Henri Terho: Art helps in trusting humankind

Henri Terho thinks art and science foster our belief in how skilful we can be, as long as we are given the chance.

A massive, moving flower installation fills up Kiasma’s top floor.

“How wonderful!” exclaims Henri Terho, Arts Promotion Centre Finland’s specialist, admiring the piece from a distance. Terho is an example of someone for whom art is not only a job, but also a way of life: art is present in Terho’s life daily, and sometimes it is hard to tell whether it counts as work or leisure. Terho works as a specialist at the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and is involved in making decisions over art grants, for example.

Terho’s endless enthusiasm for art also brought him onto the Advisory Board of the Saari Residence in 2015.

“The Saari Residence is a fine example of a community that operates according to the terms of art, where artists don’t have to justify their work to anyone. The starting point is that art is important and interesting,” he remarks.

An opportunity to immerse oneself

Terho admits that nowadays it is more rare to have the opportunity of focusing solely on creative work than before.

“It is undeniable that you have to continuously justify doing art more. The traditional thought that art in itself is important is not part of the mainstream of art at the moment,” he laments.

It is important for artists and researchers to get the chance to quieten down, since the opportunity to relax allows thoughts to flow. Terho gets his best ideas when he is jogging along the Aura riverbank.

“First comes that certain emptiness, and then the ideas start to bubble up,” he explains.

Terho believes that the collaboration between art and science made possible by the Saari Residence is fruitful. Artists and researchers are connected by their tendency to passionately immerse themselves in their work.

“Although the methods are different, the tools are different and the approaches are different, immersing oneself in the task is shared. Passion fosters passion,” he contemplates.

Terho also speaks from his own experience, since he ended up in the art world as a researcher. The leap from being a popular music researcher to becoming a prominent figure in the art world was natural, since he already made connections to the world of culture during his time as a student.

Do it differently!

Does art have intrinsic value? “Absolutely!” Terho answers. “The central part of art, however, is that you do things differently, experiment, seek. Art cannot be something where the result is known beforehand, rather it has to be a link to the unknown,” he reflects.

His smile does not fade, but talking about the instrumental value of art makes Terho annoyed. What concerns him most is how art is moving exclusively to large centres, particularly in Helsinki. Growing regional inequalities threaten to remove the opportunities for everyday encounters with the art world from those who live further away.

“Where we are currently sitting,” Terho says and gestures around him, “art is equally accessible to all. If our Finland changes into a place where in order to meet an artist, one must go to centres of growth, then we have tragically lost something.” And sure enough, Kiasma art museum’s café is full of people, even on a summery Tuesday morning. Here, you can feel the presence of art in a completely different way.

A chance to test your limits

For many, the art world seems like an elite institution. In order to be enjoyed, art should be understood. In Terho’s opinion, the most important thing is not to understand complex discourse about art. Instead one has to experience art; otherwise it may remain strange and distant.

“It is completely absurd that you should somehow try to understand art by someone else fully mulling it over first, and then having to understand a processed story!” he sighs.

Terho becomes visibly excited about the fact that art has come out of museums and onto the streets in the form of light art, for example. It gives rise to new kinds of encounters and also reaches those who do not seek out art for themselves. “It is no longer presumed that you can only see art in museums. Every experience has the chance of being the catalyst for a person to become interested in art,” he believes.

Henri Terho thinks that each one of us should get to sufficiently test our limits. In his opinion, those who do art and science are the pioneers in doing just that.

“Thanks to art and science, we constantly have people around us who generate belief in how skilful humankind can be. You just have to provide the opportunity for it. Art maintains the trust in humankind.”

Encounters arise when… you genuinely become interested in another person.

Encounters do not arise when… haste becomes an intrinsic value.

The most significant encounters of my life… have occurred by chance.


Henri Terho, 47, is a specialist at the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and a member of the Saari Residence’s Advisory Board since 2015.

He lives in Turku with his wife and two children.

In his spare time he goes running along the Aura riverbank and referees football games.