A strike by more than two hundred artworkers and four organisations against Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma has ended with a negotiation outcome that will affect the entire art and museum field. A meeting of the Board of the Finnish National Gallery on 27.4 approved revised ethical guidelines for private funding, which will hopefully bring about a significant change on the Finnish museum scene, and beyond.
In December 2022, a group of Finnish artists launched a strike they called the Kiasma_strike. They stated they would refrain from working with Kiasma, which is part of the Finnish National Gallery, as long as the museum did not clearly state that it would refrain from cooperating with actors linked to the arms trade, the arms industry or investment activities in conflict zones. In particular, the museum’s relationship with the Kiasma Support Foundation was considered problematic. Kiasma was also called upon to provide clear ethical guidelines and more transparency.
The Finnish National Gallery and Kiasma hope that the steps taken will strengthen mutual trust and increase the transparency of their operations so that cooperation between Kiasma and the artists participating in the strike can be resumed.
“The strike was begun out of solidarity with the Palestinians. It matters that our biggest art institution has taken human rights issues seriously. We are happy that it has been possible to conduct this difficult discussion in a constructive spirit so that it is now good to return to cooperation,” says visual artist Terike Haapoja.
Cooperation with Kiasma_strike and, more broadly, with the entire art and museum field has led to decisions that increase the level of transparency of the Finnish National Gallery and the professionalism of its fundraising. In future, decisions and evaluations related to private financing will be made according to ethical guidelines.
New guidelines aim at more ethical operations
Ethical guidelines for fundraising and private funding approved at a meeting of the Board of the Finnish National Gallery on 27.4.2023 will affect all three museums managed by the Finnish National Gallery. It is outlined in the guidelines, that the Ateneum, Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum will not cooperate with organisations or other actors that through their activities violate human rights or promote oppression of minorities, authoritarian models of government, gender inequality or criminal activity. The revised ethical guidelines are available online.
The guidelines also takes environmental concerns into account by rejecting support from anyone who has recently been active, for example, in oil and gas production or in the production of environmentally hazardous chemicals. Also support from weapons manufacturing and the tobacco industry is rejected. The changes will also result in more transparent monitoring, as all decisions on support received by the Museum will be recorded, so that everyone will have a better chance to evaluate the work of the Finnish National Gallery. The new guidelines also include the right to dissolve existing partnerships if it is revealed that the partner’s background activities do not comply with the ethical criteria.
One of the points of concern raised by the artists participating in the strike was the seemingly close relationship between Kiasma and the Kiasma Support Foundation. Kiasma_strike criticised the Museum’s collaboration with Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, a member of the board of the Kiasma Support Foundation, whose investments have been considered supporting Israel’s policy of occupation and human rights violations against Palestinians. The Finnish artists’ community has been publicly questioning this collaboration for more than a decade. The strike came about as a reaction to the recent designation of Israel as an apartheid regime in reports by leading human rights organisations.
The Kiasma Support Foundation is an independent foundation and acts independently of Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery. The Finnish National Gallery has no decision-making power over the composition of the Foundation’s board. The Foundation has defined its mission as supporting Kiasma’s operations. However, as a result of the recent negotiations, Kiasma’s Director Leevi Haapala resigned his seat on the Foundation’s Board at the Foundation’s annual meeting in March. The Kiasma Support Foundation’s website now operates independently of Kiasma’s website.
Alongside the negotiations, discussions with the art and museum field
The strike lasted five months and involved 220 artworkers and four art organisations. Since the beginning of the stoppage, Kiasma and the artists involved have engaged in a dialogue in good faith to resolve the situation. Both parties are keen to resume collaboration as soon as possible.
In addition to discussions, two joint events were organised as well: A Changing World and the Ethics of Arts Funding was a seminar held in February that featured presentations on arts funding and the operation of foundations, as well as views on how the arts sector can operate sustainably. The seminar included a discussion on the principles of private funding and sustainable fundraising.
The discussion continued in March in the form of a collaboration under the title Concrete action. The event challenged the arts community to update and articulate clear principles and transparent practices for receiving private funding and considered concrete ways to implement these practices. A summary of the event can be read here.
“We are pleased with the successful dialogue and the results. We now have clear, up-to-date ethical rules for the Finnish National Gallery, which will also benefit the entire art and museum field in the country, and which are in line with international regulations. They clarify the process and make it fair and safe for museums, donors and artists,” says Academician of Arts Eija-Liisa Ahtila.
In addition, numerous other bodies have assisted in the holding of public discussions on the strike. For example, the online radio project Station of Commons facilitated the holding of a webinar titled Decolonizing from Within. Private support for the arts was also discussed at the Monday Club in Helsinki on March 6.
Museum should keep up with the times and develop continuously
In parallel with these discussions, the Finnish National Gallery has updated and clarified its own ethical guidelines for fundraising and private funding. The guidelines are based on the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics for Museums and the 2020 Standard for Fundraising of the ICOM Ethics Committee (ETHCOM). Among other matters, the guidelines describe the purpose of private funding, the processing procedure upon reception, the associated responsibilities and reporting, and the criteria for accepting support. Approved by the Board of the Finnish National Gallery, the guidelines can be accessed on the Finnish National Gallery website.
“Good guidelines alone will not take this issue forward, rather, we need to monitor what impact the changes have. The solidarity shown by artists in organising the strike was a successful strategy that will enable us to influence an ever-changing world in the future, too,” says performance artist Eero Yli-Vakkuri, who maintained the list of participants in the strike.
The action brought together actors from a range of disciplines in the field of visual arts with the aim of taking greater account of human rights than before, and has been a significant success. The outcome of the negotiations to establish ethical guidelines shows that the art and museum field has the capacity to influence society and to promote the rights of humans and nature.