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Finland invests in cultural exporting

by Teemu Luukka

Exports of Finnish music have been growing since 1999 at a rate of about 40 per cent a year. Finland's goal-oriented cultural export policy is, however, still in its infancy. Not until the beginning of this millennium did the government show an interest in cultural exporting, and in March this year it published a Proposal for Cultural Export Promotion 2007-2011. This report sparked off lively debate that still continues in the field.

The big hall of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma was packed to capacity on the first day of March 2007. This would have been easy to understand had the occasion been a box-office hit or a legendary performance. But the item on the agenda for that morning was ‘Submission of the final report of a multi-administration taskforce’ – not one most likely to pull in the punters.

The title of the report was Do Finnish Cultural Exports Have Staying Power? YES! Proposal for Finland’s Cultural Exports Promotion Programme. No effort had been spared in putting on a grand spectacle: there was an art circus, and multimedia shows about such successful Finnish exports as the dauntless Dudesons, a bunch of crazy Finns proving that it is possible to make your way in the United States even with a TV show.

Even more astounding was the attendance at the session by four Cabinet Ministers.

Usually such reports are received only by the Minister who appointed the working group, but present on this occasion were the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Culture, Trade & Industry and Foreign Trade. The ministerial throng was due not only to the pending parliamentary elections but also to a true desire in all the political parties and ministries to put punch into cultural exports.

Easy for politicians to favour exports

It is easy for Finnish politicians to be in favour of perkier cultural exports. The domestic markets are small in a country of only five million inhabitants, so the Finns’ welfare has always relied greatly on export revenue: first from tar and wood, then paper, ships and machines with more horse-power than horses. Now Finland is known as the home of the world’s biggest mobile phone company, Nokia.

The problem is that Finland’s welfare relies on goods and materials the manufacture of which is being transferred more and more to countries where labour is cheap.

Here in Finland, as in all countries with a developed economy, people are now saying that the so-called creative sectors and creative business networks are vital if the country is to remain competitive. Which is why the forces behind Finland’s cultural exports keep insisting that culture must be placed on a par with other exports. Efforts to export music and other arts are therefore now receiving financial support. Sweden and many other European countries have had corresponding systems for years already.

Government does not decide what to fund

So far the enthusiasm and talk has outweighed the achievements specifically attributable to cultural export efforts. Though there have indeed been some.

The fact is that the government has so far tended to encourage and fund sectors to work out their own marketing, commodification and export strategies. The cultural institutes and embassies maintained by the state abroad are also joining in closer export partnership.

Occupying a focal role are the information centres for the various arts; these are planning to band together to apply to the European Social Fund for foreign project funding. One of the aims is to develop entrepreneurship and managerial skills. Other major actors in this respect are the Finnish Cultural Institutes. All together, many of the arts in Finland are only just getting organised and debating ways of boosting exports.

Finland’s export strategy is not, first and foremost, for the government to hand out large sums of money and expect fortunes in return.

‘The time for government-led cultural policy is past,’ said Paula Tuomikoski, Director of the Ministry of Education’s Cultural Export Division, in the leading Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat, in August 2007. ‘The government should not say what is to be done; it should construct operating potential for the various arts.’

Determined cultural exporting still young

Finland has only recently formulated a goal-oriented cultural exporting policy. The government did not become interested in cultural exporting until the beginning of this century and the Ministry of Education’s Cultural Export Division was established as recently as 2005. The government’s enthusiasm was fanned by the concurrent foreign demand for Finnish photography, modern dance, film and media art. The biggest impetus to initiate export efforts was provided by the success abroad of Finnish rhythm music.

The new Finnish Government formed since the glitzy publication of the report at Kiasma is very strongly committed to developing cultural exports. ‘The creative economy will be strengthened and the significance of culture to the national economy enhanced by promoting cultural exports and entrepreneurship,’ states its programme – a list of items which Finnish governments have, as a rule, put into practice during their four years in power.

