Katarina Lindholm: Internationalisation is part of sustainable development in dance
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12 December 2016

Image: Elina Pirinen’s work ”Personal Symphonic Moment” will be shown at the SPRING dance festival in Utrecht in May 2017. Photo: Timo Wright


Between 2012 and 2014, the Finnish information centre for dance Dance Info Finland organised a think tank with the aim to explore the meaning of sustainable development in the context of dance and the types of concrete guidelines that could be given to dance practitioners, funders and other decision-makers in the Nordic and Baltic countries. In the spring of 2015, we published a report offering suggestions for a sustainable dance field.


Our report concluded that sustainable activities are those that have a wide reach and long-term impact. Sustainable growth is more about strengthening structures than it is about quantitative growth. Sustainability needs to be understood in conjunction with life-cycle thinking and the multiplicity of the value chain in the dance field.

Sustainability in the dance field can be increased by building bridges between dance and its surrounding society, by increasing openness and accessibility in dance. Artists should be able to develop their competences and skills continuously as the demands of society and the arts field change. Intermediaries – producers, agencies, organisers and communities – need to be strengthened and supported.  Funding bodies also need to be made more durable so that, among other things, funding can be multifunctional, flexible and transparent. The dance field is certainly in need of more resources, but more importantly, it needs to make use of existing resources more effectively.

One of the most important factors in increasing sustainability is promoting internationalisation and supporting mobility.  The dance field is relatively under-resourced, the domestic markets are inadequate in relation to what is on offer and income potential is limited. The mobility of art works and artists, and international collaborations increase income potential for artists, lengthen the life cycle of an art work, and improve the balance between the open market and institutions.


A highly competitive market for international performances

The statistics of the mobility of Finnish dance show that Finnish dance performance and spectatorship abroad have grown somewhat over ten years. Currently, guest performances from Finland travel mainly to Central Europe, the Nordic and Baltic countries and Asia. About 10% of the spectatorship of Finnish dance comes from abroad.

The dance field is thus increasingly international, but at the same time, the global market is highly competitive, and according to many, Finland is outnumbered. Mobility is not as easy or straightforward compared to Central Europe. In addition, we have a lack of funding when it comes to touring and travel support is often insufficient.  Because common practice in the international market expects artists or companies to source their own funds for travel, the lack of travel support can lead to guest performances being cancelled altogether.  The TelepART Platform, which was launched by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, is likely to contribute to sustainable activity in the performing arts field, and more initiatives like these are sorely needed.


Sustainable mobility is multifaceted, effective and valuable

Guest performances abroad, however, are not entirely representative of true internationalisation.  In the context of dance as an art form, mobility has many different dimensions: there are collaborative productions, auditions, choreographers’ exchanges, residencies, workshops, courses, professional meetings, networking events and mentorship programmes. Many dance artists who have studied abroad, have already formed an international network during their studies and move smoothly between different countries, chasing jobs or as members of multinational dance companies. In addition, dance artists and companies are increasingly involved in artistic work that cannot be categorised as performance. There is therefore a need for multifaceted and flexible funding that allows for other kinds of mobility than solely for the purpose of guest performances.

Mobility in itself is not always very sustainable from an environmental perspective.  Instead of flying, one could, for example, travel by train, but this is time consuming and often geographically impossible. Rather, mobility should be approached more rationally and effectively: one should consider how one trip could yield the most value. Instead of once-off gigs, one could look at touring and longer stays in the target region, presenting workshops or conducting outreach, so that the visit would have a greater impact all-round. Residencies are often part of sustainable mobility. Festivals could work more consciously, and act as so called ‘hubs’ for artists and performances coming from farther away.


Perseverance and sharing

Sustainable development in the dance field also requires new models of thinking and a new culture of practice. Sustainable practices need time (and money) – our report shows that sustainability becomes lucrative over time, which requires perseverance. This is an excellent guiding principle for the individual artist, as internationalisation begins with small steps. I also call for the strengthening of a culture of sharing.  Only by sharing knowledge and experience, trust, accountability and sustainable development can grow both on an individual level as well as for the whole dance field.


Read the complete report: Recommendations for a Sustainable Nordic and Baltic Dance Field. Keðja Sustainability Think Tank report 2015.


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Katarina Lindholm

Katarina Lindholm works at the Finnish dance information centre, Dance Info Finland, as Manager of international affairs.

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