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Recommendations of the Observatory to the Minister: Comprehensively planned support measures are called for as a response to challenges in the field of arts and culture

 

The Finnish Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education participated in a round table discussion on the future prospects of the cultural sector organised by Annika Saarikko, Minister of Science and Culture, in September 2020. This blog sums up our recommendations for responding to the challenges in this field.

Arts build resilience, or persistence and ability to cope, needed at the time of a pandemic

Our society's investments in the accessibility of arts and arts education double as investments in building resilience and strengthening cultural wellbeing. We at the Finnish Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education believe that the short-term and long-term development needs of the arts and cultural sector require greater awareness of the challenges and structures of this field from both art and cultural actors and the central government, as well as comprehensively planned support measures.

Arts and culture bring hope during the coronavirus pandemic

During the state of emergency declared because of the coronavirus epidemic, arts and culture play a vital role in helping people to build and diversify their personal relationship with arts and culture and, supported by it, to meet and discuss not only the expectations and values of a good life but also the emotions evoked by the epidemic. In a broad sense, arts and culture can also kindle hope and provide stabilising means of coping in the midst of uncertainty. We also find that participation in arts and culture can significantly support the rebuilding of mutual trust between people and groups and thus promote collective recovery from the coronavirus epidemic.

Arts and culture can promote the development of resilience by such means as encouraging creative thinking, helping to find a balance in life, supporting reminiscences, strengthening self-esteem, and helping to deal with grief and make sense of bad experiences. However, arts do not increase resilience automatically. The development of a personal relationship with arts starts from encountering and participating actively in arts, which requires appropriate guidance. Everything largely depends on how an individual's personal relationship with arts is developed, in other words how pedagogical interaction is realised in art activities.

Support and guidance for professionals during the pandemic

We propose that, over the short term, the government should prioritise measures that help professionals and organisations in the field of arts, culture and arts education to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. We currently have a large amount of expertise and potential in arts and culture in Finland: professionals who are in a more vulnerable employment and financial situation than ever due to the pandemic. We believe that it would be wise and far-sighted to harness this potential, sustainably and for the long term, right now.

The offer of both training and guidance, for example in the form of group work guidance, for artists, arts teachers and artist-researchers specialising in arts-based crisis resolution work should be secured. This requires a separate resource allocation to crisis resolution work carried out by organisations working with art, culture and arts education – not only for hiring art educators and artists

but also for ensuring the overall development of service concepts that respond to the coronavirus crisis. We find it important that the central government takes into account the special competence and potential of art educators and artists in strengthening the relationship with arts and culture of people of all ages. This may build resilience and thus promote coping with the crisis.

A trial subject in higher comprehensive and general upper secondary schools as a pilot

Children and young people need opportunities to participate in arts and culture in order to learn to appreciate their importance in their own lives and society. We find that the role of arts and crafts subjects should be strengthened in general education. We propose to the government that a new subject be introduced in higher comprehensive and general upper secondary schools on a trial basis as a pilot project. Its aim would be to demonstrate that knowledge of arts and culture, an experiential approach and young people's personal visions lend themselves to extensive use in other subjects, increase young people's interest in arts and cultural heritage and offering, and thus also to lay the foundation for building a lifelong relationship with arts and culture that strengthens resilience and increases wellbeing.

The government must ensure that the digitalisation of teaching, which began during the coronavirus epidemic, will continue. The government should provide educational institutions with financial resources for purchasing appropriate hardware and software as well as for organising training that promotes the digital transformation for teachers and other staff. This will ensure access to teaching in emergency conditions, improve the availability of arts education, and draw on the opportunities of technology in the development of arts education.

More cultural education plans and outreach cultural work

In the long term, we believe that the government should make every effort to, by existing and new means, promote greater consideration for the cultural diversity and differences among people in art, culture and arts education organisations. The government should additionally promote the preparation of cultural education plans and, above all, their implementation in municipalities. The cultural education plans should address outreach cultural work as a means of reaching those children and young people who are at risk of exclusion, in particular. Outreach cultural work refers to offering cultural activities tailored to a child or young person who would otherwise not be able to find their way to or have access to them (Turpeinen et al. 2019). In order to promote the realisation of cultural well-being of all Finns and those living in Finland, the government should also ensure that all Finnish counties have a cultural well-being plan drawn up as a strategic regional document and as part of regional health promotion efforts.