Another sign that the issue was being taken seriously was the cultural export steering group set up in autumn 2007, to which five Cabinet Ministers belong. The aim is thus to make cultural exporting the responsibility of as many ministries as possible and not just of the Ministry of Education or of Trade & Industry.

Target exports worth 500 million

According to the very conservative estimate of Petri Tuomi-Nikula, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs official in charge of the Do Finnish Cultural Exports Have Staying Power? project, exports in 2011 will amount to about €500 million. There is still a long way to go, since the value of last year’s cultural exports was estimated at 100-150 million. This corresponds to about 0.1-0.2 per cent of Finland’s total exports and approximately Nokia’s one-day sales.

The taskforce led by Tuomi-Nikula proposed that €228 million be spent on cultural exports in 2007-2011; this would mean an increase of €64 million on the present or 13-16 million per year.

The biggest increase will, it is hoped, be in the export and internationalisation funds of the Ministry of Education, from the present 10 million to about 20 million. The target is still a long way ahead, since the new government has set aside an extra €800,000 for next year’s cultural exports.

Music most conspicuous

Exports are funded from many sources, such as the EU Structural Funds and the Ministries of Education, Trade & Industry and Foreign Affairs. The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) also puts up funds for games, the largest and most rapidly growing Finnish cultural export sector.

In terms of money, games are so far the biggest sector, but exports of music have been most in the news. The first to spring to the Finn’s mind on hearing the words “cultural exports” will probably be such heavy bands as HIM and Nightwish.

The prominent role of music in the debate on exports is not, however, a consequence purely of the chart-busting heavy rockers. All in all, music in Finland has for decades enjoyed the special patronage of our politicians. This is evident from the public funding for music.

Firm grounding

Director Paula Tuomikoski from the Cultural Export Division stresses the importance to exporting, as indeed to other fields, of training and grants.

‘It is vital for a small nation to have good arts establishments, grants for artists and training. Otherwise it won’t have much to export.’

If what she says is true, Finnish music exports can expect a rosy future, since Finland has one of the most extensive music education systems in the world. Almost every Finnish town of any size has a music school supported by the state or local authority. The schools annually provide tuition for over 60,000 students. This is in addition to the education provided at the conservatories, polytechnics and universities. Each year more than 500 students complete a qualification in music. (More about music education in Finland: FMQ 3/2006)

Extensive support for music

The support for classical music in particular is also considerable. Finland has 31 symphony or other orchestras maintained out of public funds. About a thousand musicians specialising in classical music receive a monthly salary paid out of tax revenue. In proportion to the population this means that the United States would have about 60,000 publicly-funded classical musicians. (More about music funding in Finland: FMQ 2/2006)

In other respects, too, music has solid traditions in the homeland of Sibelius. There are hundreds of choirs, folk music thrives, and the Finns are quick to form rock bands. Heavy and alternative rock enjoy an exceptionally firm status, and because of the broad musical education system, many rock musicians have also received a training in classical music.

Music exports therefore rest on firm foundations. Any problems have arisen in such quarters as commodification, marketing, and the shortage of people capable of exporting music, to say nothing of other arts.

Finnish opera singers, composers and conductors have, it is true, won fame and glory abroad. But opera singer Karita Mattila, composer Kaija Saariaho and conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen are not really cultural exports; rather, they are examples of extra-talented Finns who have made a career abroad.

Brisk growth in exports

Exports of Finnish music grew steadily in the period 1999-2005. The most recent statistics are for 2006, when the value of Finnish music exports was estimated at a good €26 million. This is, however, a small figure by international standards. Sweden’s music exports were 35 times those of Finland’s, though Sweden is admittedly the world’s third biggest music producer.

Pauliina Ahokas, Director of Music Export Finland (Musex) and a champion of Finnish music exporting, reckons that Finnish light music has triumphed because it has reached a level that bears international comparison. She has, in a number of interviews, stressed that quality is what counts, not nationality.

