FinnFest USA coming to Buffalo in 2015

Buffalo NY — FinnFest USA 2015 Buffalo’s co-chairs Cindy Abbott Letro and Catherine Schweitzer are pleased to announce that FinnFest USA 2015 chose Buffalo, NY to host this year’s FinnFest USA celebrations. Founded in 1983, FinnFest USA is an annual symposium with strong educational and cultural components celebrating Finnish and Finnish American culture and heritage. It is a festival that brings modern Finland together with historic and contemporary America.

The event will bring 1500-2000 people to Buffalo, giving our city an opportunity to show itself off to out-of-town guests as well as remind local residents all that we have to offer – and that they might not have visited lately. The opportunity to showcase Buffalo collectively with its cultural, educational, and architectural treasures is a boon for cultural tourism. Hotels, restaurants, and attractions will see new visitors and soon have them clamoring to return. The core of FinnFest will be October 7-12 with lead up events throughout the spring and summer. The BPO is also running a 13-day music festival October 3-13th.   

Co-chair Cindy Abbott Letro said, “Every day that we have been working on this conference some new Buffalo-Finnish connection pops up. We may not have a large Finnish population, but the connections via art, culture, business and education are everywhere.”

“It is a big win for Buffalo to have yet another national conference coming to town. Following on Buffalo’s successful hosting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Congress for New Urbanism conferences, FinnFest USA ( is bringing its event to town. The local FinnFest Committee is working hard to bring together our community partners to showcase the best Buffalo has to offer,” said co-chair Catherine Schweitzer.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz offered, “FinnFest promises to be an exciting event and a great addition to our area’s rich and diverse ethnic celebrations, spotlighting Finnish heritage and culture while drawing new audiences to Erie County. This event will be an enthusiastic, energetic celebration and is sure to have lots of fun for all from start to…Finnish!”

Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by Finns Eliel and Eero Saarinen, will serve as “festival central,” a space where people will gather to celebrate and learn. October 9-12, Columbus Day weekend, will find Finland’s blue and white flag flying on October 10th Aleksis Kivi Day, Finland’s national holiday named in honor of Finnish literature, in the front of the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library, signaling that FinnFest USA and Buffalo have joined together for FinnFest 2015.

“FinnFest 2015 promises to be a great celebration and promotion of Finish culture, language, and entertainment in Buffalo,” said Mayor Byron Brown.  “I thank the local organizing committee for working so hard to bring this national festival to our city at a time when Buffalo is experiencing a record amount of new economic development and job growth.  Downtown hotels are already starting to fill up as visitors from around the world gear up for this popular event that is sure to generate a significant economic impact”, says Mayor Brown.

Buffalo, not known as a Finnish center, is, in fact, a part of Finnish America, connected not only to Pehr Kalm via his visit to Niagara Falls in 1750, but also to a small group of steel workers and domestic workers who came to work in Buffalo in the 1900s. Grain elevators, invented in Buffalo in 1842, still stand in silent witness along Buffalo’s Lake Erie shores, a testament to the Great Lakes shipping industry that had Finnish dock workers loading grain onto lake freighters in Duluth, grain which Finnish American seamen transported to Buffalo. FinnFest 2015 Buffalo will explore these connections to America’s history.

There will be conference tracks for Arts, Music, Theater, Architecture and Design, Literature, Geneology, Civil Society, Education and more may be added. Major community partners include: Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Burchfield Penney, Albright Knox, Road Less Traveled Productions, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, and Daemen College. More partners are likely to be added as planning continues.

Participants in the announcement include:

  • Mayor Byron Brown
  • Representing County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Patrick Kaler President/CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara
  • Joann Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Tony Bannon, Executive Director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center
  • Elizabeth Wright, Associate Dean of Education, Daemen College
  • Janne Siren, Director, Albright Knox Art Gallery

Brief information on some of the program items confirmed to date:


Kleinhans 75 | Sibelius 150

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate two significant anniversaries in the 2015-16 season – both of which resonate with the sounds and design of Finnish culture.  Kleinhans Music Hall will celebrate its 75th anniversary throughout the year and with a Gala event on October 12, 2015. The hall is one of the most noted accomplishments of Finnish father-and-son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen, towering figures in 20th century architecture. Opened in 1940, Kleinhans Music Hall earned the designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1989. 

The orchestra’s M&T Bank Classics Series will open with a two-week celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, Finland’s best-known composer. Music Director JoAnn Falletta will lead concerts featuring works by Sibelius and other noted Finnish composers, and including Finnish guest soloists. On Oct. 3 and 4, the orchestra will perform Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 on a program that also includes pianist Juho Pohjonen performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and a performance of Sebastian Fagerlund’s “Isola.” On Oct. 9 and 10, the BPO will perform Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, and explore the works of Finnish composers who walked in Sibelius’ footsteps. Violinist Elina Vahala will join the orchestra for the United States premiere of Jaako Kuussisto’s Violin Concerto; the orchestra will also perform Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Symphony No. 1.

