The Webinar. A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar where two members of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER – TAIKE (Hanna Susitaival & Henri Terho) thoroughly presented and shared information regarding the new open calls for grants and subsidies. Yet, although the information was detailed I could not find anything new to help me ameliorate my four or five unsuccessful applications of the last year. So, I raised two issues.
The first was a provocation but strictly based on concrete facts. “Do you know that according to TAIKE’s eligibility criteria Vincent van Gogh, if he were alive, cannot be supported? And, considering that van Gogh died more than 120 years ago, don’t you think the TAIKE’s criteria are not very innovative?”
The second issue, which is related to the first, was also based on concrete facts. “Considering that TAIKE’s does not give feedback to justify the decisions, how can I understand what I am doing well or wrong when I am writing a new application and how can I understand that the expert who evaluated my application is expert enough for the task? How can TAIKE guarantee to the taxpayers that there is no cronyism or corruption or, as in Albania, pure money laundering when there is no transparency in decision-making? I have noticed that there are people in Finland working in universities with their important academic titles, that are at the same time involved in politics, and have been granted from private and public institutions (TAIKE included), which for me demonstrates at least conflict of interest or even worst. So, what I wanted to know is how can TAIKE guarantee its expertise, openness, and transparency in decision-making?
The answers of the two experts were pertinent but cannot help anyone to ameliorate the quality of the future applications, which I think should be a concern for a center that is supposed to promote (promovère, move forward) the arts in Finland; to demonstrate the quality of its institutional expertise; to guarantee the openness and transparency of decision-making and make sure to avoid contamination from any unethical and/or illicit practices.
Basically, the experts agreed with the issues and admitted that there are some problems but also highlighted the independence of the decision-makers (not only of the experts of TAIKE but also its regional representatives as well as independent experts that evaluate the application). However, although one can understand and believe in the sincerity of the experts, it is hard to demonstrate TAIKE’s operational ethics. Firstly, because TAIKE – considering its legal framework – is a so-called Executive Agency and is directly under the control and influenced by the decisions and policies of the executive/government. So, to call it independent when TAIKE depends form the government is a contradiction in terms. And secondly, because there are no publicly known indicators through which can be evaluated TAIKE’s independence in decision-making. In other words, nowhere, on the website at least, are written clear indicators to measure the effective evaluation, expertise, openness, transparency, and independence of TAIKE. (It would be interesting to know if these indicators are mentioned in TAIKE’s Strategy or Statute.)
The experts of TAIKE highlighted also the fact that “the evaluators are artists themselves” and there is “empathy” in evaluating the applications of their colleagues. The romantic guy inside me appreciates it very much and thanks sincerely. However, the rational guy inside me does not automatically understand how can the empathy of the evaluators ameliorate the future application? Moreover, living in a period and a country where neoliberal cognitive capitalism is based exclusively on targeting and controlling biopolitically the sensorial processes and psychic perceptions, it is not sure whether the empathy (which, it is important to notice, is not of the institution but of the unpaid experts the institution exploits for the evaluation process) can be considered an appropriate indicator to measure and define the independence, expertise, and transparency in decision-making.
[By the way, I consider a scandal (which I did not know before this webinar) the exploitation of the evaluators, that are “artists themselves”, by a public institution that pretends “to promote the working conditions (työskentelyedellytyksiä) of the artists”. I know that private foundations pay their evaluators, at least Kone Foundation I know for sure does. I do not understand why should private foundations and not public institutions be good examples for the fair treatment of artists. How can artists and the public pretend not only transparency on decision-making but above all fair treatment of artists from private institutions when the public institutions must but do not guarantee these things? Is there, inside TAIKE, any concern regarding this ethical problem?]
The Values. After the webinar, I sent an email to TAIKE to ask whether there is a new strategy released beyond the old one visible on the website. The prompt reply informed me that the definition of the new strategy is ongoing and no clear date is given for its release. So, I tried to read the old strategy 2015-2020 online, in Finnish.
