Call for Action: Towards a more equal visual arts scene

A number of cultural workers in the arts field approached institutions in the arts and culture sector earlier this year with a Call for Action petition, which invites and encourages institutions to assess and develop their anti-racist practices and activities that enhance equality. We thank the petitioners for the initiative, which we find very necessary.

In this reply we consider the various aspects of the Artists’ Association of Finland’s activities from the perspective of equality and anti-racism. Promoting a more egalitarian art scene is an ongoing job, and also our responsibility.

This text is divided according to the sections in the call for action. The appeal and related issues can be found here: https://callforaction2020.tumblr.com/eng

Please feel free to send us any feedback, comments and additional questions you might have regarding our operations. You can find our contact information here.


Inclusivity and safer space

The Artists’ Association of Finland is an umbrella organisation of visual arts, and it represents more than 3,000 professional artists. The association’s mission is to monitor and improve the position of visual artists, their job opportunities and working conditions as well as to enhance the significance of visual arts in society. We carry out our mission through active advocacy efforts, by influencing cultural policy decision-making processes and by providing services, support and information about working as a visual artist. We provide up-to-date information about the sector and develop practices and structures for the field of visual arts.

The Artists’ Association of Finland is drawing up an equality and non-discrimination plan, the preparation of which started in late 2019. Since then, both the association’s staff and board members have explored and discussed matters concerning equality and anti-racism at the societal level as well as in connection with their own activities, in individual projects and in a wider context of strategy that determines the forms and ways of operations. The ongoing planning for the association’s five-year strategy also addresses the issues of diversity, equality and accessibility as part of the activities.

Legislation and the government’s funding criteria also require publicly funded organisations to promote equality. We also recognise the opportunity and obligation to keep the promotion of diversity and equality at the forefront of our advocacy for policies that support artists.

The Artists’ Association of Finland has set up a working group, which consists of representatives of the association’s staff and board, to draw up an equality plan. Finnish artists’ organisations that are members of the Artists’ Association of Finland are also involved in our equality work: Artists’ Association MUU, the Finnish Painters’ Union, the Association of Finnish Sculptors, the Union of Finnish Art Associations, the Association of Finnish Printmakers and the Association of Photographic Artists. The plan will be completed in 2021, and it will be accessible to the public.

Preparatory work for the Artists’ Association of Finland’s equality and non-discrimination plan began in late 2019 with a workshop related to the Culture for All service’s Diversity Agents training, which was attended by staff and board members from the association and its member organisations. A joint training event on equality and anti-racism will also be held in spring 2021. The event will be hosted by an external specialist. Our staff can also familiarise and train themselves in these issues during their working hours.

As a result of the workshop held in autumn 2019, four recommendations were drawn up for the Artists’ Association of Finland and its member organisations to promote equality and diversity, and these recommendations will be taken forward in the association’s equality and non-discrimination plan.

  1. We will collaborate with artists and experts from different backgrounds and minorities.
  1. We will develop our staff’s and board members’ skills and awareness about minorities. We will train staff in equality issues.
  1. We will adopt new approaches to issues such as communications, recruitment processes, dealings with audiences, exhibition practices and other procedures.
  1. Different minorities and different artists will be highlighted in the association’s operations and activities (exhibitions, experts, nomination processes, discussions and other events, content and artists featured in our communications, language).

We have explored the various aspects, concepts and perspectives of diversity and accessibility both in the workshop and in in-house discussions, especially from the perspective of the activities of the association and its member organisations. We have also assessed the current situation, experiences, needs and ways to enhance equality in the future activities of the association and its member organisations. Both the staff and the board recognise the relevance and importance of the issue. The aim is to adopt and apply more inclusive practices in a systematic manner at different levels of the association’s activities, in decision-making processes as well as in the planning of activities and programmes. We recognise that there is a lot of room for improvement in our practices and that work for equality must be continuous.

Over the past year, the Artists’ Association of Finland has participated in projects aimed at improving training and working opportunities for artists who have special needs or disabilities or who use sign language, and projects focusing on identifying barriers. The association’s director has been part of the steering group of the three-year-long Vertaistaiteilijat (’Peer artists’) project, and  head of communications of the steering group of the Matkalla (’On the go!’) project. The association’s chair was a speaker at the Rinnakkaiset taidemaailmat (’Parallel art worlds’) network seminar of activities for artists with special needs and in the final seminar of the Matkalla project. We plan to continue cooperating with these partners in the future.


Recruitment

The Artists’ Association of Finland’s full-time employees work 3.6 person-years a year, and it also employs temporary trainees.

Ethnic diversity has not been specifically taken into account in the association’s recruitment practices. This issue will be addressed by encouraging applicants from different backgrounds to apply for jobs in vacancy and traineeship advertisements. It is important to assess whether the Finnish language is a prerequisite for performing a job on a job-by-job basis and whether the recruitment process could be anonymous. We also need to consider a more diverse range of recruitment and communications platforms.


Deconstructing the omnipresent whiteness in institutions

The Artists’ Association of Finland’s advocacy efforts cover all visual artists working in Finland. However, artists from different backgrounds may be prevented from participating in activities in the field due to differing competencies and limitations. Attention should also be paid to targeted measures to remove potential barriers to equality. These may include access to art education and opportunities to apply for jobs and grants.

