The Finnish Cultural Foundation invites all the eighth-graders in Finland to experience and evaluate art.

In the largest campaign of its history, the Foundation will take three age groups of the eighth-graders to art institutions, beginning in autumn 2017. The project will reach nearly 200,000 people, including the teachers. This major project is in line with the wishes of Finnish secondary school principals: in a survey conducted by the Foundation, as many as 97 per cent of principals said they would increase the number of art visits if the cost were lower.

The purpose of the Art Testers campaign is to provide young people with an opportunity to experience art, including art forms to which many would not otherwise have access. The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Association of Finnish Children’s Cultural Centres, which will be responsible for project coordination, transport and administration. The total cost will be around EUR 20 million, depending on whether all eligible classes participate. The Swedish Cultural Foundation will invest around EUR 1.2 million in the project.

“Art testing will begin in the autumn of 2017, the centennial year of Finnish independence, when the all-time largest group of art critics will embark on their task. The project will be more than just a visit to the theatre, a museum, a concert or the opera. The young people will explore art with their classmates and also evaluate the experience on social media, where they can discuss not only among themselves, but also with creators of art,” says Elina Ikonen, Chair of the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

Each eighth grade will be offered an opportunity for two predetermined visits, one in their local area or a nearby region and one to Helsinki or elsewhere in Finland. The Foundation will pay for the transport and tickets. The pupils will also be provided with information about the performance, artists and art form in advance. As well as being able to explore art, they will learn about how a work of art is created, what the work of an artist involves and what happens before a performance is ready to be presented. After the experience, they will have channels for expressing their thoughts, insights, feelings and opinions.

“Art Testers is a significant project for the Children’s Cultural Centres, which cooperate closely with schools. Through the visits to art institutions, as well as the multifaceted outreach work carried out by the museums, schools will be able to deepen their cultural education and provide young people with broader opportunities to enjoy and understand various forms of artistic expression,” says Päivi Setälä, Chair of the Association of Finnish Children’s Cultural Centres.

“Art also helps young people to process difficult issues, such as being lonely or different or building an identity. According to many studies and reports, art evokes emotions and also encourages their expression, in addition to relaxing and giving energy. The Art Testers project corresponds well with the goals of the new curriculum,” says Riikka Lindroos, Chair of the Association of Finnish Principals.
The pupils will be transported to the art sites by train or bus, or by plane, when necessary.  A letter about the project will be sent to schools in spring 2017, and the schools can then sign up pupils as art testers.  

In summer 2016, art organisations were offered an opportunity to provide suggestions about the ways in which they would like to take part in the project in the 2017–2018 school year. A total of 135 art institutions and organisations submitted suggestions, and 55 were selected to participate in the first year of the project. In addition to artistic quality, key selection criteria included outreach work related to young people, as well as the level of attention given to them during their visit. Moreover, the organisation must be able to arrange visits for a significant portion of the eighth-graders in the region during the school year.

“This is a fascinating opportunity for art institutions and artists. Young people are important for the Finnish National Theatre. Young people aged 14–15 have often been overlooked in our programme, so we are very interested in catering to them. At the same time, we will be able to deepen our interaction with young audiences,” says Mika Myllyaho, Director of the Finnish National Theatre.

The organisations selected to participate also include Vaara, a performing arts group based in the Kainuu region. Vaara will offer a documentary theatre performance and a related photography exhibition as part of the project.

“It is difficult to imagine a target group more fascinating and inspiring than eight-graders across the country. The independent players in the field of art welcome this unique, historically significant project with open arms and full of enthusiasm,” says director Eino Saari from Vaara.

After their art experience, the young people are requested to provide feedback and share their experiences by means of texts, images and emojis through an online application.

“The feedback provided by the young people will be public, so anyone interested in culture will be able to read the comments. In the best case, the entire country will be following the art testers online and discussing their reviews, and learning about art in their region in the process. We also hope that the traditional media will share the art testers’ opinions and experiences, which will give a unique picture of young people’s attitudes towards art while also shedding light on what types of works touch and move them,” says Antti Arjava, Secretary General of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.

“This will probably be the world’s most extensive feedback channel for art institutions and also an opportunity for them to broaden their audiences. The quality of the experiences matters a great deal: only the best should be offered to the young people. When we took a total of 7,000 young people to the Finnish National Opera, as many as 80 per cent wanted to come back after the best operas.”

Costs limit art visits for schools

The Finnish Cultural Foundation carried out a survey of secondary school principals and directors of art institutions about art visits for young people aged 13–15. According to the directors, the number of visits is limited by the cost of transport and difficulty with integrating visits into day-to-day schoolwork. The principals felt that the biggest obstacles were the prices of tickets and the cost of transport.

Around 50 per cent of secondary schools carry out two or three art visits during the school year, while nearly one-third carry out just one visit or none at all. Of the principals, 47 per cent estimated that the number of art visits has decreased over the past ten years. Most visits are made to nearby areas.