Kirjoitin oheisen jutun Finnish Music Quarterlyyn, joka on suomalaisen musiikin kansainvälinen ”tiedotuslehti”. Sieltä löytyy levyarvostelujen ja artistijuttujen lisäksi välillä myös kulttuuripolitiikkaa. Jutun käänsi Jaakko Mäntyjärvi ja laitan tämän tänne blogilleni sekä FMQ:n että kääntäjän luvalla. Blogiani pidempään seuranneille jutussa on tuskin hirveästi uutta asiasisältöä…

The foundations of Finland’s official music policy were laid in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, government support for culture meant permanent appointments with monthly salaries, and only classical music was deemed worthy of public money; high culture, spearheaded by Sibelius, was seen as Finland’s ticket of entry to the club of European civilisations.

Even today, the government grants are directed mainly to permanent orchestras, and 96.5% of them go to classical music – and if we include the annual grant of the Finnish National Opera at EUR 35.7 million, the percentage goes up to 98.7%. Or to put it another way: all ‘other music’ receives about 1.3% of the money allocated to music by the central government.

There is plenty of pressure towards structural change. The world around us in general and Finnish music in particular have changed drastically from the times when the present system was set up. Finland’s cultural policy has not been able to respond to changes in supply or demand.

The recently appointed Minister of Culture Paavo Arhinmäki is in an unenviable position. His predecessor Stefan Wallin remarked in an interview with the major daily Helsingin Sanomat that [with the increases to arts spending made by the previous Government] he felt “like Santa Claus” in being able to give out so many more “presents” to artists (naughty or nice?), whereas the first thing that Paavo has had to do is to think about where to cut and how much. “Bad elf!”

In the field of music, the cuts are aimed at orchestras covered by what is known as the government grant system, the total reduction being EUR 208,000 out of the overall grant sum of about EUR 21 million. To be sure, it is a moderate reduction compared with the trend in central Europe. Following the decision, the Association of Finnish Symphony Orchestras gravely announced in Helsingin Sanomat that these cuts will mainly impact freelance musicians.

Although any spending cuts in cultural funding are sad, one cannot help but be somewhat amused by the concern voiced by the Association of Finnish Symphony Orchestras about the livelihood of freelancers. No one said anything at all about freelancers between 2007 and 2011 when government grants to permanent orchestras increased by a total of 64%, or EUR 8 million. This year, the central government is for the first time awarding money to club activities in the freelance field. A whopping EUR 100,000. This represents a handsome 0.4% of the money paid to established orchestras, or 1.2% of the additional funding awarded to orchestras by the previous Government.

Freelancers are best helped by helping freelancers, not by hoping for spare change from orchestras.

Although government support for high culture should as a rule not be swayed by the voice of the people, whatever that may be, alarm bells should now be going off in the cultural administration. To take an example, a study was conducted on the audience base of the Jyväskylä Philharmonic Orchestra in 1990 and 2009. It was found that over the 20-year interval audiences had aged by 20 years. How will one be able to justify the existence of the orchestra and its massive public funding 20 years from now?

The changes on the supply side have been even more significant. Musical high culture worthy of government funding is no longer just about symphonies, and has not been for a long time: it can involve anything from walls of noise playing with layered overtones to ambient scraping on a jouhikko.

My own alma mater, the Department of Folk Music at the Sibelius Academy, was founded in 1983. The only folk music ensemble to date to receive permanent government funding, Tallari, was set up in 1986, by which time not a single master’s degree had been completed in my department. Today, there are more than 100 folk music professionals who have graduated from the Sibelius Academy, and loads more who have a qualification from a university of applied sciences. Yet government funding for folk music has not increased at all.

And the result of all this? In a nutshell: top-notch Finnish ensembles grounded in folk music mainly perform abroad. One is much more likely to hear new Finnish folk music in Tokyo than in the backwoods of Finland where a lot of the material actually originated. A good example may be found in the performing calendar of the harmonica quartet Sväng: in 2010, they gave more than 60 performances, of which only five in Finland.

Even classical music receives an extremely uneven deal under the present system: the majority of choral music and chamber music, for instance, gets no money at all. Even the spanking new Musiikkitalo in Helsinki is making do with an amateur choir whose singers are not paid anything for their efforts. Moreover, the supply of classical music outside the major population centres is in an incredibly dismal state. No fewer than 2.4 million Finns live in municipalities where the local authority spends less than EUR 15 per resident per year on culture.

The problems of the freelancer field thus affect music makers whatever their genre. The problem is in the system, not with the people or even with classical music itself. Better and more pluralist models for public subsidies already exist: for instance, last year ESEK (the Finnish Performing Music Promotion Centre) awarded a grant to both the Anal Thunder punk band and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra.

If we address the challenges in time, we can achieve controlled change leading to a more pluralist field of professional music-making. My fear is, however, that the entrenched orchestral establishment will mount a spirited defence that will lead to the war for cultural support being lost one battle at a time, leaving only the fortresses in the major cities standing.

We can only hope that this vicious circle of downsizing will be avoided. We are perilously close to it, since central government and local government share the expenditure for culture, and local government is heavily indebted; the situation will certainly not improve as the population ages. The old-age dependency ratio in Finland (i.e. the ratio of the number of people aged over 65 to the number of people aged 15 to 64) will decline by more than 19 percentage points between 2008 and 2030, the highest such figure in Europe.

If the domain of culture is unable to renew and restructure itself, it will find itself on the chopping block – establishment and freelancers alike.

Hannu Oskala is a graduate (M.Mus) of the Department of Folk Music at the Sibelius Academy, a member of the Cultural and Library Committee of the City of Helsinki (Greens) and a freelance musician.