A working group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture is currently preparing a new cultural policy report. Expert bodies in visual arts – the Artists’ Association of Finland, Frame Contemporary Art Finland and Kuvasto – are proposing a restructuring of the visual arts sector as a measure to be included in the report. The proposal is adaptable to changing global circumstances, and its timeline stretches far into the future.

Visual arts now

  1. The visual arts sector receives less state funding than most other fields of art. Studies show that the structures of artistic work in the visual arts sector are weaker than in many other fields of art. Visual arts communities are also considerably less well funded than those in other fields of art. (Cupore, 2023)
  2. Yet, visual arts draw considerable audiences – about 4 million visitors a year even during the recovery from the pandemic – and museums are seeing record numbers of visitors. Art museums attract about half of these visitors (2.2 million visitors), with galleries (1.2 million visitors) and visual arts events (600,000 visitors) accounting for the other half. 
  3. Visual artists’ earnings from their artistic activities mainly come from selling their works (and grants), rather than displaying them in exhibitions and online, despite the enjoyment of visual art being in its viewing.

The reform

The visual arts sector needs a major overhaul, including revamping the support structures in the independent field of visual arts as well as the sources of artists’ livelihoods.

Now that the most recent major cultural policy reform, the restructuring of the state subsidy system regarding performing arts, has been completed, it is time to focus on art sectors that do not have a similar structure in place to promote job opportunities and provide stability. Cupore’s recent study on visual arts in Finland, Visuaaliset taiteet Suomessa (2023; summary in English), shows how cultural policy support mechanisms in the visual arts sector have fallen far behind those of the other sectors.

Now it’s the turn of visual arts.


Why is the reform needed?

The following are examples of the outdated parts of the sector’s current structures:

  • The two pillars of the visual arts field are art museums and the independent sector, i.e. organisations such as art galleries and visual arts communities. Art museums are currently covered by the state subsidy system, but visual artists are not hired as employees under the system’s person-year framework. Museums are not involved in funding art-making in any other way either, unlike theatres or orchestras, for example, which are covered by the system. The independent field of visual arts also receives less community funding than other arts sectors. This explains why Finland lacks medium-sized art exhibition spaces, such as venues that commission new works of art. For the visual arts sector to remain vital, both art museums and the independent sector need to be developed. One cannot flourish without the other.
  • Current revenue models for visual artists require rethinking. The structures of the visual arts sector are based on the conventional idea that artists’ livelihoods should mainly come from the sales of their works, yet their works are primarily enjoyed by people viewing and experiencing them. For this reason, artists’ earnings should be based on the use of their works (pay for use/pay to own), and they should earn most of their livelihood from exhibition activities.
  • Sustainability transformation, digitalisation and globalisation are among the global megatrends that will affect visual arts and the way audiences enjoy works of art in the future. It will become more common to display works of visual art in digital environments (digitalisation), the range of artists will be more diverse and there will be promising export opportunities for Finnish art (globalisation), while an increasing proportion of consumption will be directed at services, which, in the context of visual arts, will emphasise the role of art exhibitions and visual arts events (sustainability transformation).

The reform in practice: Art museums as future makers

The role of art museums as employers and enablers of artistic content should be reassessed. While musicians can be employed by orchestras and actors by theatres, there are currently no similar job opportunities for visual artists.

  Museums as producers and financiers of art and employers of artists

In the field of visual arts, art museums are significant recipients of state subsidies. However, only 4% of art museums’ budgets is spent on artists’ fees and purchases of works of art (Cupore, 2023). The corresponding figure in the performing arts and music, i.e. the share of budgets of organisations in the state subsidy system paid to artists, is typically about 50%. Art museums should be better able to direct funds to the production of works of art, such as art acquisitions, artists’ fees, royalties and salaries. The state subsidy system for art museums should be developed such that a certain proportion of museums’ person-years are allocated to hiring artists. Employment might last for a few months while an artist prepares for an exhibition. This model is currently in use in the performing arts sector, where it is increasingly common for institutions to hire not only permanent staff but also artistic staff for each project. Museums will need a significant amount of additional funding for these reforms to take place.

