Aleksi Malmberg: Culture on the ballot
2 April 2015

In Finland the parliamentary election fever is reaching its peak now that there are less than three weeks to election day. It does however seem that questions concerning culture and the arts have been pushed on a side track by the mainstream media. Or they never even made it to the departure station.  Cultural issues have not been addressed in election discussions or in the voting aid applications of the major media houses – even though according to a survey carried out in February by the leading daily, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, 61 percent of the voters found questions of culture at least to some extent important.

I do of course understand that the international political situation, the country’s economy and the proposed major reforms in the social welfare and health care system take precedence over your regular pied pipers and playdough clubs. But really, are we to conclude, based on the election aid applications of the national media, that questions like are cats smarter than dogs, does a candidate eat store-bought or homemade food or does she or he believe in intelligent life outside of Earth are more important than questions of culture?

Belgium decided at the end of last year to snip off 16 % of its public support for cultural institutions, and the regional cutbacks have also been harsh. Luxembourg’s Minister of Culture decided last year to put out to tender state support for all cultural institutions, from a clear table. In Holland, after the 2011 elections, support for the arts was cut back by one fourth, with dire consequences. The general opinion was by no means singularly in favour of these solutions; and it would be good if in Finland there would be discussion on the living space and future of culture already before the elections – so that people would know what they are voting for.

During the past spring the cultural field in Finland has been notably active and called out for culture to find a place on the ballot. It is not however enough that the issue is raised by initiatives like the Taide2015 (Art2015) project and, for example, the independent election aid application of the Teosto copyright organisation in the music field. Culture and art concern the entire society, and one would like to see it stand alongside the other election themes.

Why, then, does culture shine with its political absence in the leading media? Is the biggest fear that the 1970s will all of a sudden come back if culture and politics will start to be addressed in the same sentence again? The Suomen Kuvalehti magazine wrote before the whole elections rally began that the politicians have not addressed the topic on their agendas because “politicians don’t know how to or don’t dare to speak about art.”

No one, I mean no one, who knows anything about these things, can believe that this is true. Politicians love to talk! It’s their job and most of them feel passionate about it.  Moreover,  there are people among the Finnish policy makers from all sides of the political playfield who see the significance of culture and art in society from a subtle viewpoint – whether we are speaking about the intrinsic value of art, cross-cultural interaction, employment and export potential in the creative industries, welfare and health, learning or identity.

The problem seems to be more so that no one in the national media is asking politicians about art and culture. Not even if it would offer them an opportunity to genuinely reveal differences in the candidates’ views and values.

The writer, Aleksi Malmberg, is the Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux.

Kuva © Pablo Hannon/Hectica

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