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Starting advocacy work as a student

Sini Kaartinen, arts management student and the new chairperson of the ArtSU board shares her insights about advocacy work at the student union. Read on for a boost of inspiration and mark 18.4.2021 in your calendars for casting your vote in the municipal elections.

screenshot of digital manta's capping
Screenshot of the digital capping of Manta, 30 April 2020

Prior to becoming an arts management student, I lived and worked in Paris. While working at the Finnish Culture Institute in Paris, we collaborated with Business Finland, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Finnish Embassy. I learned how important advocacy work, co-operation and lobbying are, especially when exporting arts and culture. When I applied to study Arts Management, I was interested in cultural policy (and I still am). I had been thinking that I would love to learn more about policymaking, theories of cultural policy, and get to know how to do advocacy work in different countries. I have always thought that you need to have an education before applying your knowledge in practice. But now I want to tell you, you do not, or you can even acquire theoretical and practical expertise at the same time.

Introduction to university studies and advocacy work

During the orientation period, there was a presentation by the Student Union ArtSU at the Sibelius Academy. I remember thinking that it sounded amazing that these students were doing advocacy work for all of the students in the university. I kept thinking that they were professionals talking about students’ rights, the safe space in the university, and creating a community together. I thought I must learn more and study hard to be there one day, helping my fellow students, citizens and residents.

But once I realized that there would be a Student Union council election coming in a couple of months, I started to think that maybe I could do advocacy work even while studying. I researched more about the student union and became a candidate myself. At the same time, there was an application period for becoming a board member and I also decided to give that a try. I thought I would have a better chance of success if I applied for both. And I got lucky, first I got elected as a member for the council and then I got chosen to join the board. I had to give my place in the council away as you can only be a representative in one student union body at a time.

Advocating for arts and culture within our University

I have been working as a board member for more than a year now. I have been responsible for the art and culture policy issues and developing tutoring practices. I also got selected as a vice-chair, which has put me in the position of leading some of the meetings, supporting the chair, and taking more responsibilities of being involved in, for example, the strategic processes. I have also been involved in organising an event for international students, producing the Manta’s capping digitally (due to the COVID-19 situation) and organising a cultural policy event.

One of the new initiatives that I have instigated is anonymous recruitment for the student representative positions. I have also tried to negotiate that all the positions would not result in absences from courses or add extra tasks to students (the negotiations continue this year). Another important contribution I made is adding  environmental issues to the Board’s agenda.

It has been a huge responsibility to take care of our student community during COVID-19. We have been cancelling some of the events, postponing others, and moving some events online. We have been communicating about the restrictions, making sure that students’ wellbeing is taken into consideration at the University, and having a lot of online meetings by making everything possible even during these exceptional times.

The last thing on the Student Union’s board agenda for 2020 was presenting the action plan and budget to the council. The last event was a cultural-political event called “What if?” The event brought the art and culture scene together with a dream for a better future. This kind of event presents a perfect opportunity to get to know people from the field and make connections for the future.

Making our voices heard

One of the items on the Student Union’s agenda for this year is to plan how we can ensure that the city council candidates all over Finland understand the importance of art and culture. There will be municipal elections in April and we want to make sure that all the students will vote. The voting percent has been low, especially among young adults, but I feel that with the support coming from all the student unions we can make a change for the better.

There are also other ways to make a difference at the University. Almost every official working group has a student representative and there are application periods open for different positions (which, by the way, are paid positions) throughout the year. Last year I also got myself involved in some of the working groups: a group for creating a new equality strategy for the University, a recruitment group for selecting a new professor, and a workshop for deciding the priority for next year’s actions according to the new equality strategy.

Personally, the most memorable moments of 2020 have been all the meaningful discussions within our board, with other students, and the university personnel. As the year has been exceptional due to the COVID-19 situation, the virtual reality production of the traditional Manta’s capping was a unique learning opportunity. Also, the General Assembly of the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) was a great experience. I am especially proud of the speech I gave to the Minister of Culture Annika Saarikko on the importance of art and culture and the urgent need for more resources for the art field, particularly due to the COVID-19 situation.

Screenshot of Sini Kaartinen giving a speech to the Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko in SYL’s General Assembly, 13 November 2020

The application period for becoming a board member and the chair of the board is open yearly in November-December and the council election happens every second year (will be happening this year). If you are interested in making a change at our University, supporting the student community and lobbying important student matters, I would encourage you to apply. Also, check the open student representative positions on the ArtSU website. These roles can take you into different working groups inside and also outside the university, e.g. in Student Health Services (SHS) or even to the National Gallery’s council. I got selected as a chairperson for the Student Union for this year, so you can also contact me if you have any ideas on how to make our student community even better. And lastly, please use your vote in the municipal elections in April.

Would you like to become involved?

There are different ways to do advocacy, and all of the acts are important. And, by the way, I don’t believe anymore that you need to have the education to make a change. It is all about Lifelong learning which can happen either in the lecture, or in the Streets by demonstrating, or by applying to be a part of the decision-making bodies. I believe that every one of us can make a change, especially together.

– Sini Kaartinen

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