Finland has been commended internationally for how it has managed the coronavirus pandemic. However, from the perspective of the arts and culture sector, managing the pandemic has involved superficially motivated restrictions on cultural events that have treated industries very unequally.
The coronavirus support measures allocated to the arts and culture sector in Finland have been modest by Nordic comparison and were not based on compensation of losses as would have been appropriate but on the grants system that is in place under normal circumstances (see also the article by Kare Eskola). Also, they only offer solutions for the immediate needs caused by the crisis. Further anxiety is added by the fact that there are substantial cuts to the arts looming in the central government budget in the near future, and what will happen beyond 2024 is anyone’s guess.
The word in the street is that our decision-makers are completely indifferent to culture. They do not recognise its enormous economic, industrial, health-related and educational importance. Under these circumstances, it is up to operators in the arts and culture sector to find out how to establish a relationship between the arts and the powers that be.
Finnish music exports have been booming throughout the new century. We have seen an exceptional number of success stories in various genres and sectors of the music industry. New potential growth areas alongside classical music, heavy metal and traditional business models include song exports and other opportunities for creative content, e.g. in music synchronisation. Indeed, there is much more growth potential to be discovered.
However, revival and continued growth will not be possible without government investments in the music industry. What is essential is that such investments must be jointly planned with experts in the field.
The Government Programme of the Government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin includes the goal of making the creative sector more involved in sustainable economic growth. The music industry welcomed this entry with rejoicing: at the moment, the creative sector contributes less than 4% of Finland’s GDP, and the goal is to achieve the EU average of 7%.
Yet the aforementioned entry declaring support for the creative sector has not translated into concrete measures in the music industry, and it is important to note that we are not just talking about addressing the coronavirus crisis here.
Whether looking at the matter from the perspective of cultural policy or of business policy, we have to stop talking about the ‘creative economy’ as if it were something that appears out of nowhere of its own accord. The creative economy is generated by the expertise of the people in it. Cultural policy – or business policy supportive of the arts and culture sector – needs content that cannot be achieved through traditional innovation policy.
In order to reboot and revitalise the music sector, the first thing to do is to safeguard the basic operating potential for arts and culture at home. A vital component in this is competence capital: the skills and knowledge contained in the arts and culture sector. This is the only way to lay a solid foundation for the internationalisation of our arts and culture. If we do not have high-quality production in this sector at home, we will also have nothing to export. And, of course, we will have no creative economy in the first place.
The much-maligned middleman plays a key role here. Someone somewhere may be making music that would be of international interest, but in the absence of publishers, agents and other gatekeepers no one will never hear it. The coronavirus crisis has severely hit the middlemen as well, and publishers, for example, will continue to feel the pain for a long time yet. Even before the coronavirus, Finland had no business grants fit for purpose available to enterprises in the music industry.
At the moment, Business Finland is the only body in this country that awards substantial business grants. As a government-controlled investment body, its funding awards are steered by law, regulations and guidelines, and therefore these grants are not available to everyone. Also, scalability and innovation cannot be the only criteria for supporting business operations in the arts and culture sector.
Finnish society has a passion for committees and strategy documents. For years, the approach to addressing the problems of the creative economy and of the arts and culture sector has been to throw ministry-led working groups at them, attempting time and time again to shoehorn sub-sectors widely differing in their nature, in their operations and in their commercial potential into a one-size-fits-all model. It does not help that Ministers of Culture only have a brief tenure, which is not conducive to long-term development planning. Viewed from the field, this comes across as an ignorance of history, with every new incumbent coming up against the same challenges repeatedly and setting up endless new working groups to tackle the same old problems.
There is no long-term vision or even any directional focus in Finland’s cultural policy; political agendas are more important than content agendas.
Civil servants are bound by the law, by strategy documents and by the policies of the current Government. This necessarily fosters a systemic viewpoint: civil servants do not have (and cannot have) substantive expertise in the various branches of the arts that would allow developments to be pursued on the sector’s own terms.
One size, amazingly, does not fit all.
In Finland, cultural policy and the measures undertaken under its aegis are often based on impractically broad umbrella concepts, with improbable and even inapplicable common denominators that do not allow for smartly targeted concrete actions. Effective development is only possible by considering the special features of each sub-sector.
So how can one consider the special features of the various branches of arts and culture? By consulting experts in the field.
There are eight information centres for the arts in Finland: Music Finland, ArchInfo Finland (architecture), the Finnish Literature Exchange FILI, Circusinfo Finland, Dance Info Finland, Theatre Info Finland TINFO, Frame Contemporary Art Finland and Neogames (game industry).
These information centres play an important but all too often unrecognised role in ensuring continuity in times of transition. They offer services to their respective sub-sectors, and these services and their continuity guarantee a solid foundation for development and a predictable operating environment for operators in those sub-sectors. The information centres are well up to date with needs in the field and are thus key players in ecosystem development in their respective sub-sectors.
In many other countries, information centres and export organisations are active planners of solutions, not merely producers of information. Finnish arts information centres should be leveraged far more for compiling information and needs from the field and for devising comprehensive visions across administrative boundaries.
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Julius Töyrylä / Music Finland