Many other European countries nevertheless have a clear competitive edge in that they have had support for spearhead projects and professional exchange programmes for many years already.

Pioneering Musex

Founded in 2002, Musex is a music export group representing record companies, publishers and others. Musex and the Finnish Music Information Centre (Fimic) are so far Finland’s most highly developed organisations assisting with cultural exports. Musex is primarily an export organisation, whereas Fimic is concerned more with content.‘The focus is on music and music makers,’ says Fimic’s Executive Director Tuula Yrjö-Koskinen.

Musex’s job is to support in numerous ways the export efforts of music professionals. To this end it supplies information, helps companies with marketing, and trains and brings people together. Sweden has had a similar organisation for three decades already. Musex’s most conspicuous project to date was hosting the opening night party at Midem, the world’s biggest music event for professionals, in Cannes (France) in 2006 (FMQ 4/2005).

According to Ville Kilpeläinen, acting Director of Musex while Pauliina Ahokas is on maternity leave, Musex should be keeping a close eye on the dramatic change taking place in the field of music. The music business is expanding, but record sales are falling. Gigs and merchandise are where the money lies.

Music should, he goes on, receive product development grants similar to those which Tekes grants for games. Money is needed to develop costly music videos and to buy studio time. ‘This year, for the first time, we received a tour grant from the Ministry of Education, and we could do with more.’ Thanks to this €100,000 grant, 12 bands were able to market their albums abroad.

One of Musex’s objectives is, he adds, to increase Finland’s worldwide sales of works on the lines of the Swedish model. About 40 per cent of Sweden’s music revenue is nowadays generated by songwriters and producers.

The music sector has, like the taskforce behind the Do Finnish Cultural Exports Have Staying Power? report, demanded that the government permit the phasing of royalties or company invoicing in the way that Sweden does. Finland does not yet permit the spreading of royalties over several years. This encourages musicians to transfer their income to other countries. The government elected this spring says it will try to find an answer to this problem.

Not just heavy rock

Finnish rhythm music has traditionally sold best in the German-speaking regions and the Nordic countries, but it is now gaining ground in the UK, the United States and Japan. Leading the way are HIM, The Rasmus, Eurovision winner Lordi, Nightwish, Apocalyptica, Children of Bodom and The 69 Eyes, all representing different kinds of heavy rock.

More and more bands playing other types of music are also touring abroad and attracting attention. Examples are the jazz Five Corners Quintet, the punkish Disco Ensemble, accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and the pioneer of alternative rock 22-Pistepirkko, all of which have gained a firm foothold in the world. There are also some completely new ways of making a name. Poets of the Fall, for example, became famous for the piece they did for a Max Payne computer game.

Possibly the biggest achievement so far in terms of sales was recorded in September 2007, when HIM’s Dark Light album rose to 18th place in the US charts. And in 2004, for the first time ever, a Finnish composition earned more in foreign royalties than one by Jean Sibelius. This miraculous piece was In the Shadow by The Rasmus.

Not enough export subsidy for classical music

Classical music is also being exported all the time, but not in the same purposeful way of marketing orchestras and discs as in rhythm music. In 2006 Finnish orchestras gave 50 concerts abroad to a total audience of 45,000.

The Finnish symphony orchestras have indeed grumbled about not receiving enough export subsidies. Those granted by the Ministry of Education are not as a rule nearly big enough for orchestra tours, the bill for which is usually footed by the local authorities.

Fimic Executive Director Tuula Yrjö-Koskinen reports that Fimic does try to promote exports of classical music with support from the EU Social Funds and others.

There has at times been quite heated debate over the export of music, as indeed of all culture. Composer Eero Hämeenniemi has asked whether exportability will in the future be one criterion for all cultural funding. So far there has been no cause for concern: if the dreams of the cultural exports taskforce come true, exports of music will one day account for about one per cent of all cultural funding by the Finnish state and local authorities.

Translation: Susan Sinisalo