Helsinki Culture Award to Mikki Kunttu, Helsinki Athlete of the Year Award to Martti Puumalainen

The City of Helsinki presented the Helsinki Culture Award to lighting and set designer Mikki Kunttu. The Helsinki Athlete of the Year is judoka Martti Puumalainen. The City presented awards to distinguished residents on Helsinki Day.
Mikki Kunttu.
Lighting and set designer Mikki Kunttu is particularly known for his visual design work for dance productions. Photo: Sakari Röyskö

The City of Helsinki traditionally presents awards to distinguished residents on Helsinki Day on 12 June. Awards were again presented this year in the fields of science, art, culture and sports. In addition to these, the City awarded nine Golden Helsinki Medals, based on merit in the service of the City.

“We gather on Helsinki Day to celebrate our urban community, our wonderful capital city and a few exemplary Helsinki residents who have contributed to making our home a better place. It is an honour for me to present these people with an award today, as the spirit of Helsinki is created by its people,” said  Helsinki Mayor Juhana Vartiainen.

Helsinki Days flags
Helsinki Day awards were presented on June 12th at a festive evening event in the Helsinki City Hall. Photo: Jussi Hellsten

Athletes awarded with accolades 

Helsinki’s Athlete of the Year 2024, judoka Martti Puumalainen, who has achieved unprecedented results, was given a grant of EUR 10,000. He represents Meido-kan.

Puumalainen won gold in the heavyweight category at the European Judo Championships in France in November 2023. It had been 30 years since a Finnish judoka won a medal the last time. Puumalainen’s achievement secured Finland a place at the Paris Olympics.

In August last year, Puumalainen also made history by winning the Judo World Masters. The 32 best judokas in the world are invited, and no Finnish judoka has won a Masters medal before. In the final, Puumalainen beat world number one Temur Rakhimov.

Traditionally, the Young Helsinki Athlete, Coach and Club of the Year are also named on Helsinki Day.

The Young Helsinki Athlete of 2024 is Iida Lounela. A para-athlete, her sport is long jump and she represents Helsingin Kisa-Veikot ry. Lounela was given a grant of EUR 2,500.

Last year at 19, Lounela finished 4th in her first adult World Championships in long jump in Paris, qualifying directly for the Paris Paralympic Games. Lounela’s World Championships result of 516 cm was only three centimetres short of the Finnish record, which she also currently holds.

The city’s Coach of the Year is Jarkko Nieminen, a familiar name for anyone who watches tennis. He was given a grant of EUR 2,500. After his phenomenal playing career, he made a successful transition to coaching and became the captain of the Finnish Davis Cup team, guiding Finland to a sensational Davis Cup semi-final.

The Helsinki Club of the Year is Tapanilan Erä ry, which was given a grant of EUR 5,000. Tapanila Erä is a strong local player offering a wide range of activities in several sports from low-threshold sports groups to competitive and elite sports. The club has open and good governance, as well as competent and properly trained coaches and instructors. The club aims to offer everybody the opportunity to be physically active throughout their life and to treat everyone equally.

Martti Puumalainen.
Judoka Martti Puumalainen was named Helsinki Athlete of the Year 2024. Photo: Jouni Ranta / Mia Arhio

Helsinki Culture Award 2024 winner: Mikki Kunttu

The City of Helsinki Culture and Leisure Committee annually gives an award of EUR 15,000 to a Helsinki-based artist in recognition of their outstanding artistic merit or significant work for the cultural life of Helsinki. This year’s award recipient is lighting and set designer Mikki Kunttu.

Kunttu is particularly known as a visual designer of dance pieces. His ability to handle the world’s largest arenas and different art forms has made Kunttu one of the world’s leading visualists. Kunttu works extensively in the field of performing arts both in Finland and abroad, covering circus, music and the visual arts.

Kunttu has collaborated particularly often with Tero Saarinen Company and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. His other frequent cooperation partners include the Norwegian National Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Boston Ballet and Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil. Kunttu’s most recent works in Finland include the lighting, set and visuals for Wagner’s Ring cycle. He has also worked as the visual designer for the gigs and tours of numerous artists such as Kimmo Pohjonen and Hanoi Rocks.

Artist Award recipients: Niko Hallikainen, Vilma Jää and Vidha Saumya

Three Artist Awards of EUR 5,000 each were handed out this year as well, to Niko Hallikainen, Vilma Jää and Vidha Saumya.

A writer and performing poet, Niko Hallikainen has demonstrated his exceptional talent with his two well-received novels. His first novel Kanjoni (2021) was nominated for the Helsingin Sanomat debut novel award. His second novel Suuri märkä salaisuus (2023) is an exceptional depiction of eastern Helsinki, young people living in the suburbs, class conflicts and inequality. The novels depict human growth and class distinction in an unrestrained yet controlled manner through ironic observations.

In addition to writing, Hallikainen creates text-based solo performances that have been seen at Flow Festival, Baltic Circle and the Finnish National Gallery Kiasma, among other venues. He teaches creative writing in the dance programme at the Theatre Academy.

Singer-composer Vilma Jää is a brilliant young musician working in the fields of folk, pop and opera. Her genre-bending works and performances introduce folk music to new audiences. Jää received widespread international attention in the summer of 2021 for her vocalism based on old cattle calls in the role of Markéta in Kaija Saariaho’s opera Innocence.

In her ethno-pop music as a solo artist, Jää combines centuries-old stories and vocal techniques with 2020s pop. Her long-awaited debut album Kosto about mental and sexual abuse was released in October 2023 to critical acclaim.

