Dear students and staff at Uniarts Helsinki, dear guests,
We’re living in the most dramatic special circumstances since the war years. The coronavirus pandemic that started in early spring has changed people’s daily lives around the world. At Uniarts Helsinki, it has forced us to adapt to entirely new practices in teaching and other work. Student-staff interaction and the pedagogical quality of our teaching have undeniably taken a hit, but we have also learned a tremendous amount. We have noticed that even in arts instruction, digital practices can enable learning in ways that can be utilised even after we have safely returned to teaching on campus.
This unusual situation highlights the things that we have previously taken for granted and that we have now had to let go of. One of these things is the interaction that is vital for creating art and learning together. The epidemic situation in Finland was in control during the summer, which gave me and many others the chance to perform in front of a live audience – that was something I had missed both as a musician and as an audience member! During the summer, I had several conversations about how fantastic it has been to visit art museums and galleries and to experience art through other means than just digitally online. And Finns really took advantage of everything that Finland has to offer: some of the travel businesses had a really successful summer.
The global pandemic situation isn’t over, however, and quite the contrary. It forces us artists, arts teachers, students and researchers to think of big questions – will the pandemic permanently change the way we create and experience art? I strongly believe in our university’s vision, which is that art creates the future. At the same time, it’s also clear that the future will change art. Last year as we worked on our strategy, the ecological sustainability and climate change were seen as the biggest challenges of our work environment. Now the possibilities of dangerous epidemics, which scientists have warned us about before, too, have entered our lives as a very concrete new threat.
The ecological crisis is, despite the pandemic, still acute. In the beginning of June, a report was published concerning our university’s sustainable future. It states that Uniarts Helsinki has a strong understanding of the severity of the ecological sustainability challenges in society and in the structures of the arts sector, but there isn’t a lot of dialogue on ecological issues between fields of arts. This is the dialogue that we want to promote at Uniarts Helsinki. The report also notes that the university must establish a clear structure and practices to ensure that the whole university commits to a sustainable future. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the author of the excellent report, Taru Elfving, and note that our joint work for creating a sustainable future will continue.
The future will truly challenge us artists, teachers and students. How will we solve the challenges of financial, ecological and social sustainability? How will the role of an artist evolve in society? Art plays a major role in the vision for arts and culture that the City of Helsinki prepared for 2030: Art helps Helsinki face and change the future, it increases understanding, promotes critical and constructive dialogue and promotes a sustainable world. According to the vision, Helsinki’s duty is to cherish art as a platform and facilitator. It’s easy to agree with the vision and to encourage people to be open to the new questions and perspectives that art evokes – the world will continue to need them.
Last spring, our students urged Uniarts Helsinki to take action to deconstruct the racist structures that exist in the arts sector. The topic is timely and important. We want Uniarts Helsinki to be an open meeting place for the arts – an ambitious community for bold reformers and experts in tradition. This kind of community can only grow stronger when it’s diverse and inclusive: when we regard different ways of doing things and different perspectives and voices as assets that help us transform our community, the field of arts, and the whole society. Ensuring equality and equal treatment and preventing discrimination and racism provide important perspectives for the university’s curriculum work. In spring and autumn 2021, we’ll organise workshops with different themes to work on the new curricula and degree requirements, and everyone in the university community, both staff and students, are welcome to join. The theme is prominent also in the planning work of the university’s Code of Conduct and Equality Plan, which will be updated this autumn term. I’d like to extend my thanks to all of you students who boldly challenge the university to renew itself and question the established modes of thinking and policies.
Our alumni also act as challengers. Since last year, Uniarts Helsinki has selected alumni of the year, a title for bold role models who have highlighted the value and role of art and artist education through their work.
I now have the honour to announce this year’s three alumni. The selected alumni are broadminded artists and change-makers.
Alumni of 2020 are
choreographer-dance artist, artistic director and pedagogue Alpo Aaltokoski,
accordion artist and composer Kimmo Pohjonen and sculptor Nora Tapper.
Congratulations to you all!
This is my last speech at an opening ceremony in the role of a rector, as my five-year term is coming to an end after November. I feel pride when looking at our joint university and everything that we have accomplished. Uniarts Helsinki is a great place to study and teach. According to the latest Bachelor’s Graduate Survey, this is the best university to study in Finland based on our overall score. That is an accomplishment that we can all celebrate. I’d like to thank the entire university community for this journey together. And despite the challenging conditions, I wish everyone the best of success in the future and an inspiring start of the academic year!