Buffalo will welcome national and international guests eager to see the acoustically exquisite architectural treasure the BPO calls home, and to hear the music of Finland performed in a Finnish masterpiece building. For tickets and information, call (716) 885-5000 or visit


Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a museum of modern and contemporary art in Buffalo, New York, USA, will present the first United States retrospective survey of the work of the pioneering Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila (b. 1959) October 7, 2015 – January 3, 2016. For more than twenty years, Ahtila has been at the forefront of video art, developing a uniquely immersive approach to the art form, in works that break apart traditional expectations about narrative filmmaking and character development. This retrospective museum exhibition is researched and organized by Dr. Cathleen Chaffee, Curator at the Albright-Knox with the key assistance of Dr. Janne Sirén, director of the museum.

Concurrently, the museum will present the work of Kaarina Kaikkonen at a site in Buffalo. Kaikkonen is an internationally renowned Finnish installation artist. Her projects are cooperative in nature, using donated clothes from public sources and teams of volunteers to create the final work. Kaikkonen ties her forms together, often linked at the “hands” or wrapped around legs, evoking ideas about how we are all connected even when we are absent. This public art project was conceived by Dr. Janne Sirén and will be organized by Public Art Curator Aaron Ott.

Burchfield Penney Art Center

The exhibition “Mystic North Fascination: Charles E. Burchfield’s appreciation of Jean Sibelius” is presented in conjunction with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s celebration of Jean Sibelius on the 150th anniversary of his birth, 1865-2015. “Finn Fest” will include concerts and programs, including tours of the Burchfield exhibition, to acknowledge the creativity and achievements of this Finnish composer. Burchfield strove to achieve in his grand watercolor paintings the same heroic romanticism that he heard in music, particularly that of Beethoven and Sibelius. This exhibition will reveal the monumental significance that music and sounds from nature had on his aesthetic.


Daemen College has been working with the Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence program and the Earle I. Mack Foundation since summer/fall 2012. Earle Mack is the former American Ambassador to Finland. An international exchange opportunity is in place for WNY teacher candidates at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland. This scholarship involves professors in Finland within the faculty of Education at the University of Jyvaskyla and scholars at the University of Buffalo and Daemen College. Daemen is also pursuing funding to develop a consortium of regional teacher preparation programs through Daemen’s Center for International Teacher and Educator Preparation (CITEP).  A collaboration is also in place to create a Finnish educational model-based charter high school in Buffalo that complies with the NYSED requirements. The charter school will be designed as a professional development school for teacher candidates, with strong international ties to Jyvaskyla through CITEP.


Road Less Traveled, a Buffalo based theater company, will present a staged reading of the play DEAR MR. SIBELIUS! – a play based on the novel “Axel” by Bo Carpelan by Yrjö Juhani Renvall and Anssi Blomstedt in cooperation with the author. Music by Jean Sibelius is heard throughout the performance. The play premiered at Oulu City Theatre December 8, 1989. The performance will take place at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.


FinnFest USA 2015 will host a photography exhibit of contemporary Finnish market square culture, curated by artist and researcher Niilo Rinne. Photo submissions are being requested from the public in a contest titled “Suomalainen tori 2015” in cooperation with Kamera magazine, the National Board of Antiquities, and the Central Organization for Finnish Outdoor Markets and Fairs.


Aleksis Kivi Day (10 October) is Finnish Literature Day, and FinnFest is planning lectures and other events highlighting Finnish literature, including a Finnish flag raising in front of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in downtown Buffalo.


Folk Arts

Traditional folk arts will share the Kleinhans stage with 21st century performance artists. Parahultaset (folk dancers) and SydWest (folk music instrumentalists) will travel from Parainen, a city in the South-West corner of Finland, to present and teach Finnish style dancing. Inspired by traditional folk culture, Pia Lindman, Professor of environmental art at Aalto University, internationally recognized performance artist, and a certified practitioner of Kalevala bone-setting, and the Buffalo contemporary music ensemble Wooden Cities are collaborating on a new work: A Kalevala Duo, Playing Bones. (Kalevala bone-setting (kalevainen jäsenkorjaus) is a traditional form of medicine based on Finnish oral tradition, and is similar to massage or chiropractic therapies.) Sara Pajunen will also present her own performance art piece that permits audiences to connect to the Finnish immigrant experience.


FinnFest 2015 Buffalo is a cooperative effort by local partners including cultural & community institutions, philanthropic foundations, and individuals. Visit us on Facebook at We can be reached by phone at 716.725.3272.