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Have You Heard About the Culture for All Service? Here’s What They Can Do for You, According to the Executive Director

Have You Heard About the Culture for All Service? Here’s What They Can Do for You, According to the Executive Director
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Rita Paqvalén, the executive director of the Culture for All. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

  1. As the first question, would you briefly introduce the Culture for All and some of its main missions?

Culture for All Service is a state-funded expert organization with the mission to support and encourage art and culture organizations to become inclusive and open for all. Being open for all is not merely about approaching different audiences or about the accessibility of the premises or the services, it is also about creating inclusive practices regarding curating, programming and recruitment. It is about whose stories are told and who can access them, who are the storytellers, who can enter the stage, and at last, it is about art views. In order to create an inclusive art and culture field, we need new ways to apply and willingness to change.

Part of the work we do is about providing tools, information and research on accessibility, diversity and equity within different arts and culture fields (e.g. theatre, museums, libraries or the field of literature). Most of our materials can be accessed through our web pages, but we also organize trainings and seminars related to these themes and provide art and culture organizations with free consultations. We also cooperate with different NGOs, experts and partners in art and culture sectors along with the culture administration as much as we can, taking an active part in cultural policy and offering feedbacks on culture policies, laws and strategies. In all, we do we are following the motto for the disability movement “Nothing about us, without us.”

Now we are carrying out two projects: one on the inclusion of artists and culture workers with a non-Finnish background (the Opening project), and the other on free access to culture for people in financial difficulties (the Kaikukortti project). The former is a project that we have planned and carried out together with Globe Art Point and Center for Cultural Policy Research Cupore, and to implement the latter project, we cooperate with hundreds of social and cultural organizations and NGOs throughout the country.

  1. What is your working life like at the Culture for All as its executive director? Is it challenging and stressful or, as we see from faraway, peaceful and tranquil?

I have always been a dreamer, a feminist, and a cultural activist, so becoming the Executive Director in many ways has been a dream come true. In this work, I can work within the art and culture sector for all the things I believe in, including human rights, equity and equality, intersectionality and norm critical thinking. I have a wonderful, talented and motivated team, and great partners to cooperate with. And no day is like the other!

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Being the executive director is indeed a great privilege, and it entails an enormous responsibility. We, as an organization, and especially I as the executive director, hold a position, which is not granted to many. This means that we have to recognize our own privilege and use our power position wisely, and, that we have to speak out and address—whenever we have a chance—the inequalities and exclusions within art and culture sector. In this, we have to cooperate with and listen to others, and to be prepared to give space and to give up power in order for other voices to be heard.

During my seven years as the executive director, our work fields, as well as our team, have grown. There are so many questions that should be addressed, and so many issues I would like to work on. However, our time is limited. The lack of time is one of our main challenges—lack of time to meet all the partners I need to meet, to follow up on the work we’ve done, to develop our profile and activities, to be present and supportive to the staff members, to raise money for new important projects, and last but not least, to develop my own thinking and ability to listen. Lack of time is always in conflict with my own desire to be present, proactive and open for new impulses and ideas.  

  1. As stated on your website, your organization aims to “promote cultural services that are inclusive and take diverse audiences into account.” You also aim to support the cultural activities of minority groups in Finland. Have you reached these goals, and if not, what have been the impediments? 

The short answer would be—if we had reached our goals, a service, like ours, would not be needed. Even if the art and culture sector has become more open, inclusive and accessible, since 2003 when Culture for All Service started, there are still many works to be done. Most art and culture organizations are today aware of the need for accessible cultural services (even if they might not themselves offer them yet) and are interested in reaching new audiences, but few organizations themselves reflect the diversity of the society we live in.

Different minorities, for example, people with an immigrant background, POC, people with disabilities, and gender minorities, are underrepresented within the art and culture organizations— both when it comes to artists and artistic staff, and to the administration. We need to apply new approaches; we need inclusive recruitment and curating policies.

  1. You have also conducted some projects on multilingualism, dealing mostly with non-dominant languages and literature, produced in the Nordic countries. Do you have any authors, writing in non-dominant languages, to serve as your board members or advisors and voice the concerns of such authors in your meetings?

We started working on multilingualism during 2013 to 2016 in cooperation with Sivuvalo, working for the inclusion of authors, who are based in Finland but write in other languages than Finnish or Swedish (i.e. non-dominant language writers). Based on our discussions, the Culture for All planned a Nordic project regarding the language rights and the inclusion of non-dominant language writers in the Nordic countries.

The aim of the project, entitled “the Multilingualism and diversity as a resource in the cultural field—employment and integration through literature in the Nordic Countries (2016 – 2018),” was to collect information on the inclusion of non-dominant language writers in the Nordic countries and on best practices in safeguarding the language rights of the authors and the readers in the Nordic countries. One important aspect was also to promote and lobby for translations and for the rights of non-dominant language authors.

In this project, we intended to cooperate with the authors in question from the planning stage to the end, but we faced some shortcomings. The Nordic perspectives and the size of the project made it demanding to cooperate with the authors as closely as we had planned in the beginning. We had, however, (during the first years) a board for the project, consisting of non-dominant language authors and representatives of literature organizations from the Nordic countries, who were also used as advisors. We organized several discussions and seminars in cooperation with authors and representatives of different language groups. We produced three different research reports (i.e. on the Arabic, Kurdish and Sámi literary fields in the Nordic countries) for which authors were consulted, questionnaires were sent out to them and they had a chance to comment on the report during the process.

However, having said this, I feel that the project was not grounded enough with the authors in question. Inclusion can be a tricky question even for us. Inclusion is a process, and we all need to find new ways to include different voices into the routines of our office and into our projects.

  1. What are your dreams for the Culture for All?

My dreams are that we can be solid enough to develop our practices and to grow in knowledge through new recruitments and cooperation with experts and to be flexible enough to answer the demands of our target groups. I hope we will continue developing our ability to listen and to be open for new and creative ways of working for change. Ultimately, I hope that some of the issues we are now working on will in the future be self-evident and integrated aspects of the fields of arts and culture in Finland.

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About The Author

Mehdi Ghasemi

Mehdi Ghasemi received his Ph.D. from the English department at the University of Turku, and now he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Literature Society (SKS), University of Tampere and University of Turku. He is also a fiction writer and a reporter for Finland Today. He has published three fiction books.

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