Artists also have different needs and priorities in terms of what kind of services and support they need in order to be able to work as visual artists. The Artists’ Association of Finland aims to better identify and actively dispel assumptions and the impact of its position on its operating methods. The implementation includes participation in working groups and training events as well as learning more about new artists from different backgrounds and their needs. All member artists are also supported in an equal manner, regardless of their background, language or other characteristics.

Artists’ organisations should determine if the very large and diverse group of visual artists working in Finland are all in an equal position to become members of these organisations and, consequently, to have access to the Artists’ Association of Finland’s membership services. Efforts have already been made to improve this situation through communications, by working with various cultural organisations and participating in workshops, discussions and working groups. The issue needs to be closely monitored and assessed.


Audiences and audience development

The Artists’ Association of Finland has several audiences to which the various areas of its activities have been targeted; these include artists and other visual arts professionals, art organisations, policy makers and civil servants, funding organisations and the media. We need to improve the ways we reach different target groups and audiences and take their needs into account in terms of issues such as communications and programme content.

The choice of available languages and the expanded reach that follows have been identified as key areas for development. We have recognised the lack of content in English; this issue has now been addressed to better reach the diverse range of professionals in the field of contemporary art. Some of our events and the content we produce are available in languages other than Finnish. The selection of languages is always considered on a case-by-case basis and, when possible, content is offered in multiple languages. Achieving equality and accessibility requires financial investments. There needs to be a budget for multilingual communications, the production of accessible content and special arrangements at events, for example.


Representation and contents

In terms of promoting diversity, the area for development in the Artists’ Association of Finland’s activities is the set of proposals drawn up as a result of the workshop mentioned in section 1. Highlighting artists and experts from different backgrounds, nominating them for various decision-making positions and working in partnerships are necessary means to increase representation.

The Artists’ Association of Finland nominates visual artists as candidates or representatives to many institutions, working groups and art competition juries. We aim to take diversity and artists from different backgrounds into account in these nomination processes, and we are aware of representation issues. We will monitor how equality manifests itself in nomination proposals: whether there are candidates of different genders from different backgrounds, artists in different stages of their artistic career, from different parts of Finland and from different forms of visual arts.

We also understand the need to highlight the diversity of the art scene in Finland in our communications and other contexts such as the subjects and news covered in the Taiteilija (’Artist’) online magazine. An important area for development in our communications operations over the past year has been accessibility in terms of both the language and content of communications as well as the technical characteristics of our communications platforms. The aim is to systematically improve accessibility and to take into account the needs of various user groups in the planning and implementation of our communications. We are committed to complying with the EU Web Accessibility Directive on digital online content. The association’s website artists.fi, the public art website julkinentaide.fi, the artist register kuvataiteilijamatrikkeli.fi and the online magazine taiteilijalehti.fi were accessibility audited in 2020 or will be audited in early 2021.

The Artists’ Association of Finland’s member organisations run their own galleries and produce their artistic content, exhibitions and other regular programmes. Consideration and promotion of equality and diversity issues in terms of membership of artists and programmes depend on the individual associations: some take diversity in the artists’ community into account in their member activities and programmes, and activities and communications are available in multiple languages.

Some organisations have drawn up an equality plan, some are working on it. All organisations have shown interest in participating in activities such as workshops organised by a third-party expert as part of the Artists’ Association of Finland’s equality work. The member organisations also recognise the need to develop their services and content so that they better acknowledge the diversity of the sector and consider equality issues when planning their activities.


Communication and transparency

The Artists’ Association of Finland’s action plans and reports are public documents. We want to ensure that the same people are not appointed to decision-making positions several times and that a person’s expertise and suitability for the job or position of trust is the key criterion in the nomination process. Over the past year, especially, decisions on nominations have also considered aspects of equality and diversity in the nomination of candidates or representatives. Grounds for appointments can also be requested directly from the association. The board is the association’s decision-making body.

The recruitment criteria are also public.

The association’s funding sources and partners are also public information, and they are described in a consolidated and transparent manner at least every year in the annual report. Questions about funding and partners are answered in a transparent manner, and detailed information is provided upon request.

We deal with all feedback and criticism and determine if any mistakes have been made in our operations. If this is found to be the case, we apologise for the mistakes either in public or to the provider of the feedback. We aim to improve and modify our ways of operating on the basis of criticism and feedback. People should be encouraged to provide more feedback as it is valuable for the development and improvement of our operations. Our staff and trustees can also offer criticism, and we discuss issues openly, which improves our ways of operating.


Accessibility

The Artists’ Association of Finland’s office is not accessible but we can always arrange meetings and similar events remotely or in alternative, accessible spaces. Details of our office’s accessibility and the different options should also be added to the association’s website. More attention needs to be paid to accessibility at future public events organised by the association, regarding issues such as venue selection, arrangements for the event and communications.

One of the major ongoing projects that the Artists’ Association of Finland is involved in, together with other partners in the field of visual arts, is the House of Visual Arts. Once completed, the House of Visual Arts will be a new kind of visual arts hub and a collaboration concept, which will aim to intensify co-operation between professionals in visual arts, to develop the structures in the sector and to improve the working conditions of visual artists. Equality and accessibility are also core values in the House of Visual Arts project, and these aspects are to be taken into account, in attitudes and actions, in the design of the house’s functions and physical spaces.