Dear organisers of Mänttä Art Festival,
Friends of Mäntän Kuvataideviikot,
fellow artists, art workers, and general public,
We are individual artists and art workers addressing you collectively. Many of us have participated in the Mänttä Art Festival, including its previous editions.
The reason of our letter is a profound concern with the working conditions of artists and art workers within large scale exhibition projects, we believe those conditions need to be openly addressed and changed. Unjust treatment of artists and art workers has been a recurring issue in exhibitions in Finland. Most recently, complaints of such treatment have been raised in private discussions by several of the participants in this year’s edition of Mänttä Art Festival. Considering the relevant role Mänttä Art Festival plays in introducing contemporary art to different audiences in Finland, we decided to treat this Festival as a case-example.
Mänttä Art Festival is an initiative that has helped to develop the city of Mänttä as the art hub and the tourist destination it is today. The construction of the identity of the city as an “Art Town” has enabled jobs and opportunities by bringing tourism and cash flow into the area, thus helping to sustain its existence and growth. Nevertheless, for more than 20 years the artists (upon whose work the notion of “art town” has been built) have come to Mänttä to work without receiving a wage for their labour. By not recognizing the work of the artists as a waged work, institutions support the exploitation of artists and art itself, perpetuating the precarious conditions of art workers.
Therefore, in order to trace the deeper structural problems and to improve the working conditions in the Festival, we collected the experiences from the various participating artists in the Mänttä Art Festivals (both current and past) and mapped the situation from our collective perspective. A synthesis of our findings are presented in the adjoint document. Our aim is to engage the organisation to help improve the situation of working artists and this letter is offered as a first step towards this goal. It is not designed to deliver concrete solutions, rather to initiate the dialogue. We believe that generating awareness about these issues will make a good starting point for the future of Mänttä Art Festivals, and will allow a better working environment for all of us.
Ahmed Al-Nawas (Third Space)
Rosamaría Bolom (Third Space)
Giovanna Esposito Yussif
Harrie Liveart (Meri Linna, Saija Kassinen)
Henrik Heinonen (Art Labour Group)
Marianne Niemelä (Third Space)
Yvapurü – Jorge Samaniego Bonnin
Selina Väliheikki (Third Space)
Summary of the issues that were raised by the artists participating in Mänttä Art Festival:
Lack of resources and staff:
• The show is too ambitious regarding the resources available. There are only two persons working full time for the festival. They cannot cater for over 40 participating artists without an excessive amount of overwork and stress.
• The assisting technical staff and interns lack various specialized skills required for installing art and multimedia exhibitions. In some cases, the lack of resources and professional labour has led to unfulfilled agreements during installation. Some elements of the art works were installed poorly and at the last minute, harming the presentation of the works and the credibility of the artists.
Lack of financial support for the artists and lack of transparency regarding financial resources:
• There is no artist fee nor wage. A copyright fee is paid only to those who belong to Kuvasto.
• There is a lack of transparency in how the financial resources are gathered and used. For example, it is not clear how much the organization is profiting from the entrance fees, art works’ sales, publication, and other products that are derived from the artists works.
• Despite several requests, the artists had no access to the overall budget of the exhibition, including all the sources of funding and how the money was planned to be spent.
• The organisation should be responsible for the production of commissioned works, installation costs and fees. Artists and curators should not need to apply for individuals grant for this purposes.
• Artists are not treated equally to other workers of the Festival. For example, the writers in the exhibition catalogue received 450 euros for a commissioned text. Presumably, also the musicians in the adjoint music festival are paid.
• The commission of 35% of the sales is extended to two months after the closing of the exhibition. This limits the artists to gain from their work and is exaggerated since Mänttä Art Festival is not supporting the production of the artwork.The production cost is not taken into account; the production cost should be first deduced from the overall prize before the commission of 35% is counted.
• Some of the contracts mention an additional 10% reduction of the selling price of the artwork. Generally this kind of reduction and the first buyer’s right should exist only if the organisation has payed for the production of the artwork.
• In overall, the contract mainly protects the interest of the organization, but not of the artist nor their right of authorship.
