Finland/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Ritva Mitchell, Anna Kanerva, Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe

 Finnish National TheatherThe formation of Finnish national cultural policies from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century can be roughly divided into three stages:

  • the period of the Patron State, from the 1860s to the 1960s;
  • the arrival of the Welfare State and the articulation of explicit cultural policy objectives from the late 1960s to the 1980s; and
  • the move beyond the Welfare State in the late 1990s.

Historically, four forces have shaped these developments:

  • the civic movements which, despite linguistic and ideological divisions, contributed to the development of Finnish culture;
  • the ambitions of the newly formed state to strengthen Finnish cultural identity, by central government policies promoting the arts and supporting artists;
  • the commitment of municipalities (the basic units of Finnish local self-government) to provide cultural services for their citizens, to promote their citizen's interest in the arts, and encourage involvement in the amateur arts; and
  • the growth of the national culture industries, which, to start with, were ready to foster the vitality of even less profitable genres in cultural production.

The foundations for Finnish national culture were laid and affirmed under the Russian Czarist regime (1809-1917) which, alongside the Senate of the autonomous Finnish Grand Duchy, was the patron of the evolving bilingual (Swedish and Finnish) artistic and cultural life. After independence, the new nation state took over the role of patron and continued to build a national identity and national unity. This identity was based on the cultural heritage stemming partly from the period of Russian rule, and partly from the period of earlier Swedish rule, which had lasted seven centuries. During the first four decades of independence, which saw a civil war and two wars with the Soviet Union, national unity and national identity became even more prioritised objectives of the state and, subsequently, also central principles in national cultural and arts policies. Other objectives, such as the promotion of creativity and enhancing participation and cultural democracy, started to gain ground in the 1960s and became integrated with other economic and social goals when the ideology of the social welfare state was more comprehensively adopted and implemented in the 1970s.

Public support for the arts and culture had expanded even before the advent of the social welfare state. The municipalities had gradually taken over the task of maintaining institutions of adult education and public libraries from the civic associations and the central government started to subsidise them on a regular basis. The role of the state in supporting these institutions was cemented by legislation in the 1920s. The joint financial responsibility of the state and the municipalities became one of the pillars of modern Finnish cultural policy.

The broader financial basis for public support of the arts, cultural institutions and cultural services was confirmed by legislation in the 1960s and 1970s. The system of artists' grants traces its legislative basis to the late 1960s and state support for municipal non-institutional cultural activities was set in legislation at the beginning of the 1980s.

Although some national institutions (especially the National Opera and the National Theatre) maintained their private legal status, the process of "étatisation" of Finnish cultural and art institutions accelerated in the 1970s and continued well into the 1990s. The institutions of higher education in the arts and the National Art Gallery became part of the state budgetary system and the former were granted the status of state universities. In parallel, local museums, theatres and orchestras also came under the budgetary control of the municipalities and, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, their grants were organised as a subsystem within the new statutory state transfer (subsidy) system to municipalities. In addition to the new Financing Law, this also led to Laws on Museums, Theatres and Orchestras (1992). Only a few professional institutional theatres and orchestras (including the National Theatre and the National Opera) were left to be financed on a contractual discretionary basis.

The above overview suggests that historically the main instruments of Finnish cultural policy have been:

  • direct financial support for the arts, artists and artistic creativity, including extensive systems of cultural and arts education and professional training of artists
  • extensive public or non-profit ownership and joint financing of cultural and art institutions by the central government and the municipalities, including state ownership and until the end of 2012 licence-based and from 2013 taxation-based financing of the public service broadcasting company (Finnish Broadcasting Company Ltd., YLE);  
  • modest subsidies to the culture industries, especially to the press and cinema, and;
  • active international cultural co-operation, traditionally in the spirit of cultural diplomacy; and, more recently, increasingly in search of success in international trade of cultural goods and services.