Status of arts and humanities at school

The government should be extremely cautious about the measures proposed by the OECD (Global Education Reform Movement, GERM) as part of coping with the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus. In these proposals, narrow economic interests are paramount. A precondition for the conscious preservation and development of the Finnish school model is that arts and humanities play an important role in teaching and that pupils have opportunities for elective artistic activities which support their personal growth.

Making better use of the potential of research

We also find that the government should make better use of the potential offered by research in art, artistic research, research in arts education and cultural research when

seeking multidisciplinary solutions to societal challenges and opportunities. In addition, the government should make a determined effort to promote cooperation between research and the fields of arts, culture and arts education, ensuring that meaningful, evidence-based national data can be collected on significant work in this field.

More agile and equitable art organisations

Organisations working with arts, culture and arts education should take action to improve their resilience and agility in cooperation with each other and when collaborating with other sectors, as well as develop new service concepts and distribution channels. In terms of realising fundamental cultural rights and strengthening cultural wellbeing, it is vital that arts and cultural sector organisations have a higher awareness of and commit to dismantling the mechanisms of inequality that affect the activities and services of the field.

The full statement and its justifications are available by e-mail. To request more information, send an e-mail to observatorio@uniarts.fi.

Participation in art activities can strengthen a person's ability to recover from setbacks and continue their life.

 

The UN has warned of a global mental health crisis resulting from the coronavirus epidemic. In Finland, the prevalence of mental health problems was already increasing before the epidemic, writes Anu Ubaud, Editor-in-Chief (column in Helsingin Sanomat, 24 May).

Mental health problems often begin with a setback: the person feels that they cannot cope. Coping is usually about resilience, in other words the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt to changes and continue your life.

According to Edith Grotberg, a researcher in child development, the sense of security offered by good interpersonal relationships lays the foundation for the development of resilience. Resilience in children can be developed by supporting early interaction between the child and the parent.

In Tampere, for example, circus activities for fathers and their babies are offered through the child health clinic. Participatory circus activities promote the development of a relationship of trust between the parent and the child.

Resilience can be built by participating in arts. Experimenting with several optional solutions, which is central to artistic activities, can help individuals to think about their situation more flexibly and thus find alternative solutions to their problems.

In arts, creating something new is also associated with uncertainty. You approach curiously something that you do not yet have any knowledge of or skills in. This way, artistic activities can build courage and patience as well as tolerance of uncertainty and failure.

As our lives are hectic and pull us in different directions, arts offer an opportunity to calm down, concentrate, gather our thoughts and reflect on life's questions in front of art and using the means of art. In their book Art as Therapy, philosophers Alain de Botton and John Armstrong write that art helps to balance our lives. Art does not automatically build resilience, however; a personal relationship with art is needed. Its development starts with encountering arts and participating in them actively.

High-quality pedagogical interaction is needed to establish and develop a positive personal relationship with art.

This is a key task for arts education at school and basic education in arts. The Finnish Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education has recently also highlighted the role of recreational activities at schools for reaching especially those children and young people who have no hobbies and who run the greatest risk of exclusion.

The opportunities of adults and older people to participate in arts, regardless of their ability or life situation, should also be supported, note researchers of the ArtsEqual research project coordinated by the University of the Arts.

Tighter integration of participatory art activities into services promoting wellbeing and health is a way of strengthening people's resilience and, more generally, cultural well-being.

The perspective of cultural well-being should also play a larger role in arts education aimed at adults in adult education centres.

 

Kai Lehikoinen

Director, Center for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (Cerada), the University of Arts

This article was originally published in Helsingin Sanomat on 1 June 2020.

Art is of crucial significance for surviving the crisis

 

Art is at the heart of a cultured society. Its significance is especially pronounced when people and communities are faced with difficulties.

Art reaches towards the future, it helps you to see things differently, it awakens imagination and helps you to see light where it's dark. Art brings comfort, because seeing things differently brings out alternative ways to experience meaningfulness and meaning in life.

It is apparent that in exceptional circumstances, people’s creative potential bubbles intensely and searches for new forms and channels of expression. The need that arises in people to express and share their experiences could be channelled as part of addressing the ongoing crisis, sharing and expressing of experiences, building of images of the future, and raising hope.

Art cannot save the world, but it can play a crucial role in the survival of individuals and communities. Art can also be a part of a wider societal change towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Aesthetic experiences improve our perception ability and make us more sensitive for identifying the changes taking place in nature and in our cultural environment. Appreciating and protecting diversity is also the foundation of a democratic society. Art can give a voice to the voiceless and highlight ills that are not reached by rational linguistic expression.

