Merikarvia: Annu Valonen at the reins of cultural life

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti Photos: Julia Hannula, municipality of Merikarvia

The office of the cultural secretary, at the town hall of Merikarvia, shows the personality of the new occupant. The rocking chair and the rag rug create a cosy atmosphere among the traditional office furniture. This room, just like cultural life in Merikarvia, has had a new chief since November 2015 – Anna-Maija ”Annu” Valonen.

But how on earth did the scriptwriter, movie director and actress – known for her roles, for example, in the Kätevä emäntä TV show and the Ricky Rapper children's movies – end up leaving the capital city area and settling down as a cultural secretary in a municipality in Satakunta?
– I spend summers in Merikarvia, Valonen reveals and says she's done that since she was a child.

Annu Valonen in her office © Julia Hannula

The relevant atmosphere in Annu Valonen's office is created by a rocking chair, a doily, a rug rag and art.

Valonen originally hails from Pori. Her mother, who has retired, returned to Merikarvia, the region of her birth, and her husband was born and raised in Merikarvia. A couple of summers ago, Valonen threw gigs in the town and also led children's self-expression workshops together with the movie club.
– When I heard about the impending retirement of Jouko Ilvonen, who had been responsible for culture in Merikarvia, I applied for the position of the cultural secretary and I was chosen, Valonen looks back on the topic.

She had always thought that it would be nice to spend summers in Merikarvia and work there as well.
– I suppose I, too, started to long for my roots. It is worth it to present such wishes to the universe, Valonen smiles.

The strategy of two homes

Valonen's position as the cultural secretary of Merikarvia is a part-time one – in the winter, she works 2 days every week, and in the summer, the work hours account for 80% of full-time work.
– You can't live on the salary of the cultural secretary alone so other work opportunities take me to Helsinki and elsewhere in Finland on a regular basis.

This lifestyle requires the strategy of two homes.
– We live in our small home in Helsinki when we are working there. In Merikarvia, we have more space in my husband's childhood home, which is one of the oldest houses in Merikarvia. The big house and its vegetable garden feel wonderful after being used to the crammed up living space of the city. Here, we can truly spread out, Valonen smiles.

"Here, we can truly spread out."

The first year with its new agenda has flown by very fast.
– As a freelancer, I'm used to being on the move, but the new job has required a lot of learning and exploring.

Active cultural life in Merikarvia

Valonen describes the field of cultural activities in Merikarvia and the people working in the various associations as highly active.
– There are even ten or so choirs, she admires.

Particularly during the impending Finland 100 anniversary year, Valonen reckons that her main job as the cultural secretary is to work as a unifier between the cultural sector and the activities of various small communities as well as to support the notion of doing things together.
– After all, that is the national theme of the anniversary year, Valonen reflects.

The first summer was full of events.
– We had a whole lot of events here. I have to admit that I was a bit too optimistic about all the things I expected to have time to do but everything has gone smoothly. People have been very happy.

Annu Valonen and Galleria Vanha Savu © Julia Hannula

Galleria Vanha Savu is a summerlike meeting place for children and adults alike, Annu Valonen hints.

One of Valonen's responsibilities is to manage exhibitions and events at Galleria Vanha Savu, located in the Krookka harbour. Open in the summer time in the former fish smokehouse Dernjatin, the gallery is active in its operations.
– This summer, there were two large exhibitions and three smaller ones in the gallery. Additionally, it has been the location of theatre performances, concerts, different workshops and children's picnic day with a circus school and a flea market, Valonen lists.

"Your mind also stays awake when you come across something surprising."

There is a whole palette of plans for next summer as well.
– The sauna culture will be heavily represented and we will collaborate on poems with Heli Laaksonen, the dialect artist.

The cultural life of Merikarvia has presented surprises almost on a daily basis.
– Your mind also stays awake when you come across something unexpected. These surprises require a level of flexibility but things usually fall into place.

Age racism is a real concept to actors

Valonen did not seek to relocate to Merikarvia thinking she would take it easy.
– I'm 52 years old and not nearly ready to slow down. It is a wonderful opportunity to participate in the planning of cultural events for the entire year in Merikarvia. I also wanted to seize this opportunity because of my own professional development. I have done producing work before, but not in such a systematic manner.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to participate in the planning of cultural events for the entire year in Merikarvia."

The truth is also that acting roles for females start to radically decrease after you turn 40. Becoming employed is particularly difficult in the capital area, where competition is tough.
– Having a lot of work at this age requires me to constantly produce material for myself to act.

Valonen has worked for herself to a great extent. She has written four plays and two radio plays as well as a screenplay for a TV show together with other writers. Right now, as well, she is in the middle of writing a commissioned piece and she is also planning to write her own play.
– I thought I would come here, to the peaceful countryside, and write a new play. Well, that hasn't happened yet, she laughs.

At Krookka harbour © Julia Hannula

The view to the sea and Krookka harbour from the terrace of Galleria Vanha Savu has become familiar to Valonen.

Hectic life in the countryside

Isn't the idyllic image of the peaceful countryside accurate after all?
– My life is much more hectic here than in Helsinki. I work almost non-stop. Last summer, alongside my job as the cultural secretary, I directed a production by the Ouraooppera Association – Rikkaan rakkaus (The Love of the Wealthy) by Markku Pölönen. It was my first directing job on a larger scale and it went well. Directing is fun and I hope to repeat the experience next summer.

"Directing is fun and I hope to repeat the experience next summer."

Despite life being hectic, Valonen likes the current arrangement.
– I'm really happy with this situation. The fact that I can work as a part-time cultural secretary serves both the needs of the municipality and my own profession.

Ouraooppera, Rikkaan rakkaus (The Love of the Wealthy) © Municipality of Merikarvia

In the summer of 2016, the Ouraooppera Association of Merikarvia put into production a play called Rikkaan rakkaus (The Love of the Wealthy), written by Markku Pölönen and directed by Annu Valonen.