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What if we started with ourselves in the search for responsibility?

Being a responsible practitioner in the field of the arts and arts education, and engaging in larger societal practices, interprofessional thinking and multidisciplinary discussions, does not entail the instrumentalization of art and music. Instead, it makes our aims and desires more transparent, and ethically and morally sustainable and relevant.

Text: Taru Koivisto

“The key educational question, therefore, is whether what I desire is what I should desire, whether it is desirable for my own life, my life with others, on a planet that only has limited capacity for fulfilling our desires.” (Biesta 2019, p. 18)

Along with the other numerous practitioners within arts and culture who are either now unemployed or forced to slow down their work pace due to current world events, I also have recently had many reasons to reflect on my professional thinking and everyday life in regards to global changes. It is not only our own music professionalism and music practices that have been interrupted and questioned as we are forced to pause, but also the whole professional and academic mindset – as the above quote from Gert Biesta describes.

Arts and culture professions are shaped by the COVID-19 situation

The COVID-19 situation has had a huge impact not just on our everyday lives, but also on the way arts and culture are shaped in practice and professional discourses. It has been an eye-opening experience for many of us to see how we and our “impact factor”– position, influence, and overall existence – as art professionals are actually situated in democratic societies, beyond curricula and organizational politics.

Still, for me as a researcher – in the field of music education, but also in the field of health promotion and cultural wellbeing – it seems arts and culture are now highly valued and desired. In the current environment, when the productions and services usually provided by professional artists and art educators are more-or-less absent, it is important to pause and reflect on our orientations of being in the world and the role of the arts in it.

As we know, appreciation feels good and virtuous, and it helps us feel that the professional art practitioner´s work is justified in society. But that is not enough at the moment, and does not provide either economic security or opportunities to practice one’s profession. What should we do, then, when our highly democratic and thought-to-be equal societies are driven into a period of reducing the size and scope of their institutional and organizational structures? This reduction clearly reveals to us many unequal mechanisms affecting people at different stages of their lives with regard to their societal positionings and health situations, or in this case, professional status.

How far can artistic integrity and work be expanded?

In my research project, I have studied the interprofessional work of healthcare musicians in Finnish hospitals. I have argued that these kinds of more hybrid and contextually situated music practices should play a larger role in higher music education programs in order to develop the necessary resilience of our professional field. Now, when our resilience is obviously being put to a substantial test, I have continued to speculate whether hybridity as a form of practice and professional identity has an efficient theoretical and sustainable emphasis.

What are the boundaries of artistic integrity and artistic work, and how far can they be expanded?  Is there a limit, for example, with regard to remote working, where music and art practitioners are asked to stretch too many fundamental aspects of their work too far? How do they solve the ethically and morally contentious problems and contradictions that they may face every day in their practices? How should organizations and institutions support these efforts – or should they?

Despite what we in the Western world are going through right now, our lives are still on average highly privileged, and we should keep in mind other on-going global crises, such as climate change, the refugee crisis, and the malnutrition epidemic (see Biesta 2020). This awareness of situating ourselves in the global worldview could provide us new insights into self-reflective interruptions and encourage other opportunities for fruitful change. Furthermore, this understanding can lead us to more comprehensive insights when developing our objectives and thinking, in this case in our artistic and professional lives. Why are we needed, and how can we meaningfully and impactfully communicate that in society?

Creating resilience through proactive professional change

Following Biesta´s ideas that our professional lives can be seen as a desire and capacity to take agency and action beyond our own personal challenges and situations in life, I would like to challenge us all to think and act outside the box: How should we develop our artistic and pedagogical practices, and our multi-professional and interprofessional skills and competencies, as music educators in the future? What are our desires and resources within proactive professional change, and how do they suit the contemporary world situation? What kind of resilience, hybrid practices, or organizational navigations should we learn and share, teach, or coach other people to develop in the future?

Being a responsible practitioner in the field of the arts and arts education, and engaging in larger societal practices, interprofessional thinking and multidisciplinary discussions does not entail the instrumentalization of art and music. Instead, it makes our aims and desires more transparent, and ethically and morally sustainable and relevant. This process is often contradictory and painful, and asks us to go beyond developing personal resilience.

Beyond our own resilience, we are invited to build and reconstruct trust and accountability in our broader practices, and – simply! – (re)build the world as just a slightly better place through our individual actions: letting art and music teach us.


Biesta, G. 2020. Have we been paying attention? Educational anaesthetics in a time of crises. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2020: 1-3.

Biesta, G. 2019. What if? Art education beyond expression and creativity. In R. Hickman, J. Baldacchino, K. Freedman, E. Hall & N. Meager (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Art and Design Education. London/New York: Taylor & Francis.

Taru Koivisto is a doctoral researcher in Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki.

Music Education AMP

The purpose of this blog is to serve as an amplifier for critical statements and openings for discussion in the field of music education. The blog publishes texts in Finnish, Swedish and English. The writers are students, teachers and researchers in the music education degree programme and MuTri doctoral school.

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