Blog: On the speed of change

Responding to the discussion raised about Frame’s recruitment policies, Director Raija Koli reflects on recruitment, intentions, and timing.

Change will come soon, but how soon is soon enough? This is a question I have been thinking about since last week’s discussions on social media concerning a recruitment advertisement of ours. We have made a promise of change towards inclusion and move away from a pervasive whiteness, but the outcome hasn’t been fast enough.

This blog is a new forum to open up about what we do and what we think about the world we are living and working in. At Frame, we tend to send out newsletters and information about decisions made, grants given, programmes confirmed and, of course, open calls for both recruitment and programming. This new blog is a channel to talk about things in progress, things happening backstage so to speak and a space to reflect on the workings of the different areas we are engaged in. I hope it will increase transparency and open up a forum for discussion. The blog posts will be written by all of us at Frame and by others who are engaged in working in or thinking about the contemporary art field.

I’m thankful for all the comments we have received concerning the whiteness of Frame. Every push is for us a push in the right direction. While inclusivity has been steadily increasing in many areas we work in, the fact remains that the seven people sitting on our board, the four people sitting on the grants board, and the six people working on permanent contracts are at this moment all white. Several of these represent minorities, but we are all white.

Moving on from all-white: what is going on at Frame?

Some change is by default more slow. Our board members are appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture in a statutory rotation every three years. In 2020 we asked the Ministry to include minority representatives in the board starting it’s work in April 2021 and hope to hear from them soon. The preparations for the board language to change into English are underway.

The grant board members are appointed by the board for a two-year period. The next grant board will start working in December of this year and in March we will be opening a new initiative of inclusion that I trust will speed up the diversification of this board as well. We distribute public funding and therefore applicants have a right to submit their applications in the two national languages, Finnish or Swedish and the grant board members do need enough of these – mostly Finnish –  to be able to read applications.

As for the permanent staff, permanence is a trait of the Finnish welfare state with it’s strong emphasis on the rights of workers. Changes in the staff requires people to leave. Some staff positions at Frame are, due to the nature of our funding, also strongly attached to language requirements: the communications people, the grants officer and the admin officer need to read, write and speak Finnish. That’s three positions out of six. The rest could very well, with some support arrangements, make do without Finnish. Actioning this very visible bit of the people working for Frame will not be immediate.

Every year we recruit interns, assistants and coordinators for various roles and projects. Starting this year, we are making affirmative action an ingredient in our recruitment policy.  We will open a position this year starting in Autumn, specially dedicated to underrepresented persons of colour curators and art workers in Finland.

 

New expertise in curating, managing and mediating art

The need to have a more diverse permanent staff is now obvious. The past, even the quite recent past such as the timeframe of Frame’s eight years in existence, is a little bit different. Looking back at the many recruitments I have made during my eight years as Director of Frame, the change towards diversity in the applicant pool has been significant only in the last couple of years.

Some of this change is due to the introduction of curatorial Master’s Degree Programmes Praxis at the University of the Arts Helsinki and ViCCA at Aalto University. These programmes have brought about a change in the pool of curatorial professionals working in Finland from the mid-2010’s. This has had a direct impact for us as well and for the past four years we’ve had interns, assistants and coordinators from varied backgrounds.

 

Internships as a key way to gain experience

Interns come to us through many programmes. Some are collaborations with universities, some are collaborations with organisations like a biennale, and some are funded through foundations. We use the internships to open up assistant opportunities for new entrants into the contemporary art field to gain experience and contacts.

Since 2018 we have had three young professionals starting out their career in the field of contemporary art through the Swedish Cultural Foundations apprenticeship grant programme. The programme is for artists, artesans, students with museum studies who want international experience. The applicant needs to contact an organisation they want to work for, make a contract and then apply for the personal grant themselves.

The mission of the Swedish Cultural Fund in Finland is “to support and strengthen the culture and education of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, by supporting education, arts and culture and social cohesion through non-profit organisations.” The requirement is to have some level of Swedish, which is an official minority language in Finland.

The collaboration with organisations such as the Swedish Cultural Fund to fund an assistant position at Frame is a valuable one because it opens up a position that we would not otherwise have. While this particular funding may exclude others, it’s also good to remember that any minority is seldom homogenous. There are underrepresented groups within the Swedish-language minority, such as people of colour, working class, non-Finnish speakers and so on to whom the grant offers an opportunity to access work in jobs that may otherwise be difficult.

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I hope that one year from now, Frame will look different. If our work towards change has been successful, our organisation will reflect the way Finnish society looks today and the changes in the contemporary art field. I can only hope that this change will work as a pebble in a pool of water: that it will create waves of change also further afield.

— Raija Koli

 

Raija Koli is the Director of Frame Contemporary Art Finland.

This blog is a platform for reflecting work, current issues and discussions in arts by Frame staff members and other contributors. This blogpost was published in English and Swedish.

 

A note: One of the challenges in having conversations on social media as opposed to being present in person also presents itself in something that isn’t so much lost as altered in google or instagram translation: we have never referred to our staff as “diverse”. The Swedish word we used was “mångsidig” (multifaceted) and referred to the many tasks we have as an organisation and the intern will be working on. It would be helpful if we could translate everything in Finnish, English and Swedish, or in Sámi languages, but unfortunately we don’t have the resources.