Frame's Reply to Selling the Nordic Miracle
Selling the Nordic Miracle by Jonatan Habib Engqvist, Egle Oddo, Timo Tuhkanen
We start by stating the obvious: it is always necessary to look critically at all institutions and organisations that wield power through the use of public funding. Reading Jonatan Habib Engqvist, Egle Oddo, and Timo Tuhkanen’s article Selling the Nordic Miracle was enlightening and educational. In this response, we aim to address and clarify some of the issues and claims of the article regarding the notion of the hybridisation of state-funded institutions as well as nationality and class-based exclusions.
The writers comment on a historical change in Nordic—and, more specifically, Finnish—art funding and the role of certain institutions, such as Frame Contemporary Art Finland and the Finnish Cultural Institutes abroad. The writers claim that “hybrid- or semi-public organisations [that] have gone from being public organisations to becoming private foundations”.
The Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes are civil society organisations (NGOs), most of them founded in the late 80s and early 90s by private citizens to increase and facilitate contacts and collaboration between the art and research fields in Finland and the host country (hence the word Finnish incorporated in their names). The same applies to Frame: in both of its incarnations, Frame has always been a private foundation.
The writers perceive a shift in ways of working – “prioritising production over promotion”. Historically, this is not true. Production has been at the core of the border-crossing work of both Frame and the Institutes since their early beginnings. The main objective has been—and still is—to promote, but not in terms of marketing but as collaborations, such as events, networks, exhibitions and so forth.
At Frame, we work with a mix of approaches, most of which include peer review: peer-reviewed grants (30% of Frame’s public funding) and a variety of projects that are based on peer-reviewed open calls or collaborations with organisations of different scales, either in Finland or elsewhere: study trips, fellowships, network and visitor programmes and public programmes. Frame’s visitor programme for international curators also relies on a mix of decision-making: anyone can propose visitors, anyone can apply for an art professional’s visit to Finland for a peer-reviewed grant; and even when we invite guests, a pool of local professionals participate in the selection of presented artists. This year alone, we have organised altogether eight open calls for our programmes and grants.
The whole point of the Rehearsing Hospitalities1 programme (2019–2023) was to enlarge the number of artists, arts organisations and curators we work with to represent various practices, backgrounds and positions in the art field in Finland. During the programme, over 200 artists, other professionals and organisations were invited to contribute to the programme. Increasing public funding and operating resources for Finnish grassroots art organisations has been also at the forefront of our advocacy work for the past years.
The main concern in the article is the “ever-rising classism, social discrimination, racism, and the exclusion of non-Finnish workers”. We recognise that this is an issue that requires constant work, improvement and addressing also in the art field. We are, of course, very disappointed if the work we have done at Frame on social responsibility, in recruitment and the public programme is in no way visible to the writers.
By using the concept of “non-Finnish”, the writers seem to claim that we only support people born in Finland, i.e., Finnish nationals. While Frame’s funding is, indeed, national and heeds the overall strategy of the Ministry of Education and Culture to promote and support the Finnish art field, it is not based on citizenship. We fund and collaborate with Finnish and Finland-based artists and art professionals alike.
As for class, ethnicity and other identity issues, Finnish law forbids us to collect and share personal information. Therefore, it is not possible to disclose how the people working within and contributing to our programmes represent many minorities. It is not helpful to imply that everyone who has a salary at an institution such as Frame is automatically middle-class or adheres to any other mainstream group.
The writers find it troublesome that we – i.e., institutions – refer to our mission, bylaws or governing structure (all of which you can find on our website2). However, isn’t this how it should be? Transparency, equity and fairness in any organisation rely on having these and sticking to them. It means that we do what it says on our bylaws, that we follow the law, all rules and regulations when it comes to, for instance, HR, fair treatment of grant applicants or open call procedures.
The writers’ claim that our regulations implement ”discriminatory conditions for foreign workers and students” is an accusation we do not take lightly. To be absolutely clear, artists and art professionals with Finnish nationality (whether they live in Finland or not) and non-Finnish nationals who live in Finland can apply for Frame’s grants and the awarded grants will be paid as usual in advance once the grant agreement is signed.
Organisations and non-Finnish nationals based outside of Finland are awarded grants, but the grant will be paid after they report the project. The decision to pay grants abroad only after receiving the report is due to an increase in failures to submit reports and the cost of international debt collection. If we don’t get a report on the spending of a grant, we must repay it to the Finnish state and neither this nor the debt-collecting fees can be paid from our state grant or project funding. As Frame is a non-profit foundation, we don’t have any other income apart from the state and project grants and hence no funds to repay the lost grants. We will closely monitor the impact on grant application numbers and other outcomes.
Finally, we answer the direct questions the writers presented:
1. How much of your financial support and your power is derived from your association with the state?
In 2023, 85% of Frame’s funding came from the state. The most direct power mandate is related to grants: Frame’s board of directors, nominated by the Ministry of Culture and Education, makes the final decision on who gets grants. However, this decision is based on the proposals of a peer review process. Since 2021, the grants committee members have been invited through an open call. Also, we receive a separate grant for commissioning and producing an exhibition for the Pavilion of Finland at the Venice Biennale. Since 2012, the artists have been selected through open calls (with the exceptions of 2015 and 2024).
2. How much of that power and support is collectivised with less privileged actors, natural persons and organisations? Give concrete examples.
Frame works mainly through peer-reviewed open calls and collaborations. In recent years, we have executed projects that especially aim to do this: Rehearsing Hospitalities3, the Venice Biennale projects4 in 2019 and 2024 and Islands of Kinship: A Collective Manual for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions5. Also, for example, our recent study trips have been targeted at professionals working in grassroots organisations.
3. Do you imagine that you can ignore the ethical, non-written mandate of fairness deriving from your association with the state or the public domain, even if your present bylaws do not specifically require you to do so?
We do not ignore this. Frames guidelines on social responsibility can be found on our website.6
4. By occupying your position in the organisation, who do you imagine that you are serving?
Through all the work that we do, we aim to serve the contemporary art field in Finland, according to our stated purpose.
5. If you are ready to implement concrete change, what are the main areas where your energy needs to be invested?
As we hope our actions show, we are constantly implementing change to enable new groups of artists and other actors to participate and have agency within the contemporary art field. We strive constantly to work in accountable ways in collaborative or collective processes with other actors in the art scene.
We welcome and appreciate this feedback and the opportunity for an open dialogue, which we are committed to. As we have stated,7 a demand for transparency and accountability makes a better and more just art field and society for all of us.
Raija Koli, Director
Jussi Koitela, Head of Programme
Frame Contemporary Art Finland
- https://frame-finland.fi/en/venice-biennale/past-editions/ and 2024: https://frame-finland.fi/en/venice-biennale/venice-biennale-2024/