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Selkokulttuuri ry. From idea to action

Selkokulttuuri ry is a young association with the goal of making high-quality artistic content accessible to everyone regardless of their level of Finnish language. The association grew out of an idea explored by students during one module of their Arts Management degree.

This piece has been written collaboratively by members of the Selkokulttuuri board, all arts management students of the 2019 intake. Read on to learn how to turn an idea into reality and start an art association in Finland in the middle of the pandemic.

Carly: The idea behind Selkokulttuuri was inspired by two cultural encounters I experienced shortly before joining the Sibelius Academy’s Arts Management programme. The first was reading a simplified Finnish (or selkosuomi) translation of Minna Canth’s play Papin Perhe. It seemed to me that although the text had been simplified for language learners like myself, it remained a great story and would make an excellent live production. 

The second encounter was a production of Hamlet at the Turku City Theatre. Normally I wouldn’t have attended theatre presented in Finnish as I would have expected it to be too high of a language barrier. However, in this instance I was given a free ticket and was familiar with the play in English, so I decided to give it a chance. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the play, despite losing track of the dialogue at times, and realised that if I (an avid theatregoer) was intimidated by attending theatre in my second language, then others must feel the same way.

I felt inspired to create something that could offer more inclusive and accessible artistic experiences to people in Finland regardless of their language level. Live and sociable events that could complement the existing simplified Finnish offerings, which include books, daily news bulletins and a newspaper. However, it wasn’t until I met my inspiring classmates and we formed a team that this idea began to take a clearer shape.

Maija: At the end of our first semester most of the Selkokulttuuri founding members attended an intensive course “Entrepreneurship in the Arts” by Professor Lidia Varbanova. Lidia’s lectures introduced us to stories about creative ideas and innovative projects that had enabled their founders to create sustainable business models around their passions. Most of those, as I remember, were stories about two guys, who hid themselves in a windowless garage and came out a few years later, skinny but happy, with a world-changing innovation in their hands. That was not the way we were planning to spend our following years, but somehow those stories threw some gasoline to our still modest simplified Finnish flames. So there it was. As the final assignment of the course we provided Lidia with a business plan of our new association, Selkokulttuuri. 

Carly: As we began to research the business plan, we learned that the simplified Finnish language audience was much larger than we initially realised, at around 10% of the total population. Selkokieli users include not just non-native language speakers like myself, but also many other communities, including people with special education needs and those living with memory disorders, amongst others. It became clear to us all that the idea was worth pursuing outside of the classroom.

Lisa: Fast forward a few months and there we were, sitting in the garage, devising how to bring the plan to life and register Selkokulttuuri as an association (a common non-profit entity in Finland) as we decided that would be the best route for the project to take. Actually, it wasn’t a garage, it was the Feeniks café at the R building of the Sibelius Academy. So, don’t stress if you don’t have a windowless garage but wish to start something up. There are many ways to organise things as we were soon to learn.

Halfway through that meeting, the Finnish government rudely interrupted our discussion to announce that the first set of COVID pandemic restrictions would take place the following week. Oh well, we have transitioned online and continued developing the project, talking about aspects ranging from core values and accessibility to bank account, domain name and logo design. The most rewarding part of it was sharing the journey with other founding members of the team. The hardest part of it for me was reading and understanding the organisational rules with Google Translate. The best part was the sense of things happening for real during those surreal times. A leap from discussing the idea to becoming a board member with an e-mail address that ends with @selkokulttuuri.fi. Pandemic or not, we filed the registration to form an association with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office in May 2020. 

Jenni: That was such a strange moment, us five excited about our Selkokulttuuri meeting, with many plans and projects to discuss, and then the announcement of the Covid-19 restrictions came and the meeting was interrupted. It felt surreal. But after the initial shock, we realised that we can still proceed with our plans and create things even without live events and face-to-face meetings.

And we have indeed made a lot of progress! We have attended an easy Finnish training course run by Selkokeskus (The Finnish center for easy language), created an online Christmas song project in easy Finnish, started publishing monthly cultural news and book reviews in easy Finnish, and several collaborations with other associations. Currently, among other things, we are getting started with a storytelling project in Hyvinkää and gallery tours in easy Finnish in Helsinki. And a lot more is to come!

Free gallery tours in selkosuomeksi are organised in collaboration with Art Fair Suomi on 9 June 2021, at 14:00 and 15:00.

One of the big advantages we have is that even though we all share many professional interests, Arts Management studies and similar values, we still come from different backgrounds and have all contributed different things to the association. The atmosphere is very open, honest and listening, we value each other’s opinions and views and respect everyone’s personal situations. It’s also a great advantage to have both native Finnish-speakers and language learners in the group! 

Sini: The field of arts and culture is becoming more and more accessible all the time. We also want to contribute to improving the field. We are so excited to be the first organisation offering events in simplified Finnish in Finland. Most of the time, it is small changes that can make a big difference in helping everyone participate in arts and cultural events. To our events, everybody is warmly welcome!

All of us have lived abroad and we know by our own experience how it feels to move to a new country and live in a not familiar society. The new language is not always easy to learn and understand. That’s why we are offering all of our events in simplified Finnish, so that you can participate regardless of your level in Finnish.

Follow Selkokulttuuri on facebook and instagram for up-to-date information about upcoming events.

The Selkokulttuuri ry  board are: Carly Markkanen, Jenni Pekkarinen, Lisa Bomash, Maija Kühn, Sini Kaartinen

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This blog is a space for current arts management topics featuring students’ opinion pieces and reflections, interviews with field professionals from around the world, and occasional guest posts.

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