In August 2020 we received the Call for Action for Art Institutions in Finland letter. The letter, shared via private Call for Action Facebook group, invited us to look at our organisation and our work through a series of questions revolving around the issue of racism.
The questions were circulated as part of group effort aiming to normalise anti-racist work as part of the standard policy of art organisations, communities and networks in Finland. The letter included 26 questions* ranging from accessibility to recruitment, urging Finnish art institutions to actively work towards an anti-racist and intersectional feminist arts scene.
We welcomed these questions as an opportunity to delve deeper into our organisation and to review our work in a series of ten workshops held between August and November 2020.
The letter invited us to look at our work through the prism of racial inequality and racism, but we also used it as an opportunity to tackle any obstacles that may exist on the path to equity, equality and diversity. We did our best to identify everything that we can directly impact and change, and also issues we need to work on as a collaborative effort across the whole field of contemporary art.
All of us working at Frame – permanent staff, temporary staff and interns alike – participated actively in the sessions. Each session had a focus person who was responsible for preparing the session and, when deemed necessary, for sending extra materials to read in advance. Throughout the sessions we reflected collectively on the premises of our work and how it is organised.
We would like to thank the community of Finland-based BIPOC creatives and their white allies for creating and sending the letter. We would also like to encourage arts organisations to support associations and collectives such as Art for Equality, Ruskeat tytöt and Fem-R for the invaluable work they are doing and for the resources they are providing for us and everyone to use and to learn from.
Frame’s statement, December 2020
Frame Contemporary Art Finland’s remit is to function as an information centre for contemporary art in Finland and to create international opportunities for Finnish and Finland-based professional artists and other art professionals working within the field of contemporary art.
Our work is publicly funded and we carry out our remit by providing grants, arranging access to meetings with foreign visiting curators, and by offering opportunities to participate in research trips abroad and participation in our public programmes. As an umbrella organisation, Frame takes an active role in the public conversation concerning these issues within the contemporary art field.
Equity – including racial equality, diversity and anti-racism – is a high priority for us. We are committed to fully comprehend our cultural, economic and social privileges and to actively identify and remain mindful of the positions from which we speak. We will continue to educate ourselves in these matters.
We know that we need more education, tools and skills to implement the deconstruction of whiteness in Frame’s activities and working models in the future. In 2021 we all – board members, grants board members, staff and interns – will receive equity (anti-racist and anti-bias) education from external experts.
Our strategy states that the basis of Frame’s work rests on the principles of equity, freedom of speech and recognition of the multiple voices of art professionals.
While workshopping the questions presented to us we recognised a need to further improve our anti-racism, diversity and inclusivity efforts in four areas: recruitment, accessibility, communication and content.
Reviewing our recruitment practices
The members of the board, the grants board and all of the staff currently working at Frame are white. While this whiteness is not tantamount to a complete absence of diversity, it is obvious that it reflects larger structural problems in society and in the field of contemporary art.
Frame’s board is appointed by the Ministry for Education and Culture with input from the current board. The staff and interns are recruited through open application processes.
Ethnic diversity has not been a special focus in our recruitment process in the past. To increase diversity, we will reconsider our recruitment practices: the channels, language, terms and expressions used in our recruitment ads, our decision-making criteria and our language requirements.
We will additionally harness tools such as quotas and affirmative action. We will also work on ways of actively encouraging applications from more diverse candidates. We recognize that by requiring applicants to have a full command of Finnish language skills poses a significant obstacle to diverse recruiting in the Finnish art field, and we have accordingly opened positions for non-Finnish speaking professionals.
We already have an internal anti-harassment policy which aims to secure a safe working environment for all. To make sure that the ethos of our policy is alive and well within our organisation we implement it actively through an induction system for new board members, grant board members, staff and interns and twice yearly development discussions for all staff and interns.
The harassment policy also covers our visitors programme and public events. We monitor this policy by asking for feedback from all visitors and programme participants. The principles of a safer space are visible in all our events.
Accessibility is high priority in our programme
As an information centre, we work together with a highly diverse range of stakeholders and audiences.
In our knowledge production, communication and networking activities, we target our work at groups such as contemporary art professionals in Finland and abroad, Finnish officials, policymakers, funders, international and Finnish media, Finnish and Finland-based artists and actors in the cultural field, especially in Finland. Our public programming embraces audiences both in Finland and abroad, ranging from specialised professional audiences to the highly diverse public attending the Venice Biennale.
We need to do further work to evaluate our focus group and audience structures. While we have statistics on language, we face challenges in collecting information and measuring the racial equality and diversity of our focus groups and our audiences. We recognise that more inclusive use of language and more diverse programming leads to more diverse focus group members and audiences.
Accessibility is a high priority for us and we work to make our services as accessible as possible on all levels – in our programming, events, texts and digital platforms. Inclusion is a key focus of our five-year Rehearsing Hospitalities programme. The second edition of the Rehearsing Hospitalities Companion series, published in 2020, looked beyond normative and institutionalised understandings of access, and considered access from a manifold of approaches, perceptions and relations.
In our role as an information centre for contemporary art in Finland, we constantly think about the language and the register we use. We recognise that good writing and accessible texts are important and that complicated content and uses of jargon are inaccessible.
Language comes into play in our work in multiple ways. As an institution issuing publicly funded grants, we are obliged to comply with Finnish regulations concerning the right to use one’s official native language, i.e. Finnish or Swedish. In our work we constantly balance between Finnish, Swedish and English, and sometimes Sámi, and we use different languages and different registers within different communication platforms.
