The Arts as Public Service: Strategic Steps towards Equality

ArtsEqual is 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 is coordinated by the University of the Arts Helsinki. Other partners of the project are 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 is Professor Heidi Westerlund from the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts. ArtsEqual is a large consortium funded for the years 2015–2017 by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland.

There are six research groups in the project with different perspectives on the subject of arts, equality and welfare. Research group #4 is called Socially Responsible Art Institutions and Artists and is based at Cupore. The group focuses 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 team is interested in developing artistic practices that enhance equality, inclusiveness, interaction and respect in Finnish society.

 Group #4 sees that the methods and ethics of participatory art practices need to be assessed and developed further to serve egalitarian ends. The group makes art together with people, not “applying” art or making use of artistic methods. The aim is 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 is 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 focuses on the job of artist after the social turn in art. She explores the social practice via such concepts as the hybrid artist and the crossover artist. Specifically, she is looking into the spillovers between community art practice and facilitation.

Projects of the team include audience contact courses for art students organized by actors and postdoctoral researchers Jussi Lehtonen and Anu Koskinen. Students of the course carry 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 run prison theatre projects and theatre projects with ex-offenders.

In addition, Jussi Lehtonen leads a documentary theatre and a research project with immigrant artists whose integration process is still ongoing in Finland. The project examines 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 will lead to a theatre performance in 2017.

Eero Aakala’s music education master thesis is about music as part of a prison theater play. He is responsible of music in a play of a group of five participants consisted of prisoners and prison personnel. Aakala’s aim is to direct participants to create music as much as possible.

Doctoral student, visual artist Minna Heikinaho explores the ethics of embodiment in community art activity. Heikinaho’s research project consists of two artistic productions where the focus is on the differences between conventional visual art space and public urban space. The productions have been carried out during 2008–2016.

Dancer-choreographer Kirsi Törmi’s doctoral thesis (2016) is about interactive choreographic process. Aim of the thesis is to form new knowledge and new methods for the widening field of dance, where participatory and process oriented practices have taken an increasing role. Later she will continue working on an article about interactive artistic work and ethics of participation.

Visual artists, professor Lea Kantonen and doctoral student Pekka Kantonen lead 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 explore the process of the Wixarika museum’s planning process via video performances and interviewing the local people.

Doctoral student, curator Katri Hirvonen-Nurmi also studies the Wixarika community museum project through anthropological field work, applying consultation as a co-working method. Her focus is on the social relations within the self-governing indigenous community institutions, such as the museum as a cultural center.

The Wixarika have an earlier link to Finland because of co-working with museum professionals and teachers from Samí community. Also the Crash coalition from Finland has been doing cultural development cooperation with the Wixarika.

Researcher, artist Mari Martin explores 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 studies how the wide-ranging importance of artist-researcher’s work can be justified in society.

Adjunct Professor, Senior Researcher Liisamaija Hautsalo is a musicologist and working at the Sibelius Academy. Hautsalo is specialized in opera studies, the history of opera and Finnish opera. In ArtsEqual project she is working together with Sari Karttunen, exploring Slavoj Zizek’s and Mladen Dolar’s (2002) claim that opera is a dead art form. This statement does not apply Finnish data on opera premieres: in Finland, where opera is anything but a fading cultural phenomenon, since 1990 more than 200 operatic works have been commissioned, composed, and premiered, thus continuing the Finnish opera boom that started already in the 1970s (Heiniö 1999).


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Sari Karttunen
Sari Karttunen Senior Researcher

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Minna Heikinaho
Minna Heikinaho Artist/Researcher

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Lea Kantonen Artist/Researcher

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Anu Koskinen
Anu Koskinen

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Annukka Valo
Annukka Valo

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Liisamaija Hautsalo
Liisamaija Hautsalo Researcher

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Kirsi Törmi
Kirsi Törmi Researcher

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Mari Martin
Mari Martin Researcher

+358 50 460 6789 Researcher profile »

Documentary theatre project "Other Home"

The refugee crisis in 2015 brought a tipping point for Europe regarding asylum seekers and refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Finland received over 32,000 asylum seekers. Amongst them hundreds were artists, such as actors, musicians, poets, dancers, and circus artists. This convergence of asylum seekers and refugees resulted in heated media debates and polarized discussions about ’refugee flows’ and ’leaking borders.’

Many artists and researchers took part in the public discussion by taking a firm stand against harsh asylum policies. One example of this was a documentary theatre project Other Home (in Finnish: Toinen koti), and the process in which a hybrid community of artistic expression was formed. In the video, researcher Jussi Lehtonen tells more about the project.

Other home (subtitled in English):

Subtitled in Arabic:

Jussi Lehtonen & Sari Pöyhönen: Other home as a hybrid community of artistic expression, originally presented in IFTR (International Federation of Theatre Research) 2018 Belgrad, 11th July,  panel “Theatre, refugees, home”


All ArtsEqual related videos on Uniarts Youtube channel: