Photo: Veikko Kähkönen

Art experts who don't shy away from responsibility

The purpose of arts education is not to give readymade answers, but to teach students to ask questions.

Over the last few decades, the Finnish society has become increasingly pluralistic. Urbanisation, secularisation, immigration, liberalisation of values and the increased appetite for travelling have all changed the environment in which artists operate. In 2017, the #metoo movement brought sexual harassment and misuse of power into the public debate. On the other hand, the nature of the debate has intensified in recent years, and racism, for example, has increased.

What do these social changes mean for arts education and what is their impact? Rector of Uniarts Helsinki Jari Perkiömäki brings up the notion of how traditions and critical examination of these traditions can coexist. “University, as an environment, enables the dialogue and, sometimes, friction between different perspectives. Its purpose is not merely to pass on traditions, but to give students different perspectives and tools that they can use to develop their own artistry and to also engage in the social debate”, says Perkiömäki.

Perkiömäki emphasises that education is not there to give students readymade answers. Instead, it strives to offer students the skills needed to come up with their own thoughts and interpretations and to work as responsible artists. “Our three values – skill, courage and inclusivity – are closely intertwined. Good education equips students with skills, meaning the mastery of tradition, but also with the courage to challenge that tradition. A sense of responsibility over others and inclusivity are what make this coexistence possible.”

Building courage by breaking boundaries

Course design is one of the ways the university helps its students to become more responsible artists. New courses cross boundaries between art disciplines, give opportunities for gaining international experience and consider the diverse nature of society. For example, students in the international Degree Programme in Global Music collaborated with asylum seekers and, in a course led by Hanna Brotherus, students worked with recovering addicts. Students from the Academy of Fine Arts’ time and space programme carried out a development cooperation project called “Expressing exclusion” in Nepal. The Master’s Degree Programme in Ecology and Contemporary Performance has explored how artists could participate in solving challenges posed by the climate change.

Diversity is also at the centre of Minja Koskela’s research. Koskela is a doctoral researcher in the field of music education at the Sibelius Academy. Her research focuses on how gender, culture and racialisation are seen in the everyday context of Finnish music education. ”My objective is to find out how we could make teaching even more equal and democratic”, says Koskela. One major impetus for Koskela’s research was the refugee crisis that reached its peak in autumn 2015, and the resulting debate that, at times, revealed blatant racism.

So it’s clear that artists and researchers are encouraged to be bold, but exactly how active and daring are Uniarts Helsinki’s own experts in the social debate? Ville Sandqvist, Director of the Centre for Joint Studies at the Theatre Academy, encourages the university to take on a more leading role. “We could The purpose of arts education is not to give readymade answers, but to teach students to ask questions. adopt a much bolder identity as contributors and debaters in society. I think the most effective way of teaching students how to participate in the social debate is to lead by example, by taking a stance and creating platforms for discussions.”

Minja Koskela agrees. A forerunner who values diversity must constantly look in the mirror and challenge their own actions. ”A multicultural society can become more equal only by becoming aware of the prevailing hegemony and then challenging it and by engaging in constant dialogue with different cultures and individuals.”

The text has originally been published as part of Uniarts Helsinki’s annual report. Read more stories here or browse the pdf version of the annual report.