➵ Strengthening the copyright system for the visual arts sector in the era of digitalisation

Works of visual arts are increasingly viewed online, and copyright-based revenue models related to online platforms need to be developed and strengthened accordingly. Copyrights must be enforced as required by law. There needs to be a sustainable model to allow museums to display their art collections online. The Taidekokoelmat verkkoon (‘Art collections online’) agreement was a success, with two-thirds of Finnish art museums taking part and publishing a total of 31,000 works by 3,800 artists online for audiences to enjoy, with artists receiving royalties for these operations every year. The number of works published online quadrupled during the term of the agreement. The need for cultural services that are digitally available will continue to grow in the future. The continuation of the agreement is uncertain given that it was facilitated by the Ministry of Education and Culture’s temporary and targeted funding that ended in 2023. A more stable and predictable model will ensure that museum collections can be made more permanently available to wider audiences, and it will also support cultural policy objectives related to public participation and digitalisation.

The reform in practice: Supporting the independent sector to flourish 

Finland has a high-quality if under-resourced nationwide network of visual arts communities. In 2022, there were 123 galleries operating in 33 different towns and cities and 39 art lending services (Frame Contemporary Art Finland, 2023). Of these, about 50 visual arts communities – artists’ associations, exhibition organisers, residencies and art societies – receive community funding for their activities from the Arts Promotion Centre Finland every year. However, the funding for visual arts communities, i.e. the independent visual arts sector, is, on average, significantly lower than that for other fields of art. The independent sector needs investment to allow it to grow, create job opportunities and sales and engage in international activities. Art is an ecologically and socially sustainable, dynamic and forward-looking sector of the economy. 

  Increasing opportunities for visual arts communities to develop activities related to sales and art lending services

Investments in operations such as sales, marketing and digitalisation would provide commercial opportunities for the visual arts sector and make it a stronger part of the creative economy. The development of exhibition and art lending activities as well as digital services will result in better and more accessible services for visual arts audiences across Finland and overseas. These investments will increase sales of works of art, organisations will be able to generate funds from their operations and artists will earn their livelihoods from more diverse sources. More artists and art professionals will also find employment as job opportunities in the visual arts communities are supported. The long-term aim should be to ensure that some art communities grow into strong organisations with the resources to finance and commission new works in addition to brokering and exhibiting them. Funding for visual arts sector communities, such as visual arts organisations, galleries and art lending services operating in different parts of the country, should be increased by EUR 3 million.

  Extending the exhibition payment scheme to cover all non-commercial exhibition venues for professional artists in addition to art museums

The exhibition payment system, introduced in 2021, is an important improvement in art policy and has been welcomed by artists and museums alike (Museobarometri 2024). This system should be extended to all non-commercial galleries, art exhibition venues and similar professional exhibition spaces in accordance with the recommendation by the working group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture (report, 2021). The additional funding required is EUR 1.8 million per year. At its most extensive, the exhibition payment model would affect almost all professional visual artists. Expanding the exhibition payment system will require increased funding for arts communities.

  Investments in international activities will promote visibility and sales

International art markets, exhibition opportunities and residencies provide necessary job opportunities and knowledge transfer for visual arts professionals. The Finnish visual arts sector produces art that is of a high standard and of international interest. Promoting the export of contemporary art, such as by developing the operating conditions for organisations engaged in international fairs and exhibitions, will increase the visibility of Finnish contemporary art as well as its commercial demand in other countries. In its outlook reviewpublished in 2023, the Ministry of Education and Culture proposed that the funding for cultural exports, which had fallen by half since the late 2010s, should be restored to previous levels. What is alarming is that the creative industries only account for about 4% of Finland’s exports, which is well below the EU average.


And one more thing...

We would like to remind our readers that the grant scheme is a source of pride in Finland.

  We believe the artist grant should be raised to the level of the Finnish median income and the number of grants should be increased.

The Finnish artist grant scheme is an important part of cultural policy, although it accounts for less than 3% of the state’s budget for cultural activities. The grant system must be supported and developed. For art forms such as visual arts, in which there are few or no monthly paid jobs for artists, this cost-effective system is potentially the most significant form of funding available.

Raising the grant to the level of the median income would be a step forward in many ways. If the level of the grant was tied to the median income of the Finnish people, it could no longer fall behind general developments in income, as started to happen after 1968. Many artists who receive the grant also have part-time, non-artistic jobs, as the grant does not cover the average costs of living.