Engine Room column


Struggling visual arts deserve double the funding

Artemisia Vulgaris -työryhmän Rise and Shine -teos nähtiin Mäntän kuvataideviikoilla kesällä 2022. / The piece Rise and shine by the artist collective Artemisia Vulgaris was on display at the Mänttä Art Festival in Finland in the summer of 2022. Kuva/photo: Heljä Franssila

The insufficient funding the visual arts receive is reflected in the huge number of applications submitted annually to Kone Foundation. Due to the fact that the Finnish Government funds the visual arts stingily, along with the fact that the employment structures in the sector are weak, a large number of artists are seeking to boost their meagre livelihood through grants. Although foundations have doubled their funding of the arts in the last decade, the visual arts in particular also need more public funding. Our Grant Coordinator Maija Karasvaara and Communications Director Heljä Franssila explain why. 

Last autumn, more than 1,100 applicants submitted a grant application for visual arts to Kone Foundation. In the autumn’s application round, the Foundation received a total of approximately 6,400 applications, of which one in six was a proposal by an artist or working group in the field of visual arts. 

That is quite a number, given that the Foundation supports, above all, academic research. In the 2022 general application round, the Foundation granted roughly 60 per cent of the EUR 38 million funding exclusively to projects conducting academic research. Cooperation between research and art is an important focus for the Foundation, and projects combining these accounted for about 16 per cent of the total. 

Funding granted to different fields of art accounted for about 24 per cent of the total amount, that is, roughly EUR 9.2 million. By providing funding for the arts, the Foundation aims to enable long-term and multidisciplinary artistic work. 

Although the Foundation has increased its share of funding for the arts over the past decade from around one million euros to almost ten million euros per year, the pressure of applications in the field of visual arts in particular is unsustainably high in relation to the amount of funding available. The Foundation granted a total of EUR 2.8 million for the visual arts in 2022. Four per cent of applicants in visual arts – similarly to other fields of art – received a grant.

The low award rates cause disappointment and dejection among applicants for good reason. We cannot help applicants with empathy alone; more robust means are needed.

(Text continued after the statistics)

Visual artists should also be paid for their work

In recent years, Frame Contemporary Art Finland and the Artists’ Association of Finland – key players in the field of visual arts in the country – have been talking about the funding gap for visual arts. This is based on the observation that different disciplines of art are not treated equally when it comes to government grants. The visual arts account for only one per cent of the government’s culture budget, which is approximately EUR 15 million. If art museums are included, this figure rises to four per cent.  

For comparison: Finnish foundations funded the arts to the sum of EUR 79 million in 2021, of which EUR 16 million was directed to the visual arts. This shows that foundations provide more funding for the visual arts than the government does if the public support received by art museums is not included. Private funders make it possible for artists, especially visual artists and those working in sectors not receiving state subsidies, to continue working as artists.

As recently as 2010, foundations’ support for various fields of art amounted to EUR 41 million, which means that in just over a decade the amount of financial support they provide has almost doubled. The foundations that support the arts and culture obviously consider them to be extremely important to society – there is no doubt about that – but their funding capacity is not sufficient to resolve the situation of any field of art. 

The lack of public funding for the visual arts seems particularly unfair when considering the weak structures within which visual artists in Finland have to operate. Because these structures have not been invested in, they have remained inadequate. 

The income level of visual artists is the lowest of all artists. While actors and musicians are employed by theatres and orchestras supported by the government transfer (VOS) system, visual artists rarely have corresponding employers. An artist’s livelihood typically comes from many different sources: part-time paid work, entrepreneurship or freelancing and sometimes unemployment benefit or grants.

One of the challenges is the fact that only a small percentage of artists in Finland are able to make a living by selling their works. The market for visual art is considerably smaller in Finland than in the other Nordic countries: in total, the size of the art trade* is less than ten million euros annually. There are a handful of commercial galleries operating in Finland, in addition to which there are art lending libraries and a few art auctions. Despite efforts, no professional art fairs have survived. The activities of artist-led galleries are often of high artistic quality, but their importance as a distributor of works is minimal. Operating methods in the field of visual arts have also long relied on artists working for free. It is only in recent years that the practice of paying an exhibition payment according to a straightforward scale of payments has become ingrained in art museums. Thus, artists have finally begun to be compensated for the work they do to set up an exhibition, such as design and hanging up pieces. The exhibition payment model is the most significant advancement in visual arts policy in years. Next, the aim is to extend this model to also cover the activities of smaller exhibition operators.

Double the amount of public funding to strengthen artists’ livelihoods

Frame Contemporary Art Finland, the Artists’ Association of Finland and the copyright society for artists, Kuvasto, have calculated that correcting the funding situation for visual arts would cost EUR 15 million per year. This means that funding should be doubled from the current EUR 15.6 million to EUR 30 million per year. The above-mentioned three organisations have made a priority list of things that can be obtained with additional funding. The plan is to invest in increasing the sales and distribution of art and in enabling artists to make a sufficient living with their work. 

One solution proposal is to improve the funding for the activities of visual arts communities. After all, they manage to produce amazingly high-quality exhibitions and other art events with minimal resources. Ideally, operators could increase their funding of artists, that is, pay salaries and production costs to artists for the time they are working on pieces destined for an exhibition. Such a production model, which enables both the artist’s livelihood and an artistically compelling entity, is common in many countries. It is currently being piloted in a project led by the Artists’ Association of Finland, working together with the artists of Kunsthalle Helsinki’s Young Artists exhibition.

When funding is in order, it will benefit not only visual arts professionals, but also those who view their art. Art has the power to reflect humanity, provide experiences and give us the ingredients to weigh our values and worldviews. At Kone Foundation, we work on the premise that Finland needs multi-voiced and free art as a prerequisite for the development of our society. The Foundation’s vision is for free research, art and culture to flourish in an ecologically sustainable and socially equal Finland. 

During the next government term, cultural operators want to increase funding for culture to one per cent of the government budget. This is a goal we at Kone Foundation also stand behind. We support visual arts players in their desire for the government to provide a strategic and visionary culture policy that serves the arts sector of today and treats different fields of art equally.

Maija Karasvaara and Heljä Franssila

*) Art gallery sales in 2021, statistics by Frame Contemporary Art Finland