Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews
Covid Arts – Arts in Finland
Sari Karttunen, University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland, and Centre for Cultural Policy Research CUPORE, Finland
In Finland, as elsewhere in Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the arts and culture sector swiftly and severely. The economic situation of many artists and other cultural workers is precarious even in normal circumstances, and buffers against black swans such as the Coronavirus are lacking. The first victims in the Finnish cultural field were gig makers, freelancers, sole entrepreneurs, and other self-employed persons whose share is comparatively high in the arts and cultural occupations. Among cultural organisations, the first to suffer were likewise those representing the independent field, for instance, theatre or dance companies not owned or funded chiefly by the public authorities.
On March 12th 2020, the Finnish Government recommended that all public events with more than 500 attendees be cancelled to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. After less than a week, public gatherings were limited to ten persons, and it was advised that people avoid spending unnecessary time in public places. The restrictions were extended to museums, libraries, cinemas, theatres, opera houses and concert halls. The winter season terminated, and ticket sales ceased abruptly, hence many cultural institutions were soon forced to start employee co-operation negotiations about layoffs. As art is collective action and needs not only artistic but also many kinds of supporting personnel, the Coronavirus closures hit hard on the livelihood of a great number of people. Dozens of festivals decided to continue preparations hoping that they may take place in the summer as planned. Festivals are precious not only for the artists and audiences, but also for the regional economies, particularly outside the southern part of the country where the capital, Helsinki, is located.
In Finland, many fields of art and culture are at least partially dependent on grant support from the government and private foundations. These patrons quickly came to the sector’s rescue by launching emergency aid. On March 19th, several large Finnish foundations, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike) indicated that they had decided to cooperate to provide swift assistance to arts and culture professionals. They promised that during April 1.5 million Euros would be apportioned in the form of short-term grants via Taike, the state agency for the arts. The aim of these ‘Covid-19 grants’ was to support professional artists and art journalists whose work had been significantly hampered by the pandemic. The amount of each grant was 3000 Euros intending to cover 1.5 months of work between 1st May and 31st July 2020. The Government also launched actions to support businesses and entrepreneurs which benefit the creative industries as well.
During March and April, several private foundations started granting emergency aid to the cultural sector through their own channels as well. In addition to the funding apportioned through Taike, the Finnish Cultural Foundation notably increased its regional funding in the Spring, to help the sector withstand the crisis. The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland and Föreningen Konstsamfundet adopted a temporary aid form for arts professionals who work in Swedish in Finland. On March 23rd, the Kone Foundation launched an open call to a three-month home residency for artists. In the isolated circumstances, the sense of community was intended to be created via an online platform where artists may present their work and share their ideas, and to take part in reading and chat groups and afternoon coffee breaks. The size of the grant was to vary according to the applicant’s experience from 2400 to 3500 Euros per month.
At the same time, the art workers themselves actively invented new forms of working and ways of accessing audiences. While the field is highly competitive in normal circumstances, acts of solidarity and consolation among artists and toward fellow citizens were burgeoning during the lockdown weeks. In the beginning of April, for instance, 62 musicians of Sinfonia Lahti participated from their homes using their smartphones in the recording of Sibelius’s Finlandia. The recording was published via YouTube and became a huge success. Freelancing artists whose gig calendars had been cleared overnight launched internet campaigns and new mediated concepts of distribution and interaction with audiences. In most cases they shared their work without pay, but some business models started to emerge as well, for instance, chargeable concert streaming services in popular music.
The disruption caused by Covid-19 has demanded a digital leap from many art and cultural workers. Those who hold jobs or make gigs at art educational institutions have been forced to invent how to replace in-person classes by distance teaching. Art galleries and independent visual artists have turned their exhibitions, openings, and sales virtual. Actors and singers may rehearse via online means. Even social art practices seem to some extent adaptable to interactive digital platforms; hospital clowns, for instance, have continued their work online. Summer festival organisers started to imagine remote formats that would satisfy the audience’s request for collective reception. Now, in September 2020, we know that the Coronavirus situation continued to be uncertain, and most festivals had to cancel or postpone their activities in the summer. The Finnish festival scene is currently experiencing a severe financial crisis.
During the closures, people were busy consuming culture in their homes: reading books, listening to music, watching films, and perusing collections and archives online. They have also been making arts and crafts by themselves and for themselves. After the pandemic subsides, it is expected that people return to live happenings and social gatherings in large numbers. Still, some of the hastily invented online formats may deserve to be developed further, since they have proven to widen interest and access to culture as well as modes of interaction and collectiveness. At the same time, special attention should be given to the fact that artists need to be paid for their work. Some artists have expressed the fear that people get used to obtaining online cultural services for free.
It would be important to start investigating and developing further the varieties of digital cultural encounter, and the related service concepts and earning models, that have emerged during the pandemic. Otherwise, we may lose some valuable beginnings that would assist people living in hospitals, care homes and other institutions, or in distant, rural places. If we manage to devise both aesthetically and socially pleasurable digital solutions, we might also improve the sustainability of artistic offer and participation.
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