Conversations at Art School Maa about Call for Action -questions

Conversations at Art School Maa about Call for Action -questions

We, the members of the board of Art School Maa, and working in its administration,* have found the ‘Call for Action’ questions very helpful in revealing and opening up the deep structures of the school. The findings that have emerged in the discussions have taken us by surprise. We thought that the ‘Call for Action’ questions would not be very relevant to us, as it is our sincere and ongoing aim at Art School Maa to realise equality and equal opportunities, avoiding any kind of discrimination and racism. We hope that Maa’s public image reflects our endeavours to be an especially approachable and aware school, which values all kinds of plurality. 

Through the ‘Call for Action’ questions we have had to notice that our ways of working rely largely on unspoken policies and assumptions, and on trust. Problems have been dealt with as singular cases. However, a need for shared rules and guidelines has not been recognised. Equality has been realised in course topics and contents by individual teachers. However, there are a large number of artists working and teaching at the school, and these thematics are admittedly not central in all of their artistic content. In a heterogenous art school this should not be the case either. 

In regards to openness and equality we now feel it is necessary to have written guidelines, which everyone who operates in the school is aware of, and which are accessible when needed. We also recognise the need for unified and clear guidelines to come from the highest level at the school, and for the initiative to be committed to on all levels. Until now these guidelines have been left to be solved by those in the most vulnerable position in the school community – the students themselves. They have actively taken the initiation of creating a safer space into their own hands. 

 

Of values and practices of the school:   

Art School Maa is a small art school without a heavy administration and the students have direct contact with the teachers and staff easily. Collaboration and community are central at the school. Each year, the student groups form tight social bonds, whose inner dynamics and collective spirit is encouraged and fostered by the school. The students of the entire school make up the Maa community, which works together over the yearly groups and to which they hopefully feel a sense of belonging after graduation. 

In our curriculum we consciously work to dismantle myths relating to being an artist, such as artistic genius, or being born as artists, and the stereotypical representations of these myths. We are critically aware of which art institutions we value and which we support as part of our teaching, and what kind of an image of the art world we give to our students. We aim at teaching a range of approaches to being an artist, including views from outside the western canon. In our school students learn that the artist’s position is precarious, but possible. They also learn that artistic expression takes many forms, not only as a full-time freelance artist. 

We do not reproduce versions of Finnish nationalism in our curriculum. Instead, our contents are diverse and international. In our school the teachers are art field professionals with diverse cultural backgrounds and genders. We do not follow any religion. We aim at bringing forth issues of class in our teaching.

About accessibility: 

In the field of art it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to assess and rank artistic work. There is no “good” and “bad” art. In the lack of objective criteria, our aim is to select Maa students based on an open attitude to learning and to artistic experimentation, instead of picking the “most talented” and the “most promising” applicants . Another criterion next to the evaluation of the entrance exams is whether the applicant shows readiness in working in a group and being part of a community. The criteria of accepting students should be more clearly communicated.

Art School Maa is a lot more accessible than other art schools as the percentage of accepted applicants is high. 

A limiting factor in Art School Maa is that approximately 25% of its funding is collected from the students as study fees (the remaining 75% is through public funding. The school’s annual budget is approximately 200 000 euros). Many students have to work alongside their studies. In this regard, the wealth and class status of the students plays a significant role. Here we would like to point out that participating in the arts as a field is a matter of class in the Finnish society which has become increasingly unequal. Our dream is to challenge this setting and to also enable art studies for those coming from non-privileged backgrounds.

Teachers are recruited to Art School Maa largely through personal networks. We have to consider how hiring of teachers could be done in a more transparent way, at the same time acknowledging that when hiring teachers we do not only evaluate the professional teaching skills. In fact we strongly believe we should not demand a specific level of education from the teachers. More important criteria than their education background is their approach to art and an ability to share their knowledge as artists with others. Similarly, those aspiring to study at Art School Maa do not need to have a certain educational background.

The teaching and administrative language at Maa is mainly Finnish. The school does not have resources to offer education both in Finnish and in English. Each teacher, in dialogue with the class, makes the choice of language to be used. Changing to English language does not resolve the question of accessibility, because fluency in English language is also an issue of class, and it can leave out those in the most vulnerable position in society.

There are no gendered spaces at the school. Some social spaces are meant primarily for the students and others for teachers and staff.

Premises of the school at Suomenlinna are not accessible already due to the pebble stones in Suomenlinna, which make it hard to move. Each teacher has the possibility to design how their course is assessed and therefore different kinds of accessibility (such as economic and health related) could be taken into consideration even more in teaching. The teacher can and should assist the student in challenging situations.

We do not use complicated academic language in our communication. We are planning to redesign the Art School Maa website. Once we do, we will realise the new site according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) criteria.

 

About equality: 

We have taken steps toward more equal practices by drafting guidelines for respecting and considering diversity. It was published in October 2020 in the Art School Maa website and it has been distributed to all students and staff. It will be sent to all new teachers and lecturers before their first contact with the students. 

In autumn 2020 an equality officer was nominated to the school. Anyone can contact the officer (also anonymously through our website), and they are paid by the hour with the same rate as the teachers of the school. Alternatively, students and staff can also speak with the permanent staff: the headmaster and the producer. We do not imagine that we could deal with the most difficult cases on our own, and in those cases we will seek assistance and help from professionals. We evaluate our practices based on comments and critique.

There is no equality plan at the school. We have applied for a grant to make one, and we will commence this from the start of 2021 regardless of funding. Maintaining and updating antiracist strategies will be written into the equality plan. In addition, the school will start to budget the funds needed for these measures annually. Training on diversity, accessibility and antiracism is always provided in Finnish and English language.

In the spring of 2021 Maa will organise a public seminar about artists’ possibilities for antiracist activity. In the seminar artists’ practices that appropriate the suffering of others will be approached critically, and the aim is to learn to work in more anti-racist ways. Artists invited to speak in the seminar are themselves of racialized and migrant backgrounds. The seminar was postponed from its initial schedule because of covid-19.

We are not aware of racism or other discrimination happening in the school or its extended contexts. Therefore, we have thought that it is not a problem in our school at all. But through the ‘Call for Action’ questions we have now started to think that in reality we do not know whether cases of discrimination have occurred, because  the channel for how to report them has been missing. We hope that as we have now named an equality officer, any such cases will become known to us.

The questions made us consider what situations the school should take responsibility for occurrences which happen outside of the classes in the school’s premises, or between members of the Maa community outside of the school premises. We pledge that everything that takes place in the school’s premises or is organised by the school, is within the scope of the school’s responsibility and we should interfere if need be.

The permanent staff of Art School Maa are two white individuals, who have been selected through open call. In both cases fluent knowledge of Finnish language was one of the application criteria. As far as we know there were applications only from white Finnish people on both occasions. The teachers and associates of the school include people from backgrounds and identities other than white, Finnish born or Finnish citizens.

Art School Maa could, in a more aware manner, create a more diverse image of artistic practice and of operating within the sphere of art. In public promotion of the school we could pay more attention to which students and artists we bring forth. 

 

*  Art School Maa board consists of Johanna Fredriksson (chairperson), Bo Karsten (vice-chair), Petra Martinez, Tero Nauha, Hannah Ouramo, Joakim Pusenius. Administrative personnel are Minna Henriksson and Viivi Koljonen.