Community Art Days: ‘Art is encounters with other people’

Community artists assembled at Saari Residence from the 14th to the 15th of June 2018 to share their experiences of making community art.

Following an invitation from the Saari Residence’s community artist, Pia Bartsch, eight community artists from all over Finland came together at Saari between the 14th and 15th of June 2018. The objective of these community days was to meet other community artists, share experiences of artistic work and explore the various duties, working environments and experiences within their respective communities. Another aim was to create a basis for planning a triennial for communal art for 2019. In addition to Bartsch, the participants included Suvi Solkio, Sara Ilveskorpi, Paula Puikko-Laakso, Pia Lindy, Merja Pennanen, Jarmo Skön, Heidi Hänninen and Sanna Vainionpää.

The work during the Community Art Days was founded on the presentations given by the participants, where they introduced their own work, and the dialogue around these presentations. 

Artist and community artist Sara Ilveskorpi and creative producer Paula Puikko-Laakso, who both came from Kimitoön, presented the Ateljé360° project. The purpose of Ateljé360° is to develop and test ways of encouraging cultural inclusion and support artists and their working conditions. Sara Ilveskorpi also told the participants about her work as the community artist of the town of Kaarina. 

Jarmo Skön from Tampere is an art educator/artist/community artist who works both as an instructor and trainer. Skön has years of experience in applying art with various groups, for example, in theatre and the circus. In his presentation, Skön pondered the relationship between the community and art: what makes a project with a community a work of art?

Artist and art educator Heidi Hänninen explored the work of a community artist in various cultural environments, such as the Helsinki suburbs. For the last few years, Hänninen has been carrying out a project called Street Art for Kontula, which involves the residents of the district painting murals in their living environment. In August 2018, Hänninen worked on creating a mural workshop with Pia Bartsch, during which the participants created a mural in the centre of Mynämäki. 

Artist Suvi Solkio works as the Regional Artist for communal art in the Varsinais-Suomi region. Solkio talked about the goals that are often heaped onto a community artist’s job description. As communal art also requires the artist to be skilful in areas outside the arts, a communal artist may find themselves having to deal with the responsibilities of a social worker, for example. 

Master of Theatre Arts, Merja Pennanen, described her work as the Regional Artist of communal art and artistic methods in North Karelia. Pennanen has also held the position of communal artist at the Joensuu City Theatre.

Dancer and choreographer Pia Lindy has made communal art projects with various groups for urban environments; for example, the Roaming in the Suburbs and Art Diet projects in Jakomäki. Like Hänninen, Lindy explained her work in the suburbs in detail. She also mentioned the Kehärata tanssii festival for communal dancing, which will be held for the fifth time this year. 

Artist Sanna Vainionpää emphasised the importance of peer learning in communal art projects when talking about her work at the Mynämäki night school. She also pondered the challenges of communal art in a rural setting: how to reach the participants when distances are great? 

Pia Bartsch discussed her project with the Saari Sirens, noting that they are a trustworthy group of people who are often also the source of new encounters. The Sirens’ knowledge of the local area and networks have been a great help in implementing other projects in the Saari neighbourhood.

The presentations paved the way for many fruitful discussions in which the role of communal art was considered from the points of view of customs, art and social issues. The talks emphasised the need of documenting communal art projects to allow the organisers to return to the project and re-examine it. The participants voiced the wish to create projects as teams, which would allow residences to hire, for example, a publicist and someone to document the projects. They agreed that reaching participants is challenging and discussed whether more easily accessible environments for making art, such as the Internet, would be helpful for inclusion. At the same time, they noted that existing networks and clear, ready-made concepts for projects make it easier to reach new participants, as well as old ones. Another subject broached was the role of the artist in projects: how to relieve the responsibility for social issues saddled on the artist? How to avoid the imposter syndrome where the artist feels they must act, for example, as a social worker?

The Community Art Days allowed community artists in the field to network and bring up topical issues about communal art. The event offered a fruitful platform for charting the themes of the triennial of 2019 and created opportunities not only for the triennial, but also for developing the communal art sector. We want to send our warm thanks to all the participants!