Will the crisis spawn new beginnings?

The corona pandemic is significantly thwarting artists’ and researchers’ livelihoods and work. At the same time, many of them believe that the situation offers an opportunity to develop and reconstruct their work. Anna Talasniemi, Executive Director of Kone Foundation, sums up the results of a quick survey conducted by the Foundation.
Photo: Heye Jensen / Unsplah

We have done our best to closely monitor the situation researchers and artists find themselves in as the corona pandemic progresses. The week before last we published a survey in which we asked artists and researchers for their views on the impact of the pandemic on their work. In one weekend, we received 612 responses, of which 517 were from people working in the arts and 95 in the research sector. The results confirmed our impression that the effects of the pandemic are more acute in the field of art than in research. It is already safe to say that the coronavirus will affect research, art and the entire society for a long time to come, although all its impacts are difficult to predict at this stage.

One of the main things we wanted to know was what the respondents think sponsors should do in this situation. A significant number of the respondents proposed a speedily organised call for grant applications that would provide a fairly easy method for artists to apply for a work grant spanning a few months. In response, on Friday last week we opened a call for applications to a home residence programme. As to the survey, I want to thank everyone who responded: the information we obtained from the answers is extremely valuable and helps us to develop our grant work both in the short and long term.

In the survey, we also asked the following question: “Do you think the current situation creates special opportunities for doing research or making art? If yes, what kinds of opportunities?” Just under 7% of the respondents in the field of art felt that the situation creates no new opportunities of any kind. Instead, they viewed the situation as a global tragedy with a crippling effect on artists. However, even some of the respondents to answer in this way thought that there might be opportunities if they continued to make a living and/or if they had time to make art, while also acting as “a teacher for their children at home, a supervisor during break time, a principal, a cook, a cleaner and a single parent”.

Many of the respondents have great anxiety about their livelihood and the future. For that reason, it was very comforting to read about the trust and incredible optimism that most respondents exhibited. The uncertainty over their subsistence weighed more heavily on the minds of some, while others are prevented from working due to looking after their children and other family members. However, there is a great deal of faith in the possibilities of working. For some, the situation created by the pandemic immediately opened up an exceptional opportunity to focus on their work, as performances, gigs, exhibitions, teaching and other work was cancelled, freeing up their time.

In Kone Foundation’s strategy, Jonimatti Joutsijärvi’s aphorism “There would be no birds without incubation” describes the time artistic and research work requires. This aphorism came to my mind several times while reading the answers to the survey. At the very least, many of the respondents hoped that the situation brought about by the pandemic would allow them to better focus on their work, their practices, renewal, development, planning, competence development, background work, etc. This might be an opportunity to think, create, innovate, crystallise ideas, experiment and fail, train, focus, pause, calm down, become engrossed in their work, throw ideas around, read, write, listen, reflect. And as the responses clearly showed, this is in no way possible for everyone. Through the home residence programme, we hope to make it possible for at least some of those who lack this opportunity due to the uncertainty linked to their income.

I am delighted at the number of new initiatives and solutions that have already emerged to promote solidarity and a sense of community. Many of the respondents also paid attention to this and to new opportunities for cooperation: Colleagues are supporting each other, sharing tips, seeking new partnerships, showing compassion. As we can’t meet each other physically, all of this happens online. Around a third of the respondents highlighted the importance and potential of the Internet and digitalisation in this new situation. Many of them have been forced to take a digital leap and seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about the resulting new experiments.

The situation brought about by the corona pandemic also directs attention at the fragility and stumbling blocks of the arts sector and its financial structures. The most positive respondents see a potential for change in the situation. Could this be the right time to look at art funding in a particularly critical light and to choose new modes of operation?

The situation highlights the issues of privileges and unfairness and the massive competition for funding in the arts sector, in which foundations like ours are also very much involved. Fortunately, it has been possible for many funding operators to open calls for grant applications quite quickly. Although it is undoubtedly taxing for applicants to apply for funding from various sources, especially at such a difficult time, I believe that the diversity – at least reasonable diversity – of funding opportunities will also promote diversity in the work carried out.

At the same time, the situation highlights the fact that the role of the public sector in the fields of art and research – not to mention social security – is in a completely different category than funding from foundations. Although the relative share of funding from foundations is significant, for example, in direct support for artists, it still remains the duty of the public sector to take care of its citizens also in these special circumstances. In any case, cooperation between the public and private sectors is important, and the collaboration Arts Promotion Centre Finland has engaged in with several foundations is an excellent example of an effective one-stop-shop application procedure that makes life easier for applicants.

It seems that the coronavirus will not be a quickly passing challenge, but a crisis with long-term effects that will have a fundamental impact on our society and our lives. In the midst of the crisis, people are focusing on what is important. Many of the respondents believe that, at best, the corona pandemic will make us take a good look at our values and learn about what is important in life and the relationship between humans and nature. Several responses show a hope for a more ecologically sustainable future, where people travel less, for example, and consume less. At the same time, the respondents were concerned about nationalism and radical extremism, which are also fuelled by the crisis.

Some respondents believe that the situation will have a positive impact on the appreciation of art and research. People operating in the academic and artistic sphere are important creators and mediators of values and meaning in civilised society. Researchers and artists who document and examine this special period of time in their work – as many of the respondents are – are doing valuable work. Interpretation, understanding and creating meanings are needed more than ever in the midst of all the changes going on, and researchers and artists have the skills and expertise to do that.

Author

Anna Talasniemi

Executive Director of Kone Foundation