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Budget cuts anger culture sector

Arts industry representatives called planned cuts "a disappointment" and warned that freelance workers would be hit hardest.

Kate & Pasi, Katerina Repponen, sirkus akrobatia
Katerina Repponen of the circus duo Kate & Pasi performing in Helsinki last May. Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle

The government budget framework talks which concluded last week brought news of budget cuts for the arts and culture sector.

The arts sector in Finland has largely been financed through profits from the state-owned gambling company Veikkaus, but this income has dropped by hundreds of millions of euros due to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on gambling.

The government said it would compensate the sector for some of the losses, but not all.

As a result, 17.5 million euros will be cut from arts and culture this year and 23 million euros the following year.

Many in the cultural sector find the cuts unreasonable.

"The arts and culture sector has been one of the great victims of the coronavirus era. The cuts now announced have certainly been a disappointment for our entire industry. We did not get any appreciation or support for recovery now," said Annukka Vähäsöyrinki, Executive Director of the Artists' Association of Finland.

Concrete decisions on where the cuts will be directed are still to come. Vähäsöyrinki describes the general atmosphere in the cultural sector as bittersweet, because on one hand, some pandemic support has finally been approved, even taking into account the precarious position of the self-employed.

"However, the future of funding for arts and culture looks worrisome because we don't know what will happen in 2024 and beyond. This increases anxiety in the sector," she said.

According to Vähäsöyrinki, the recent cuts also suggest that the government is not supportive of culture.

"After a time of crisis, arts and culture can play a part in helping to rebuild by creating unity and inclusion. The sector also employs a large number of people directly, with considerable indirect impact," she added.

The branch also faces extensive cuts in Nordic cultural co-operation. The budget for Nordic cultural co-operation will be reduced by 20 percent. Support will be withdrawn from the Nordic Culture Fund, among others, and the Nordic Journalism Centre will be completely closed down.

"We're being hit from all directions as the pandemic fades, and it feels unreasonable," said Vähäsöyrinki.

"Banging our heads against the wall"

Juho Viljanen, Freelancers' Shop Steward at the Finnish Musicians' Union, is also upset about the latest cuts.

"We've been battling in exceptional circumstances for a year due to the coronavirus. At times, it's felt like banging our heads against the wall because the government hasn't listened to us. The cuts seem unreasonable in all respects; they're more cold water in the face," he told Yle.

"These cuts will have a direct impact on freelancers and small-scale players, who already face major financial challenges. In any case, this will increase uncertainty in the sector," Viljanen said, adding that the government is undermining its credibility with such decisions.

"The additional funding that we recently received was a good thing, of course, but it was accompanied by ambiguities regarding the allocation of money. The new decision on cuts shows that the government is not friendly toward culture," Viljanen said.

Situation "downright terrible"

Kaisa Paavolainen, Executive Director of Theatre Centre Finland, which represents independent dance, theatre and circus organisations, also expects that while freelancers will particularly suffer from the cuts, so too will indie groups and professional communities funded through the Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike).

The operations of such independent operators have been largely funded through Veikkaus income, which has dropped due to the pandemic.

"We knew in advance that the income from Veikkaus was going to fall sharply. After a tough pandemic year, we had hoped for full compensation for the sector, but now the opposite has happened," she said. "From the point of view of the independent performing arts field, the situation is downright terrible."

Paavolainen wonders what would happen if cuts of a similar scale were applied to other sectors.

"What if, for example, 10 percent of education or social and healthcare budgets were cut, or agricultural subsidies were reduced as sharply? There would be quite an uproar. Perhaps the cultural sector, which has followed the authorities' restrictions for a year, is used to being polite, but anger is starting to surface here," she said.

Paavolainen: Cultural sector unfairly hit by restrictions

According to Paavolainen, the government's coronavirus subsidy package was largely successful, but now the situation feels difficult.

"I've also been critical of how long the cultural sector has been shut down compared to other industries, such as restaurants," noted Paavolainen. "The amendments to the Communicable Diseases Act require social distancing of two metres at public events. Because of such limitations, theatre, dance or circus cannot function in any sensible or economically viable way."

Paavolainen also fears that additional funding set aside for overhauling the state contribution system for performing arts for 2022 will be jeopardised due to the cuts. The purpose of the reform and the additional funding allocated to it is it enable new independent organisations to receive long-awaited state support.

According to Paavolainen, "the additional funding of 10 million promised for the reform will be wasted if, at the same time, normal basic funding for the performing arts is cut due to the decline in Veikkaus income."

Over the next few years, the Ministry of Education and Culture will have to cut another 35 million euros from its budget. The cuts will begin in 2023, and will be permanent, annual reductions. The state budget for the arts is just under half a billion euros a year.

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