivi is now a vital hub for startups, art groups, creative communities, and NGOs. We’ll offer our participants the opportunity to experience a range of venues, including Vaba Lava, Lift99, and Club of Different Rooms.

Click on photos to see details

The “Old Town” of Tallinn borders on Telliskivi, and is a world of its own, with winding streets, colorful building facades, tiny shops, and ornate homes. We’ll host some of our programming in a building dating back to the 14th century, which served as a clubhouse for ship owners, merchants, and foreigners, replete with a beer hall, a dark speakeasy-style theater and grand halls where present-day symphonies and various artistic groups perform.

On Saturday of the ELS, we will bring participants to the site of Bling, a festival run by our local Burning Man community members and other creative spirits. This journey into nature is, for the local Burners, integral to the experience we will create in light of our theme “Human Being: Being Human.”


Tallinn Old Town (Photo CCO Public Domain)

About the author: Megs Rutigliano

Megs Rutigliano

Meghan "Megs" Rutigliano is Burning Man's Associate Director of the Regional Network. She oversees Burning Man's annual Global Leadership Conference and European Leadership Summit. Meghan explores the art, events and culture of various regional Burning Man communities in her blog posts.

8 Comments on “Meet our European Leadership Summit Hosts: Finland and Estonia

  • Gary Gibson says:

    Wow, I wish that I could go to this summit, even though I am not interested in summits or leadership. I’m more into equality, something fairly important in Finnish society/education. I participated in an arts group in Lahti, Finland 1979-80 and we got up to all kinds of fun in Finland and the old Soviet Union. You’d be mistaken to clump Finland in with the rest of Scandinavia and I am not surprised to see such interesting projects shown in this article by Finns and Estonians. I’ve never been to Estonia but on a good day my Finnish is good enough to follow their language. Have fun European Leadership Summit Participants!

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  • Big Cheese says:

    So exciting Megs! I’m always amazed to hear how our community has influenced citizens worldwide. The anticipation of what others from so many cultures will bring to the creative table is like anticipating Christmas! After nearly two decades of leading theme camps this past year I took a step back from a leadership role to camp with my old friends at Death Guild Thunder Dome. A couple of nights my lovely wife (Ninja Kit’n) and I helped manage expectations in the line waiting to fight in the dome. One night, in our line, we had people from the Republic of China followed by folks from Uzbekistan followed by a couple from Russia! We pulled the 3 groups together while in line and had our own mini world summit! Unbelievable. Again I found myself thanking our community for making these fortuitous moments possible. What a privilege it is to feel the world growing smaller before our eyes!! Keep up the good work Megs I love you!!!

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    • Looking forward to contributing from a volunteer stand point this year. I plan to arrive servers days early and stay several days after the event. This will allow for further integration. Let me know if there is anything I could do in that time to assist you or the communities needs. I am at your service
      Thank you for utilizing your skills as a performer and creative cat herder to continue to inspire and enrich these connections across cultures

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  • SinglePly says:

    Interesting. So much for Burning Man’s new found interest in diversity. The people of color population of Finland is less than 4 percent. That’s less than Marin County. Estonia is less than 3 percent. Finland’s per capita annual income is $50,068 and is ranked 14th worldwide. This must mean that the only logical explanation for you to focus on Finland is to bring in easy cash? Since your latest theme is “Human Being: Being Human” how about you go to Puerto Rico instead? I would think El Nino (MUCARO) and Puerto Ricans would greatly appreciate your support in building community through communal melding of art and science and philosophy and human studies or whatever you’re trying to do. Is Burning Man inherently racist?

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  • Meggie says:

    Sounds interesting. I would be glad to lend a helping hand (or two) during the summit. Looking forward to see the detailed schedule.

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  • This is amazing! I lived in Estonia for a year and studied classical music! I currently direct the Northern California Estonian Society regional choir and would love so much to connect with Estonian burners! I’ll have to reread the article to see if I missed a specific detail- but is there a camp name I can look for to connect with Estonians on the playa??
    In past years I have flown my Estonian flag in hopes someone will notice !

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