A Finnish Perspective on the Overly-Wrought “Arts Funding” Debate

Tampere Art Museum

In my wanderings in Tampere, I kept wondering aloud about how around every corner, another large museum pops up.  In 1998, there were 260 publicly funded museums in Finland, which has a population smaller than the island of Manhattan.  How in the heck does this work?

Now, Finland only has about 5.3 million citizens, but the total budget for all arts funding is 28.3 million Euros.   In 2009, the Finnish government spent 14, 354, 910 Euros on funding to individual artists alone.

The “Holy Grail” for Finnish visual artists is a five-year salary, paid for by the Finnish art council.  [Every artist I know back in Durham, North Carolina probably just spit out their coffee all over the computer screen.  IKNOWRIGHT??]  Artists and art professors can apply for a salary from the government for 6 months to 5 years.  In the 2010 state budget, the amount of the monthly grant was specified to be 1,558.55 EUR.  [Again, every artist I know back in Durham just screamed, “Hell yeah, I could live on $2000 a month!”]

But government funding alone does not make a vibrant and engaging arts scene.  The renowned educational system here [seriously, click that link] heavily promotes critical thinking and self-reliance, which explains why many of the Finnish visual artists I have met are not content to live from grant to grant.  They seek to create impactful, self-sustaining projects.

Teemu Räsänen and Pekka Ruuska (who now runs The Strata Project) began building the Arteles residency program in April 2009 while they were still in art school.  During their studies abroad, they had analyzed how many “arts funding” infrastructures actually place individual artists at the bottom of the hierarchy and force them to beg for menial funds from institutions.  

Rather than join in the fray, they decided to found an organization that would allow them to speak as equals to these institutions and advocate for support from the artists’ perspective.  They have been breaking the mold (running as a corporation rather than a non-profit, running a residency for international artists rather than supporting solely Finnish artists) and positioning themselves as a formidable voice of advocacy for artists ever since.

Now, artists, before you begin moving en masse to Finland, let us all consider: what is one small change you could make within your life or your organization that would promote self-reliance and critical thinking through art?

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2 responses to “A Finnish Perspective on the Overly-Wrought “Arts Funding” Debate

  1. Pingback: The Top 10 Places to Be an Artist | Sarvodaya·

  2. Pingback: Creative Leaders in Tampere, Finland: Janne Laine | The Clarion Content·

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