The impression in reading TAIKE’s old strategy 2015-2020 text is something in between reading a marketing and PR text. In addition, the strategy 2015-2020 confirms somehow the logic behind the creation of the Executive Agencies, such as TAIKE, as well as their degenerative weaknesses. But what exactly are the Executive Agencies?
Historically, the Executive Agencies represent the neoliberal institutional alternative response and setups/frameworks which proliferate after the accomplished mission of Thatcherism/Reaganism (lumpenproletariatization through precariousness of the Western working class) and accelerating globalization (based on the free market, intended as deregulation and privatization, government spending reduction, and tax cuts) after the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The first Executive Agencies appeared in the late ’80s early ’90s in the UK but today are also present in the EU (I often happen to work as a freelance evaluator of EACEA) and also in Finland such as in the case of TAIKE. The reason for their existence is the optimization and efficiency of government spending. So, considering that governments pressure for fast results (maximum four years because of the elections), the weakest point of these agencies (especially in the culture sector, which per definition needs time for cultivation) is the simplification of the results into ticking boxes. The logic behind this simplification is to demonstrate how the executive/government maintained the promises of the election campaign. And this is demonstrated only through its Executive Agencies reported results (not processes). But results without transparency of the processes are not good indicators to measure the efficiency of policies.
To make an example, let’s consider the hypothetical case of a party or coalition of parties that wins the election and has made during the election campaign, as part of its cultural policy programme, a promise such as “the integration of migrants” and consequently “democracy” in Finland through art and culture. After winning the elections, the Executive Agency, let say TAIKE in this case, to implement the policies of the government opens a call for “the integration of migrants” supporting projects with an amount equal to 10% of the overall budget which is proportioned with the migrant population in Finland (around 10%). A government with a restricted and limited horizon to its daily survival after its four-year mandate with this result (10% of the budget for culture dedicated to the integration of migrants which make 10% of the population in Finland) will be more than happy and will promote this result as a demonstration of its openness and democracy in governing the country and a good example for the whole world. Of course, it is important that nobody rises questions, and, even if it happens, it is even more important that nobody answers. So, nobody will care about how ethically acceptable is that an institution that supports “the integration of migrants” with 10% of its budget at the end of the day results far from having 10% of migrant personnel in its staff (How many migrants work in TAIKE? How “diverse” is TAIKE in this sense?). Nobody will also care to know how many of these supported projects FOR “the integration of migrants” were managed BY migrants. In this manner, “the integration of migrants” will remain only a number (10%) on paper, an empty word, which will cause discontent to migrants as well as Finns. In this hypothetical scenario, the only concrete outcome will be the futile government spending for “the NON-integration of migrants”. From here enters into play the well-known ideological ping-pong between the national sovranism and globalist neoliberalism of the last 30-40 years, where migrants and Finnish or other Western national precarious lumpenproletariats are used as cannon fodder.
This is only an example but “the integration of migrants” can be substituted with other fancy keywords such as “gender equality”, “diversity”, “ecological sustainability”, “democracy” and so on and so forth. In any case, important for me was to highlight the consequences of the empty words and empty policies and how, through these, can degenerate the Executive Agencies.
Reading the 2015-2020 strategy of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND – TAIKE the situation is not much better.
The webpage of the 2015-2020 strategy consists of a text which is in between self-apologetic and marketization. This, of course, is expected by a center of PROMOTION that, as a term, clearly reveals its semantic belongingness to the market logic which by the way contrasts with a large part of modern and contemporary art practices and approaches (conceptual art, street art, institutional critique, land art, and so on and so forth, which are only a few examples for inclusion of which in government policies the ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND is limited starting from its definition). However, the worst part of TAIKE’s strategy consists of the so-called VALUES/ARVOT (in Finnish).
In English these values can be translated as:
In other words, the TAIKE’s values are exactly what it lacks to demonstrate and to guarantee to the public and to the applicants. To make it comprehensible, even for those who maybe wrote the strategy and policies implemented by TAIKE, an example from the market’s semantic thesaurus is needed. So, in other words, it can be said that setting up the values of an institutional strategy is the same as setting up the value of the exchange currency in finance and the economy. The lack of transparency in terms of values – in TAIKE’s case expertise, openness, and evaluation of the applications – in the free market means only one thing: HIGH RISKS OF SPECULATION! I hope the description of this arts and culture bubble in Finland clarifies the situation for anyone that cares about arts and culture.
