Engine Room column


“This cooperation will live on in many ways” – Cooperation between the arts and academic research at Kone Foundation

Illustration: Marika Maijala

Why does Kone Foundation support cooperation between research and the arts? Does it promote academic and artistic freedom? Kalle Korhonen, Director of Funding, tries to answer the question.

Kone Foundation is known for encouraging projects in which artists and academic researchers work together. People sometimes ask: does such collaboration increase artistic and academic freedom? I assume the reader will not take the Foundation’s strategy, in which cross-border work is appreciated, for an answer.

First of all, although collaboration between science and the arts is important to the Foundation, it is not our main focus. Of the grants awarded in 2022, 16.4%, or approximately one in six, were projects that combine research and the arts. Thus, more than 80% of funding goes to projects that do either research or artistic work, not both.

Cooperation between academic research and art does not mean mixing them in some random way. In practice, at least the following options are possible:

  1. Artistic research.
  2. A research project that addresses scientific questions while doing artistic work related to the topic.
  3. A research project in which art makes visible the results of academic work.
  4. An art project in which researchers contribute knowledge.

For the Foundation, artistic research is a combination of academic research and artistic work. We do not consider work to be artistic research if it merely explores, for example, biodiversity loss or racism with artistic methods. In order to qualify as artistic research, the work needs a research framework and, in practice, a university research environment.

The boundaries are obviously not set in stone, and the Foundation does not draw up precise definitions; it is ultimately up to the peer reviewers to decide what constitutes artistic research. Furthermore, the Foundation does not consider artistic creation in many disciplines of humanities to be artistic research. In philological research, for example, academics may translate literary texts, the artistic quality of which is then evaluated by other scholars.

Most of the research and art projects funded by the Foundation are selected by the peer reviewers of research disciplines. Only a few groups of artists include researchers. Some Foundation projects follow a pattern wherein an artist (group) produces artistic output on the research topic project at the end of the project or in which researchers contribute research outputs to the art project (alternatives 3 and 4 above). This is fine. But even more so, the Foundation seeks to support long-term collaboration.

Cooperation between academic research and artistic work is finely illustrated by some of the projects supported by the Foundation. Some time ago, I had a discussion with linguist Liisa Raevaara and performing artist Elina Izarra Ollikainen about their project Art as Work and a Working Tool. It was fascinating to hear how the work had progressed. Initially, the researchers studied performing artists who instructed young people in theatre. Then both the researchers and the artists became interested in reflecting on what research and art are as professions, and both gained more understanding about their own work.

Another project was called Two Finlands – Is Inequality on the Rise?, funded from the programme Is Finland Becoming Polarized?. At the beginning of the project, the collaboration seemed to really veer off course: photographic artists were asked to depict Finnish living rooms and bathrooms. From there, the focus shifted to a more autonomous approach to art, with photographic workshops focused on everyday images. Gradually, the project found a way to respect the roles and professionalism of both parties.

Over the years, the merging of academic and artistic work has become more commonplace: it is found in a number of recent projects supported by the Foundation. In the field of music, for instance, there is Marika Kivinen’s and Maren Jonasson’s project Untold Stories, which explores Finland’s relationship with colonialism and racism between 1860 and 1930. Both Kivinen and Jonasson have conducted research, and Kivinen, a singer, has organised concerts with other musicians to highlight the research.

Another collaborative effort that, in addition to artistic and academic work, promotes accessibility is Laura Kalliomaa-Puha’s research project Tekstistä kuvaksi (From Word to Image). It has explored the potential of cartoons to improve the comprehensibility of social care documents. The project is multidisciplinary, combining social work, translation studies, research on art, and law studies with artistic work.

Perseverance is one of Kone Foundation’s core values, and the best a research funder can hope for is a positive collaborative outcome between academics and artists. It was especially important to the Foundation to hear how Maria Ohisalo, then a doctoral researcher and later the Minister of the Interior, described the cooperation in the Two Finlands project mentioned above: “I could imagine that the cooperation in this project will live on in many ways. But I think that a more systemic change is what we should be looking for. And to think if we could have more projects in which people from different fields could stay together for longer periods of time and, quite concretely, work together every day for a long time…”

Since, as we saw above, cooperation is not necessarily easy, at least at the beginning, this spring the Foundation will offer work supervision and coaching for its projects that combine science and the arts. The goal of this supervision is to improve the quality of the collaboration and to prevent conflict. There is already a lot of respect on both sides of the disciplinary border, but there can never be too much support for the idea of working together in meaningful, profound ways.

In the end, the answer to why the Foundation supports cooperation between research and the arts stems from the thinking that such cooperation enriches both parties, especially if it is long-term. The cooperation makes real the Foundation’s values, which include diversity and cross-border endeavours.