Vidha Saumya is a Helsinki-based artist and poet. Born in India, she graduated as a Master of Arts from the Aalto University Visual Culture and Contemporary Art (ViCCA) programme in 2018. This year, she represents Finland as one of the artists in the Finnish Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia in Venice.

Saumya’s works deal with issues such as the relationship between humans and the environment, (native) country and social relations, as well as aesthetics, gender, social politics and nation state norms. Saumya has promoted diversity and equality of the Finnish art scene by co-founding the Museum of Impossible Forms (MIF), a cultural centre in Kontula, and NO NIIN, an art magazine promoting feminism, solidarity and anti-discrimination practices. She is the co-editor-in-chief of the latter.

Vidha Saumya.
Vidha Saumya epresents Finland as one of the artists in the Finnish Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia in Venice. Photo: Sakari Röyskö

Helsinki Science Award presented to Professor Henrik Meinander

This year’s Helsinki Science Award was presented to Professor Henrik Meinander on Helsinki Day, 12 June. Henrik Meinander works as a professor at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts.

His extensive research output has focused particularly on the 19th and 20th century history of Finland and the Nordic countries, in the areas of which his range of publications has been exceptionally broad.

Meinander is also an active populariser of scientific research and contributes to public debate with reasoned arguments. Meinander has participated in numerous radio and television productions as an expert in history and thus contributed to the impact of history as a field of research in contemporary society. 

The value of the science award is EUR 10,000. The purpose of the Helsinki Science Award, which has been given out since 1996, is to strengthen and increase the recognition of Helsinki as a city of science and research. 

On Helsinki Day, the City of Helsinki also awarded research grants to eleven research projects totalling EUR 73,000.

Golden Helsinki Medals for nine recipients

The Golden Helsinki Medal is the highest recognition of the City of Helsinki, a kind of honorary citizenship. The City Board decides on the awarding of Helsinki Medals annually, and the City presents them in connection with Helsinki Day. Today, the City awarded nine Golden Helsinki Medals. The medals were awarded as follows:

The Golden Helsinki Medal for elected officials was awarded to nurse and Master of Political Sciences Tuula Haatainen.

Ambassador of Ukraine to Finland Olga Dibrova
Diplomat Olga Dibrova, who has served as ambassador since 2020, has promoted cooperation between Finland and Ukraine and their cities during difficult times after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Dibrova has carried out significant work in various sectors of Finnish society to raise awareness of the situation in Ukraine. The City of Helsinki has been supporting Ukrainian cities in various ways since the start of the war. Dibrova has played a key role in establishing links between Ukrainian cities and the City of Helsinki. Thanks to Dibrova’s active involvement, Helsinki has concluded a cooperation agreement with the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, signed in Helsinki in December 2023.

Inspector Katja Nissinen
For years, Nissinen has worked in close and good cooperation with the various functions of the City in the field of preventative police work. Nissinen has played a major role in improving the safety of children and young people and developing collaborative models between schools and the police.

Community worker Joonatan Nsukami
Nsukami is the creator of the Olohuone concept, which he is currently working on as a community worker at the Deaconess Foundation. Olohuone is a meeting place for young adults aged 18–25. Most of them have come to Finland as minors without their parents. The Olohuone concept helps young people who are becoming independent by providing a community and support and help that they would otherwise not have. The aim is to empower the young people to dream and trust in the future, and make them feel that they belong in Helsinki.

CEO Kustaa Poutiainen
Based in Oulunkylä, Poutiainen is an entrepreneur and one of the investors in IF Gnistan, a small suburban football club in Oulunkylä. Poutiainen’s family business has long supported IF Gnistan. The aim and starting point of the activities is to both strengthen community spirit and promote physical activity. Poutiainen’s guiding ideas are to support the integration of children and young people from immigrant backgrounds and develop women’s football.

IF Gnistans chairperson Antti Uusitalo
Uusitalo is a former football player and chairperson of IF Gnistan, a small suburban football club in Oulunkylä. Through his own personal work and contribution, first as a player, manager and financier of the representative team, and later as chairperson and board member, Uusitalo has been a key contributor to the success of the IF Gnistan representative team.

Entrepreneur Lina Leden
Leden, the founder of Helsinki Posters, captures the cityscape and spirit of Helsinki in her photos. The posters of Helsinki Posters have already found their way into hundreds of homes in Helsinki, as well as here and there around Finland and the world. Helsinki Posters aims to be a responsible small business. Leden’s posters are printed by a family business in Lauttasaari, Helsinki.

Musician Jari Mölsä
Mölsä, a Helsinki-based rapper and member of SMC Lähiörotat, known by his stage name Avionin Prinssi, is known as a slang master who keeps the old Helsinki slang alive and also creatively combines it with contemporary suburban and skateboarding slang. SMC Lähiörotat are known for their music videos that have garnered millions of views and several Emma Gala nominations. The band’s farewell tour culminated in four sold-out performances at Tavastia in January 2024.

Dance educator Leila Sillantaka
Sillantaka is a pioneer of Finnish dance education, known both in Helsinki and across Finland as a tremendously inspiring and cooperative developer and reformer of dance education. Helsingin tanssiopisto is one of the largest institutions of basic education in the arts in Finland, and Leila Sillantaka is one of the longest-serving principals of basic arts education in Finland. Sillantaka founded Helsingin tanssiopisto in 1969 together with Göran Löfström. She has been the principal of the institute since its inception and still serves in that capacity.