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In this blogpost Arts Management student Lilja Lehmuskallio takes a look into the intricacies of the thesis process at the Arts Management department and shares intriguing examples of theses written by former students of the programme. Keywords such as Cultural Policy, Feminism, Leadership, Instrumentalism, Race, Civic activism, Fundraising, Music festivals and Strategic planning will serve as hors d’œuvres for the reader.

Image by Lilja Lehmuskallio

The final mission for most of the students in the department of Arts Management is the thesis. I am in the middle of that exciting yet somewhat unnerving process as well!

For this blog post, I wanted to highlight some of the theses that have been written in recent years to showcase the versatility of topics, academic fields, and styles of the department’s accomplished students and to highlight the important research done in the department. I chose some which have piqued my interest and then asked for recommendations from my classmates (who by the way and off-topic, are the greatest bunch of people). The examples will also give the reader (and potential new students of Arts Management) an idea of the multitude of professional and academic fields the students represent.

Before going into the examples, let’s look at the process more closely. The thesis research seminar is located in the new study program starting in 2021 in the module called AM Research and Methodologies, which takes the student through the processes of research: the various methodologies, academic writing styles and the guidelines and aims of the thesis. Each student is appointed a personal supervisor and fellow students act as opponents to enrich the process. The continuous research seminar structure supports the student throughout the process with the challenges one often encounters: from the trepidation at the beginning when choosing your subject, all the way through the gritty part of actually sitting down, analysing, and writing the thing.

What is fascinating, is that the thesis process can offer a chance to take in a whole new field of professional or academic interest. The connections and knowledge-base one creates during the process will help to carve new roads for one’s future as an arts management professional. Furthermore, what can be a fulfilling experience in the thesis process is being able to merge all the knowledge of the AM studies and previous experiences into a subject of one’s own choosing. During the studies, students write assignments related to course topics, which are great, highly educational and can also have a personal approach to them, however, in the thesis process one gets to decide the focus, topic and field of the research according to one’s own passions. As long as it fits under the wide contextual umbrella of Arts Management!

So, onto the examples. First, I want to present a thesis that was finalized in the spring of 2020, written by Neicia Marsh. Marsh explores very current and significant subjects in a thesis called Exploring the intersections of Race, Class, and Gender in Arts Leadership – A case study on Black, Asian, and minority ethnic leaders within the British and Finnish arts and cultural field. In the abstract, Marsh describes the case study which examines Black, Asian, and minority ethnic leadership through both foundational theories that surround race, class, and gender, and intersectional feminist approaches, in order to support a greater understanding of how and why these categorisations influence the experiences of BAME arts and cultural leaders. Marsh writes excellently and brings forth experiences and knowledge that are important to learn for all art and culture professionals to reach a more balanced representation in the field in the future. The chosen methodologies are interpretivism and standpoint theory, and the primary data consists of interviews with arts and cultural leaders situated in Britain and Finland. An important read by a founding member of the Feminist Culture House!

The second work I chose as an example is Laura Norppa’s thesis from 2013. In her work A critical analysis of the autonomy of art in Finnish cultural policy 1978-2011 Norppa reaches deep into the core of our academic field and asks what is the meaning and position of art in today’s society: whether it is a means for opening up new horizons and contributing to a broader understanding, or is it merely a tool for creating added value to other sectors such as health care, business and national economy? Norppa’s analysis is conducted with data consisting of Finnish cultural policy reports from 1978, 1993 and 2011, and uses critical theory and particularly theories concerning the autonomy of art developed by Theodor W. Adorno as the theoretical framework. Norppa’s passionate and truly knowledgeable writing gives great insight into the development of Finnish cultural policies considering the autonomy of art. Norppa has continued a career in arts funding and policy after the studies.

The third example is a recommendation and is a thesis with the most amusing and lovely title: Please make sure there are no bugs in the area”: An insight to artist hospitality at Finnish music festivals written in 2017 by Maiju Talvisto, now the Head of Artist Relations at Flow festival. Talvisto’s research is a pioneering one in its field in examining the occupational profile of artist coordinators as well as artist hospitality at different music festivals in Finland. The thesis research highlights that artist coordinator is an actual profession that requires special knowledge and skills. Talvisto’s thesis is a great example of a way to bring attention to a profession in an academic context, which can help bring recognition and appreciation to professional areas of arts and culture in need of them!

The fourth example looks at old factory sites which have been turned into cultural venues and deals with the areas of urban planning, civic activism, cultural policy and development. Aapo Markkula has conducted a case study in the also visually striking thesis named Second Life Factories of Creative Art. Fostering Adaptation of an Old Industrial Site into a Cultural Venue in Europe. (2020) of three highly interesting centres of culture: Suvilahti in Helsinki, WUK in Vienna and Studio Alta in Prague. The data consisted of professional interviews representing cultural sites, entrepreneurs, event organizers, an expert panel and the city of Helsinki. Markkula states that a “key finding in the research is that all empty spaces create culture – empty space is the soil where cultural start-ups plant their seed in hope of reaching the sunshine and success”, and he continues that a cultural hub has a profound impact on the image of the city. I am among many who love the atmosphere of old factory sites which have been given a new life through the multidisciplinary collaboration of art and arts management professionals, decision-makers, urban planners and citizens. DJ, producer and promoter Markkula’s thesis brings light to the processes behind their development.

The fifth and final example recommended for this post looks at the area of fundraising. Funding is an all-encompassing area of arts management and Heidi Lehmuskumpu has examined it in 2013 with an international approach in the thesis named Attracting and maintaining funders after an internal crisis in an arts organization case: dance theatre of Harlem. Lehmuskumpu writes about the constant need of development of fundraising in an arts organisation in the United States, and how after a major crisis the Dance Theatre of Harlem was able to restructure and make its fundraising more strategic and cohesive. Furthermore, Lehmuskumpu states that due to the tightened economic climate, the importance of strategic fundraising has also increased in Finland, so this thesis offers valuable knowledge on sponsoring and strategic fundraising for the domestic context as well. Lehmuskumpu works as a Stakeholder Relations Specialist.

I have come to the end of my post and besides the aforementioned, I encourage the reader to check the growing list of great theses by the students of the Arts Management department of the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki at Helda directory . It has been inspiring to check them out during the thesis process. I shall now continue my expeditions into critical heritage and feminist museology!

– Lilja Lehmuskallio

Lilja Lehmuskallio is a student of the class of 2019-2021. She holds an MA in Dance from the Theater Academy in Helsinki and has a career in the Performing Arts as a contemporary dancer, managing director and creative producer.

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