While we recognise that our services should be available in more languages and language forms such as captioning, sign language, and digital access, we do not have enough resources to translate everything. Due to the scope of our national and international work, all information can never be completely in Finnish and English, and we are selective in what we translate into Swedish or Sámi. However, we aim to be transparent about the choices we make.
We comply with the EU Directive on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications. We will launch a new accessible website in early 2021 and continue to develop our grants system in line with legislation.
We acknowledge that our offices at Ratakatu 1 are not accessible. When organising events we comply with accessibility information and tools recommended by Culture for All Service.
Openness and transparency are key in all our communication
The primary source of information about Frame is our website, https://frame-finland.fi, which is in three languages: Finnish, Swedish and English.
We use inclusive language in all our communications ranging from emails, marketing material and social media to websites and contracts. We do not assume that one person represents all members of a particular community, and we pay attention to the terminology we use when referring to attributes or identities.
We aim to be very open and transparent in sharing information about whom we work with, what criteria we use, and how decisions are made. In open calls and for grants, we publish qualification criteria and the names of the members of the juries on our website, in individual announcements as well as in our yearly report. In programming we publish the names of collaborators and funders. We provide answers to queries effectively and apologise for our mistakes openly and honestly.
Frame is a private foundation funded primarily through public funds from the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland. We adhere to principles of Good Governance of Foundations and Best Practices for Foundations laid down by the Association of Finnish Foundations. We comply with all Acts and regulations concerning public funding and its uses. We report on the uses of funds and partners in our yearly report.
We will work harder to disrupt normative and simplified narratives
We understand that omnipresent whiteness is hard to recognise and deconstruct. Whiteness is perpetuated through readings of artistic quality and professionality. We are part of structures that habitually normalise exclusion of artists, curators and art workers through art education, arts funding and other institutional structures within contemporary art. We acknowledge that the questions of the quality of art and professionality are highly contested.
We recognise the diversity and different cultural conditions that shape the Finnish art scene. Artists and other art practitioners in Finland are rooted in many diverse traditions and cultures. We strive to disrupt normative and simplified narratives in favour of presenting more complex stories from a range of practitioners, knowledges and backgrounds. We have changed our programming to reflect the increasing diversity of the Finnish art field. We collaborate with actors who are actively deconstructing white history to de-centre white and western canons and histories.
This work has been at the core of the Rehearsing Hospitalities programme and Miracle Workers Collective project at the Finnish Pavilion in the Venice Biennale 2019. We constantly evaluate content choices from the perspective of racial equality and diversity in all our programme work from the Venice Biennale to Rehearsing Hospitalities, from our international visitor programme to all other activities. The range of artists and art professionals promoted and funded through the various channels of our work has significantly increased and diversified in recent years.
We see that our past efforts working on these issues have already had an impact on the diversity of represented artists and other actors, but we also acknowledge that there is still more to do and that actual change requires constant work.
As we continue with our work within contemporary art, we will do our best to take the necessary steps toward a more equal and diverse working environment and to change our work routines so that we can keep questioning and improving our existing practices. We pledge to collaborate on these issues with everyone involved in the arts field on all levels: institutions, artists, curators and marginalised communities.
*Questions by the Call for Action for Art Institutions in Finland
1. How are racial equality, diversity and anti-racism discussed in your organisation?
2. What anti-racist strategies does your organisation already employ and/or is aiming to develop?
3. Does your organisation have a non-discrimination plan? Has it been made public? What goals and actions does it include?
4. Has your organisation appointed an equality officer?
Is there a separate compensation for this work or does it fall under free labour?
5. Does your entire staff receive anti-racist and anti-bias education and training by an external expert?
6. How do you address racially driven incidents at the workplace and in public events? In these situations, who is the person to approach? How are these situations handled? In what ways are the wellbeing of the employee / audience member / artist facing racial discrimination ensured?
7. Are the principles of a safer space visible and acknowledged by your work community? Are they also implemented, visible and acknowledged in public events?
8. How is ethnic diversity taken into account in recruitment?
9. How do you plan to promote racial equality and diversity in your organisation?
10. In case your staff consists only of white individuals, consider why this is the case. Could something be done differently?
11. In what ways do you recognise and deconstruct white privilege, as well as the practices that normalize and prioritize those privileges?
12. Identifying one’s own position and privileges: what does this mean within your organisation and in your external communication efforts?
13. How does your organisation actively participate in deconstructing white history and the Western Canon? How is this recognised in the planning and curating programmes?
14. How would you describe your audience structure? Who is present and who is missing? How have you succeeded in terms of racial equality, diversity and accessibility?
15. Is your programme also accessible to non-Finnish-speaking audiences?
16. How is racial equality, diversity and anti-racism taken into account in the curation of your contents? Whose works are selected for the programmes? Who is on stage?
17. What kinds of roles and narratives does your organisation reproduce?
18. Who are you producing content for?
19. At the moment whiteness, ability, cisgenderism, and often a male gaze and androcentrism are accepted as “neutral” points of view. How do your contents approach ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, bodysize, class, religion, culture, and their intersections?
20. How does your organisation report its decision-making? Is it available to the public?
21. When advertising open positions and inviting collaborators through open calls for your programmes, do you disclose your selection criteria?
22. Do you communicate in inclusive language, which does not exclude members of marginalised groups?
23. How do you communicate about your organisation’s funding and associated partners?
If questions arise about these issues, how do you respond?
24. How is criticism received in your organisation? Do you apologise publicly for mistakes you may have committed? Are you prepared to modify your ways of operating based on received critical feedback?
25. Do your staff members and content producers have possibilities to criticise problematic contents, without jeopardizing their position in the organisation?
26. Is the information regarding accessibility and barrier-free mobility publicly available in your spaces and events? From whose perspective do you consider your spatial planning?