ArtsEqual was a collective, multidisciplinary research project that investigates the implementation of equality in the existing art services, art education and hobbies, as well as how equality and inclusion could be promoted through the arts as well as in the field of arts itself. The research project was coordinated by the University of the Arts Helsinki. Other partners of the project were the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research (CUPORE), the Lappeenranta University of Technology, the University of Turku and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The director of the research initiative was Professor Heidi Westerlund from the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts. ArtsEqual was a large consortium funded for the years 2015–2021 by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. www.artsequal.fi/en/web/artsequal/about
There were six research groups in the project with different perspectives on the subject of arts, equality and welfare. Research group #4 was called Socially Responsible Art Institutions and Artists and was based at Cupore. The group focused on socially engaged artistic activities – such as community art, social art and social practice – in view of their effects on the practitioners and the communities within which they take place. The group made art together with people, not “applying” art or making use of artistic methods. The aim was to develop the concept and methods of “artistic action research” by combining artistic practice-led research, action research, ethnographic field work, grounded methods and philosophical reflection.
The Research Group
The leader of the group was Senior Researcher, Adjunct Professor Sari Karttunen. She is a sociologist of art specialising in the position of artists and cultural workers in society. In the ARTSEQUAL project, her research focused on the job of artist after the social turn in art. She explored the social practice via such concepts as the hybrid artist and the crossover artist.
Projects of the team included audience contact courses for art students organized by actors and postdoctoral researchers Jussi Lehtonen and Anu Koskinen. Students of the course carried out performances and workshops in the institutions of Social Services and Health Care and prisons. Koskinen and Lehtonen together with theatre pedagogue Annukka Valo also ran prison theatre projects and theatre projects with ex-offenders.
In addition, Jussi Lehtonen lead a documentary theatre and a research project with immigrant artists whose integration process was still ongoing in Finland. The project examined how the immigrant artists tell about their journey as an artist in Finland, what is the meaning of language in their art, and what has been their process of getting inside the Finnish artist community. The project led to a performance at the Finnish National Theatre in 2017. www.kiertuenayttamo.fi
Doctoral student, visual artist Minna Heikinaho explored the ethics of embodiment in community art activity. Heikinaho’s research project consisted of two artistic productions where the focus wass on the differences between conventional visual art space and public urban space. The productions were carried out during 2008–2016. www.saasanoa.com
Dancer-choreographer Kirsi Törmi’s doctoral thesis (2016) was about interactive choreographic process. Aim of the thesis was to form new knowledge and new methods for the widening field of dance, where participatory and process oriented practices have taken an increasing role.
Visual artists, professor Lea Kantonen and doctoral student Pekka Kantonen led a research project about the Wixarika (Huichol) community museum project. The Wixarika are a Mexican indigenous people that inhabit mountain slopes of Sierra Madre Occidental in Central Mexico. Lea and Pekka Kantonen explored the process of the Wixarika museum’s planning process via video performances and interviewing the local people. www.kantonenart.com
Doctoral student, curator Katri Hirvonen-Nurmi also studied the Wixarika community museum project through anthropological field work, applying consultation as a co-working method. Her focus was on the social relations within the self-governing indigenous community institutions, such as the museum as a cultural center.
Researcher, artist Mari Martin explored how she can further and cherish social equality in neighbourhoods of Helsinki by doing community art as an artist-researcher. Her background is in theatre and performance. At the same time, she studied how the wide-ranging importance of artist-researcher’s work can be justified in society.