The “Cauliflower Trust”. In 1941, a German migrant in Helsinki (What a coincidence!) escaping from the Nazi Regime, wrote a theaterstück, The Resistible Rise of Arthuro Ui. His name was Bertold Brecht. The play is a satirical allegory of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and his use of the scandal of Junkers (in Brecht’s play the Junkers are the Trust of Cauliflower), corrupted landowners’ elite of Eastern Prussia that were maintained and have made profits thanks to the public funds from the central government of Weimarer Republik. Once in power, Adolf, although he came in power even thanks to the populist use of Osthilfeskandal, made sure to censure any mention to it in all the newspapers of the Third Reich because the elite of Junkers was meanwhile enrolled as zealous members of the Nazi Party. The end of Adolf, and the following elites, is known. Known it is also the end of the Third Reich.
I do not know if the coincidence of the play written in Helsinki as well as “the trust of cauliflower” brings to mind an analogy to the artists, researchers, cultural operators active in Finland (including the ones working for TAIKE and the government). And, considering that as far as I see it, in Finland more or less all the elite of artists, researchers, cultural operators of public and private institutions as well as freelancers can survive thanks to funds, the transparency on the decision-making of which is 0, this story perturbates a little.
But maybe, coming from Albania, it perturbates only me. In my mind, it brings me back seven or eight years ago. It reminds me of the rise to power of the new government led by the Artist Prime Minister Edi Rama, in 2013 (Our Artist is not like Brecht’s Anstreicher … we, as Albanians, are lucky because our Artist is famous and exhibits while governing even in Venice Biennial). One of its first decisions – January 2014 – was to close the National Art’s Center. This last was a corrupted entity under the competencies of the Ministry of Culture. Its function was to deliver funds for art and culture organizations, artists, cultural operators but above all to friends of the government. The decisions were taken by intellectuals, artists, and cultural operators of its “independent and empathetic” board. The new government, thanks to the plebiscitary elections, felt strong enough and instead of ameliorating, in terms of transparency of decision-making, the Center just closed it. Since then the decision-making is centralized and everything is delegated to the hands of the omniscient Prime Minister and Minister of Culture. Our Artist Prime Minister himself opened, within the institutional Prime Minister Building, an art center and gallery, called Center for Openness and Dialogue, an Executive Agency, for the transparency of which I invite the reader to enjoy asking directly to http://cod.al/en/. In may 2014 I published on this blog a manifesto, called Manifest: Transparency in and as Culture, and asked the active artists and cultural organizations to sign it. It was signed by ONE organization, with which I collaborated from September 2014 until December 2018, and TWO artists. The rest of the Albanian Trust of Cauliflower ignored and still ignores it.
The gold mine. The Executive Agencies are by definition agitators. They combine the best Eastern European dictatorship regimes of the XXth Century could express in terms of efficiency of institutional control of arts and culture for propagandistic use (a lesson learned thanks to the use the Bolsheviks made of the historical avant-garde art and artists after the Revolution), and the Western European bourgeois democracies could express in terms of efficiency of institutional commodification and marketization of arts and culture (starting from the ’50s abstract expressionism, all pop art, and up until today’s global system of “startists”). Yet, although in their worst versions these agencies seem exclusive instruments of top-down power control, there is a possibility not for a new model – because every new model has its laws and hierarchy of power control – but for a re-modulation of these agencies.
A re-modulation – turning back to the case of TAIKE – should start from data mining excavated from the documents of the applications and the rationales of the evaluation of the applications, the successful ones, and, most importantly, the unsuccessful ones because these last are the more accurate documents of the efficiency of the policies and accurate barometer of the state of the art. But to do this are needed researchers and institutions that recognize the value (know how to read, elaborate, and analyze theoretically, technically, and practically these gold mines of data) and most importantly do not limit their priorities in giving ready-made results to the politicians for their campaigns or to the corporates with interests in embellishing their profits through arts and culture financing.