A wise society fosters art and culture in the midst of a crisis and sees its value for the building of the future. An artistic hobby is particularly important for children and young people, as it can strengthen their belief in their opportunities to exert influence and support their courage to express their views on the direction of the future.

Several Finnish and international studies (e.g. Metsäpelto & Pulkkinen 2015; Catterall, Dumais & Hampden-Thompson 2012) support the idea that personal experiences in art generate not only immediate experiences of meaningfulness for children and young people but also cultural inclusion and, consequently, positive spillover effects that reach far into the future.

It is important that this crisis will not undermine the initiatives included in the Government Programme aimed at giving children and young people more equal opportunities to engage in arts and culture. Engaging in arts and culture is particularly important for children and young people who are now experiencing loneliness, anxiety and fear and who do not by themselves find ways to express and share their experiences.

Many other vulnerable groups are also being deprived of their normal basic services, including opportunities to deal with their emotions in a communal manner. The means of art and art education would provide many of them with invaluable opportunities to feel that they are cared for and heard, and that even their human dignity is indivisible.

How could the healing power of art be further strengthened and supported by means of public interventions?

Finland has a huge number of arts and art education professionals. Even in normal conditions, their livelihood is often composed of small streams. Now the streams have run dry for many of them.

In the current crisis situation, it would therefore be important for artists and art educators to hear from the government not only that due consideration has been given to the collapse of their livelihood and that it will be addressed, but also that the work of art professionals is crucial for the survival of our society.

It is time to say out loud that art is not mere decoration and a source of aesthetic pleasure for a privileged audience of the selected few. Art is a fundamental need and a basic service that, even under human rights treaties, belongs to all citizens. Strong common intent and goal-oriented action on the part of the State is needed to enable the meeting of people’s needs with competent professionals.

Our society is currently facing unprecedented challenges. Instead of seeing art as an expense item and as a savings target, it should be seen as a central element in resolving the crisis.

There is competence and will in our country, and placing art among the most important solution measures will not significantly increase the cost effects of the crisis. Instead, investing in art as part of coping with the crisis is a humane, socially and culturally sustainable choice.

 

Eeva Anttila

Professor

University of the Arts Helsinki

 

The article was originally published in Turun Sanomat on 28 April 2020.

It is important to reach those children who do not yet have a hobby

 

As outlined in the Government Programme, the Ministry of Education and Culture has set up a working group to prepare a Finnish model for creating opportunities for all children and young people to engage in recreational activities in connection with the school day.

The Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education, Finland emphasises the importance of pedagogical competence and good quality in all activities concerning children and young people.

The recent public debate on abuse of power in the recreational activities of children and young people has been a sad read. However, it is encouraging that we are finally ready to face up to these difficult themes.

The Ministry of Education and Culture and the operators in the fields of arts and physical exercise also have the will to discuss and seek solutions to the problem. The cases that have emerged to the public debate have concerned the failure of the responsible adult to create an atmosphere for developing the skills safely.

A safe hobby environment consists of an open, approving and encouraging encounter between adults and children, and of constructive interaction between children.

In Finland, we are in a fortunate position to have thousands of educated art, culture and sports pedagogues. Their professional skills must be utilised in the implementation of the Finnish model. A safe and supportive hobby environment must be created for everyone and especially for those with a high threshold to engage in extra-curricular recreational activities for one reason or another.

In the Finnish model, it is essential to reach all children and young people, including those who do not yet have any hobby. However, studies show that increasing the supply is not alone sufficient, because the increased supply often targets at those who are already active.

The Finnish model should therefore apply and develop the methods of outreach youth and cultural work. Wide-ranging and multi-professional cooperation between, for example, education and cultural services, providers of recreational activities and parents is essential.

Hearing the wishes and needs of children and young people and the pedagogical quality, safety and encouraging nature of recreational activities will ensure that the pupils will feel themselves comfortable and are enthusiastic and motivated to continue with their hobbies.

 

Anniina Suominen

Professor of Art Pedagogy, Aalto University

 

Eeva Anttila

Professor of Dance Pedagogy

 

Viivi Seirala

Executive Director, Finnish Association for Basic Education in the Arts

 

The article was originally published in Helsingin Sanomat on 7 March 2020.