The first decade of the 21st century has seen a gradual transformation of Finnish society and Finnish commitment to the basic principles of the welfare state. The changes from the mid-1990s onwards have created, within the legal and administrative frameworks of the European Union, a new system of governance with distinct touches of neo liberal market orientation in the public sector. Although public cultural administration has been rather slow in reacting e.g. to the requirements of new public management, many other factors have shaped the conditions of artistic activities, cultural service systems and creative industries. Such factors are e.g. the enlarging of the European Union, new ways of coupling the arts and artists to the networked information society and creative economy, and the need to enhance the export of arts and cultural goods and services. The effects of these undercurrents have been partly interrupted, partly precipitated by financial crises and economic recessions in 1991-1993 and in 2009-2010.

In the early 2000s, neo-liberalism, in the guise of desetatisation, seems to have entered cultural policy through the backdoor of university reform enacted by all-comprehensive national university legislation. The new 2009 University Act extends the autonomy of universities by giving them an independent legal personality either as public corporations or as foundations operated partially under the old 1930 Foundation Act. The government has also taken definite steps to enforce closer ties than mere networking between universities in order to enhance their research productivity and contribution to the national economy and exports. This policy is reflected in the decision which administratively merged the biggest art university, the Helsinki University of Art and Design with the Helsinki University of Technology and the Helsinki School of Economics. The new super-university, named "the Aalto University", is financed thorough a foundation and the board of the foundation, consisting of national and international recognised researchers and artists and representatives of Finnish industry, has the final say as to the long term policy orientation of the university. The joint operations at the Aalto University were started on the 1 January 2010. Since the beginning of the 1990s there has been a long on-going process aimed at merging administratively the three other art universities, the Sibelius Academy of Music, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Theatre Academy. The merging of these three art academies into a University of the Arts Helsinki (, including students, personnel and funds, took place on 1 January 2013. 

Also, the changing civil and economic climate has given rise to a Finnish "foundation-boom", evident even in the cultural policy domain, especially since and during the government of 2011-2014 (prime minister Jyrki Katainen). It affected the above mentioned national cultural institutions also, as the government of prime minister Katainen launched action into turning the Finnish National Gallery into a foundation (see chapter 4.3). The FNG started operating as a foundation at the beginning of 2014. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Culture's subordinate Institute for Russia and Eastern Europe, was closed down and its duties were passed on to a newly established Cultura Foundation from January 2013 (see chapter 4.2.4).

The changes that took place in the late 1990s and at the beginning of the new millennium have somewhat decreased the role of the state and municipalities in the governance of culture and as direct financiers of artists, cultural services, voluntary organisations and cultural production. At the same time, the role of the public authorities in providing capital investment for cultural buildings and facilities and for professional education in the arts and culture has become increasingly prominent. In other words, public authorities invest in infrastructure and highly trained and qualified manpower but expect that cultural and art organisations and institutions finance an increasing share of their current costs with their own income or revenues from other sources. EU policies, especially the programmes financed within the context of the Structural Funds, have linked public cultural policies more closely to urban and regional development and social cohesion policies. It should be added that Finland has observed strictly the criteria of the budgetary discipline of the EU Stability and Growth Pact, which, together with the aftermath of the economic recession of 1991-1993, curtailed public spending, including spending on the arts and culture (for the effects of this, see  chapter 4.1, chapter 4.2 and chapter 6).

At the beginning of April 2014 the government announced that the budget for the arts and culture (by the Ministry of Education and Culture) will be first reduced by 15 million EUR by the end of 2016 (5 million EUR in 2015 and 10 million EUR in 2016) and then during the two following years 2017 and 2018 by 15 million EUR per year. In addition it was announced that the profits from the National Lottery will decrease by 10 million EUR which means for the cultural sector a further 4.3 million EUR decrease in financing of cultural organisations in 2015. This source of funding has been very important for culture, but also for sports and youth activities.

Chapter published: 24-04-2017