• The contract is unclear regarding who is behind the organization.
General working conditions:
• Some of the buildings that were offered for the artist accommodation were very shabby and even unhealthy. This situation was more damaging to the artists that produced site-specific work because of the need to spend a longer period hosted under such conditions in Mänttä.
• There was not a perdiem for artist who were present during the installation of their works, and only one meal per day was arranged.
• Many artists felt that they were not treated as equal partners with the other art workers contributing to the realisation of the Mänttä Art Festival.
• Some artworks were mistreated and the content was requested to be changed by the representatives of the organisation.
• Discriminating treatment to some of the artists by representatives of the organization.
• Artists emails to the organisation were rarely answered.
• Precise information about the installation schedules and other relevant issues was difficult to get from the organisation.
• It was not made clear who pays for the travels to and from Mänttä. This includes the opening event as well as the installation trip. The compensation rate per kilometer when traveling with own car was not sufficient.
• It was not informed clearly about who gets the vouchers for free lunch and where they should be collected from.
Publication and documentation:
• The organization decided to make a printed publication for the XX Mänttä Art Festival without consulting the artists and without the consent of the curators.
• The publication for the XX Mänttä Art Festival used articles produced exprofeso for the catalogue without informing the article editor. Some commissioned texts from the invited writers were omitted from the publication without prior notice and without any explanation afterwards to the writers. This resulted in a public request to take the publication out of circulation. As well, artists were not consulted about the texts concerning their work or the choice of an image to represent it. A second edition was then produced without acknowledging publicly the responsibility regarding the mistakes of the previous one.
• Some of the artists texts on the web catalogue for the XX Mänttä Art Festival are poorly translated. This results in a completely new meaning and interpretation of the content of the original text. No consultation was made possible between the translator and the artist. Artists were not given the possibility to read the translation before publication. The result of this was that some of the texts were withdrawn by the artist after they had already been online for some weeks.
• The documentation of the artists’ works, which was agreed as a responsibility of the organization is not available for artist use. The organization is asking for a fee from the artist to use the photographies that document their work.
* It is important to note that not all of the collected experiences focused on problematics. Some of the artists had a completely positive experience of participating in the Mänttä Art Festival. But in order to make a clear point about the much required improvements we have focused here on giving visibility to the problematic issues.
We do recognize the efforts and work to make Mänttä Art Festival possible. But we do not think that this should be achieved through the sacrifice of the art workers – artists, curators, producers, directors, technical assistants, and simply anyone involved.
** A suggestion for a re-organisation of the festival administration has been offered by one artist (No. 1) and a slightly different alternative by another artist (No. 2).
1. There should be two directors to the Festival: an Artistic Director who develops the concept for the festival each year, has a voice in the selection of the curators, and interfaces closely with them and interfaces with the artists, oversees the installation of the work, and is in charge of the content of the publication/catalogue and the website. This person would apply for grants along with the Administrative Director.
The Administrative Director of the festival would keep the budget, hire and manage staff, take care of the equipment, security, the infrastructure, liaise with the Board, take care of the housing and the food, as well as assist with the fair distribution of the funding.
Presently there is only one director, who is basically trying to do her best wearing both hats of the Artistic Director and the Administrative Director of the Festival, with one secretary who is handling public relations, web and catalogue publications, etc. They are overworked and lack the time and experience necessary for doing everything, especially interfacing with the artists and handling all the complex issues of content. The curators were not present always to handle these negotiations either. Things became uncomfortable because of differences that arose between the curators and the Director (who had to represent the wishes of the Board) and others between the artists and the Director. The administrators have been at times fairly and at other times unfairly held responsible for most of the problems by both the artists and the curators, while the Board is utterly absent and has taken no responsibility. This was not productive.
What it points to is a structural flaw in the organisation of the festival that should have been addressed years ago, but now is particularly acute and will continue to degrade the festival.
2. It could also be possible to simply hire a producer for the show, who would closely work with the Administrative Director, PR person and curator(s) – holding a role of Artistic Director.
See also Mänttä’s answer to the letter and Martta Tuomaala’s essay on her experiences in Mänttä (in Finnish).