The Myth of Inclusion in the Art Scene
Art is good. Art is for everyone. But who is included in "everyone"?
Text: Martina Marti
Photo: Emma Suominen
About four months ago I started working at the Culture for All Service on a project which aims at promoting the inclusion of non-Finnish-born artists and cultural workers into the Finnish arts and culture scene. I am a theatre maker myself and have been working in the arts in different roles for the past 14 years. For me being an artist is just a means. Creating a performance is not my aim as an artist, it is the means to reach for something much wider. I’m aware that not all artists approach their professional work in this way, but for me making art is about contributing to a public discourse, taking a stance, and ultimately and naively trying to make the world a better place. I admit that I feel a certain pride in being part of an open and inclusive field. Where money is lacking in inverse correlation to people’s passion and commitment, it gives you a certain kind of satisfaction thinking that at least you’re fighting against hatred, discrimination, poverty, social injustice or climate change. No matter what your art work deals with, you know art is always on the good side. Art is in itself good. Art is inclusive because art is for everyone.
But recently I have been thinking of who is really included in this “everyone”? Why do all the actors on Finnish stages speak perfect Finnish (or Swedish)? Why are there hardly any black ballet dancers? Why do we think of Salsa as a hobby but not as an art form? Why do I automatically think of a white, European man when I hear the word conductor?
That the art scene is inclusive, that it is open to everyone, any kind of maker and any kind of spectator or visitor, is a myth. A myth well preserved, one that we cling on to very strongly, but a myth nonetheless. It would be interesting to know where the historical roots of this myth are and why we feed it constantly by making exclusive decisions within the creation of art. I think much has to do with privileges and our inability to recognize them. Things that can be absolutely normal and self-evident to us such as choosing a certain profession and pursuing a particular career but also marriage or having children can be out of reach to others or when they are demanded, it is seen as a political statement. Facing privileges is always a crisis and as long as we don’t go through this crisis as societies the privileges will be upheld.
My own thoughts on these issues may not yet be fully structured and might still be a bit superficial at times, but I will try anyway. I think one of the reasons inclusion is only a myth and not a reality has to do with the blind spots that we have towards our own experiences and those of people who are different from us. The way people experience the world is conditioned by such things as their gender, their beliefs, their surroundings and their culture. Everyone experiences the world differently and still, because of the gift of language we can share our experiences and because of the gift of empathy we can find common experiences that connect us. Nonetheless, even though there is this incredible diversity, we are made to believe that reality is singular and homogenous, that it is such as experienced from a white, male and heteronormative perspective. This is something we experience every day. Certain experiences are excluded because they are not part of the white, male, heteronormative narrative. They remain individual experiences, not worth being brought forward and often attached to a feeling of shame. I believe that we have internalized the norms so well that we are not inclusive even to ourselves, our experiences and the feelings that they cause in us. It is this internal blindness that prevents us from seeing the unequal and exclusive when it is right in front of us and even as we’re dealing with equality and inclusion in our art.
Art is part of that process too, even if we want to think that it is free and autonomous. But art is bound to the people making it. As long as we are not aware of our privileges; as long as the experiences of some people are more real than those of others; as long as we are not free to express what we really feel, how can art be inclusive?
The question remains, what are we going to do
about it? Because we must. The arts and culture field is way behind in terms of
inclusion compared to other industries. Our societies are diverse in many ways
and each one of us has the right to participate in an art life that is relevant
Martina Marti started at Culture for All in November 2017 as diversity trainer for the project Opening. Becoming an agent in the field of arts and culture in Finland. The project advances the participation of non-Finnish-born artists and cultural workers in the Finnish arts and culture scene by conducting job shadowing in three selected arts and culture institutions and the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and by offering tailor-made training to their staff. If you have experiences related to diversity and inclusion, for example from working as a foreign-born artist or cultural worker in Finland, and would like to share them, please feel free to contact Martina: email@example.com, 0400 997 203.