Timo Tähkänen works as a painter in a service centre for the elderly

Timo Tähkänen, painter and alumnus of the Academy of Fine Arts, was awarded a three-year “Art for Institutions” grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation in autumn 2015. Tähkäinen works in the Kinapori Service Centre in Sörnäinen, where his job is to create art with elderly people suffering from memory disorders.

Timo Tähkänen has been interested in fine arts and art in general for as long as he can remember. Already as a child, he remembers spreading some colours out on the grass and building dens from different materials just to kill time.

– I wasn’t much of a drawer as a kid, but I liked doing things with my hands and building different things. Now in adult-age I’ve realised that the installations that I used to do already as a kid have similarities with the ones I do now as an artist. But as a kid I didn’t think of it as an artistic activity, it was just a way to spend time.

But Tähkänen grew up around arts and dreamed of acting professionally back when he started upper secondary school.

– In upper secondary school, I noticed pretty quickly that the general consensus was that there’s no point in applying to the Theatre Academy because practically no one actually gets in. So I decided to pursue a different field of art, instead – fine arts, Tähkänen explains.

After finishing upper secondary school, Tähkänen applied to the South Karelia University of Applied Sciences and got in. During his studies, Tähkänen was really interested in photography, but after a while, painting won him over. Tähkänen graduated with a degree in fine arts in 2007.

– After graduation, however, I started questioning the role and opportunities that artists have, so I ended up studying to become a practical nurse, Tähkänen shares.

Tähkänen had trouble leaving his artistic past behind him after graduating as a practical nurse, so he decided to apply to the Academy of Fine Arts to update his skill set and learn new methods that would allow him to continue his career as an artist.

– In my master’s studies I got to share my own art with other students and discuss art and the process of making art with them. Over the course of two years, my scattered thoughts started to find their place in the bigger picture, and I’ve continued the process after graduation, Tähkänen recaps.

Tähkänen finds having two different degrees enriching and thinks that it gives him a more nuanced perspective on his job as an artist.

– Having two degrees has made my work and way of thinking more grounded. I want to create art as a person for other people, so when I’m working, I often think of the public and how they’re going to experience the art. Having a degree in nursing has been extremely useful now that I work with old people who suffer from memory-related diseases. I think that my education has helped me understand their world more.

Intrinsic or instrumental value?

Tähkänen has now been funding his work with the “Art for Institutions” grant for the past year, and it has made it possible for him to work full-time in the field of art in exactly the way he wants. However, the Finnish Cultural Foundation has been criticised for awarding a grant that steers too many artists to work in institutions.

– It was by pure chance that a grant like this was set up right at the time when I needed it. Nobody has ever pushed me towards working with the elderly, and it has been my own choice working with the Kinapori Service Centre, Tähkänen underlines.

Over the course of the year, Tähkänen has created art with the elderly both in groups and one-on-one as well as performed his own performance art for the residents of the service centre. A common theme has been reflecting on the concepts of colour, painting and fine arts in general together with the elderly. Tähkänen points out that mutual learning is an important factor in his job.

– At the same time as I’m trying to help someone else experience my art, I immediately get a response, which can, in turn, make me think of my work or performance in a new way.

Working in a service centre has been a good fit for Tähkänen, because this allows him to share his unfinished art with a community and a public.

– Unfortunately, the elderly people with memory disorders won’t always be able to see the end result of the work, which makes the small moments during the creation process all the more important. In a context like this, art or artwork isn’t an object but a fleeting moment, Tähkänen describes.

Even though Tähkänen works with elderly people who suffer from memory disorders, he doesn’t feel as if he’s engaging in “care art”, hoivataide, which is a Finnish word established in recent years to refer to art that is created in institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes in part or purely for the sake of health benefits.

– Hoivataide is a wonderful idea and a word that the media likes to use, but I don’t know anyone who actually does that. I don’t think that anybody creates art with the sole purpose of wellbeing, and as for me, I’m a painter who just happens to do his artistic work in a service centre, Tähkänen emphasises.

Because of the grant and his job, people have tried to label Tähkänen and drive a wedge between independent art and art that results in wellbeing benefits.

– I think it’s useless to pigeonhole and pit things against each other. What is the point of art in isolation?

Art has the ability to move people

Tähkänen’s job is to help other people have fulfilling experiences through art, but when is the artist himself moved by art?

– I’m impressed by art often and in the most surprising situations. I find the moments when I realise that my work has an impact really moving. A while ago I showed my unfinished work to some elderly people and I was touched by what lovely things they had to say about its colours. Even though I had created the painting and its colours myself, I was moved by the strong effect that it had on them, Tähkänen says with a smile.

The most important thing that Tähkänen has learned from the elderly is not directly related to art: 

– Many elderly people stress the fact that we live on this earth only once. This has given me the drive to do things that I otherwise might not have the courage to. I’m happy about the confidence that working with the elderly has given me. I won’t have to regret things that I didn’t do in the past when I turn 95.



  • Timo Tähkänen, born in 1983
  • Graduated with a degree in fine arts from the South Karelia University of Applied Sciences in 2007
  • Graduated as a practical nurse in 2011
  • Graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 2014
  • Was awarded a three-year “Art for Institutions” grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2015.
  • Began working as an artist in the Kinapori Comprehensive Service Centre in August 2015