Long reads


Smart art funding includes dialogue

The Towards Smart Arts Funding event, held at the end of April, brought together art organisations and funders to discuss how art funding should be developed to make it more resilient in the long run. Anna Talasniemi, Executive Director of Kone Foundation, returns to the themes of the day.

During the afternoon of the day of reflection named Towards Smart Art Funding, one word emerged above the rest: dialogue. The participants wished for discussions, meetings and free interaction particularly between funders and those funded, and dialogue between funders, for example, was also discussed. Yet dialogue was seen in relation to more than funding, where artists, art organisations and funders could meet to discuss the content and future of art. This would benefit the entire sector – and, to quote the debate, “get the creative forces flowing” – if initiatives were contemplated and made together rather than “top-down”.

Feedback on the different stages of applying for and using funding is an essential element of the interaction between funders and those being funded. We too at Kone Foundation often reply to requests for feedback by saying that providing it to applicants would require a huge amount of resources, which is why it is not be done. But should we consider increasing our resources, i.e. money and employees, to enable us to provide feedback? Perhaps we could proceed gradually: this year we could give feedback to the grant recipients and next year also to some of the applicants.

Dialogue during the funding period was also considered very important. Some dangers were also brought up: can a dialogue between the funder and the artist steer the activities of the latter and their artistic direction the wrong way? Our experience at Kone Foundation is that meetings, conversations and progress reports are mostly perceived as an expression of interest, not as a way to control or direct the person funded. As a funder, we care about what our grant recipients are doing. While there is bound to be a power relationship between the funder and the person funded, discussion and dialogue create trust, which will benefit both parties.

The participants expressed a wish for the removal of top-down thinking also in concrete application processes. I was pleased to hear some wonderful ideas that would not be difficult to implement being suggested in the discussions. The funder could ask the applicant more explicitly about the things that are important to the applicant and encourage them to share their own goals, values and strengths, rather than simply asking them to explain how they intend to implement the funder’s strategies and objectives. Transparency regarding the criteria for funding was found to be very important, although often difficult. One discussion compared the relationship between the funder and the person funded with that of a curator and an artist: “The curator creates the circumstances which allow the artist to do what they’re good at.”

The issue of dialogue was also discussed in the speeches given in the morning. In this context, I would like to highlight the important observation made by the playwright Kevin Doyle: where is the audience, the general public? Doyle remarked that in situations where art funding has decreased and the relationship with the audience has not been tended to, there are no defenders of the arts to be found outside the art sector itself. Calls for help to save our own nest fall on deaf ears.

Dialogue, interaction and transparency create trust. During the day, several ideas were raised for increasing the number of encounters, ranging from “speed dates” to funding days and various forms of financial advice. Finally, plans were already made for a low-threshold continuation of these discussions, which means that we will see you this autumn for morning coffee, courtesy of the City of Helsinki!


Material from the Towards Smart Funding event

Dirk De Wit’s (Kunstenpunt / Flanders Arts Institute, Belgia) presentation and work document

Amrit Gil’s (The Australia Council for Arts, Australia) presentation

Erich Berger’s (Bioart Society), Satu Herrala’s & Hanna Nyman’s (Baltic Circle) presentation


Interaction and dialogue between funders and art organisations

What new funding possibilities and models could there be? 

Evaluating the applications and project, the criteria for evaluation and the process of evaluation, how could this be developed?



Anna Talasniemi

The Executive Director of Kone Foundation