Monthly Archives: August 2014

Preserving and Sharing Cultural Heritage

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about the Institute’s new report on digital humanities and digital culture heritage preservation.

The evolution of digital technology and online networks is shaping our lives and societies. At some point in the recent past, digital stopped being something separate from the “real” world for many of us. Now we are constantly in the network and using digital tools without even noticing it ourselves.  Digital information is increasingly everywhere and largely available for everyone.

Digital humanities, the intersection of digital technologies and humanities, involves the use of digital tools in research, teaching, scholarship and publication in humanities disciplines. Digital humanities has been a buzzword of the humanities field in the last few years.

United Kingdom has so far been seen as a pioneering country in open data and open knowledge. In Finland the Open Science and Research Initiative aims at Finland becoming the leading country in openness of science and research by the year 2017 and that the opportunities of the open science will be widely utilised in Finnish society.

However, archivists and IT experts respectively have expressed their concerns on the so called digital dark age: a phenomenon where significant amount of important cultural heritage is lost due to rapid digitisation of information and lack of reliable long-term preservation methods.
How does this change influence humanities research and teaching, as well as preservation of cultural heritage? Concentrating on the fields of history research and archives, the Finnish Institute’s new survey consults recent literature and professionals associated with the digital humanities field.

The main findings are as follows:

  •  Access to digital content online has benefited researchers and can improve geographic and socioeconomic equality.
  • Digital history may narrow the gap between academic and popular history, and increase cross-disciplinary and international collaboration.
  • New digital tools have not yet changed most historians’ research methods substantially but digital tools and methods should be included in history curriculum.
  • Libraries, archives and universities see future digital preservation challenges similarly, which encourages further collaboration.
  • Digitisation projects are work hour intensive and require new skills and attitudes.
  • Private-public partnerships in the culture heritage sector are in many ways controversial but may offer good collaboration possibilities.
  • Measuring the societal value of digital humanities is difficult but might be possible in the near future.

The literature and interviews suggest that the areas of digital humanities, open knowledge and open data are in many ways connected. The main idea is linking the digital humanities scholars and digital preservers with the wider community. The GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector was seen as an important channel for academic research to reach the wider public. The archives and libraries need to deal with similar problems, diminishing the barriers between their fields.

The findings of this survey are in many ways similar to the Finnish research Tutkijoiden ääni, the British Reinventing research? report and the American Ithaka S+R reports from 2012 and
2014. They all promote collaboration within the academia and between universities and the GLAM sector.
What we would like to add is the role of non-profit organisations such as Open Knowledge or Wikimedia and the important contribution that grassroots activists have in creating and disseminating digital content. These organisations and individuals could offer important information eg. about copyrights for the GLAMs and researchers.
From a Finnish perspective, international collaboration and networking are especially vital. In Finland there are fewer universities and the organisations are smaller than in the United Kingdom. The situation calls for even more collaboration to make most use of the resources available. The Open Cultural Data and Open Government Data courses, organised by Open Knowledge Finland, are some promising projects.
The small organisations in Finland could be an asset too if smaller size means an agile organisation. Collaboration in the field is a good way to make sure that the different organisations’ metadata can communicate with each other, and organisations do not end up as silos.
Publishing cultural heritage online without restrictions helps researchers, the public and the cultural heritage organisations themselves. There are promising examples and these policies are emphasised in European Union strategies.

The new possible gap between online material and analogue content that is not digitised needs to be addressed too. There is a concern that the analogue material will become invisible for the researchers and the public, thus distorting research interests and processes.

Politics will always influence cultural heritage preservation. Archivists have so far been somewhat invisible from public discussion. They should speak up and demonstrate how archives are valuable in preserving societal memory.
There is a certain fear for private sector domination in public-private partnerships, but collaboration between the two can be fruitful too. It is worth asking, how far can you go with these private partnerships without hurting your own agenda? The private companies may want to put content behind pay walls or exploit it otherwise. Open and honest discussion between public and private organisations is needed.
There are interesting further research topics, such as measuring the overall societal impact of digital projects. Open scholarly publishing, its impacts on the knowledge gap between socioeconomic groups, and what kind of policies lead to utopia and dystopia scenarios in digital preservation are important topics in the future too.
The report presents some of the questions on a more philosophical level. Trying to provide concrete answers for practical questions would not be feasible in a report like this one, but we hope that the presented ideas, referenced literature and projects circulate good ideas and encourage discussion and collaboration in and between Finland, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The report can be downloaded here.

Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society

Dr Johanna Vakkari, the Finnish Institute’s Head of Arts & Culture Programme, blogs about Institute’s new project.
The Institute launches a new project
Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland, published an article 26 June 2014  about  the Finnish small and medium large companies’ sponsorship. (Heiskanen 2014). Only 2% of the interviewed directors or proprietors of these companies would support art and culture, while 42% would support sport, 18% health and 15% children’s activities. Does this tell something about the lack of visibility of contemporary art, or art in general, in Finland? Or is it that companies don’t believe that sponsoring art would improve their own visibility while sport is always seen as a solid investment?  Is contemporary art seen as something difficult to approach or something only catering to a specific group? We do have museum collections, galleries, works of art exposed permanently or temporarily in public spaces, environmental art and different kinds of art events, but perhaps all this should be opened even more to the public and to decision-makers.
With this blog series we aim to start a discussion about the reasons and institutional structures that help or prevent the visibility and impact of contemporary art in Finland, Great Britain and Ireland.  We will explore the similarities and differences between these countries and cultures and analyse the art field and different organisations in it.
In which ways should artists themselves and art organisations such as museums and galleries act to improve the visibility of contemporary art?  What is the status of contemporary art in the media? Do the funders in public and private sector highlight enough those artists, artistic projects and events they are supporting? If yes, what kind of effect does it have to the visibility and impact of art and what does it mean to the social status of the supporting institute?
During 2014–2016 The Finnish Institute in London will organise discussions and events focusing on these topics. We will also invite visiting writers like artists, art critics as well as representatives of museums, galleries and funders to present their views. In addition, there will be a series of short video interviews published in this blog.
Background and Research
The visibility of art is closely related to the social status of artists. How does the public view them and how do they themselves understand their role in society? There has been a great body of research published in the fields of cultural policy and sociology on artists’ working conditions and incomes and the support policy of art in Finland since the 1970s. Only a few scholars have dealt with the visibility and impact of art in society.
One of the important new study reports is The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society published by the Arts Council in England (2014). It contains important statistics and confronts the situation in various countries. The impact of arts and culture is considered in four fields: economy, health and wellbeing, society and education.
Traditionally artists have been seen in an idealistic light as bohemian, charismatic personalities, geniuses, rather living outside of society than taking part in it. From this point of view artistic ability is seen as an innate talent where education only has a minor importance. Another way is to consider art as a profession, which needs an education just like any other occupation. This doesn’t exclude importance of talent  – not anyone can become an artist as much as anyone can become e.g. a master chef, mathematician or surgeon.
In a way this old romantic vision is still working because it helps artists to make an impression. However young generations of artists see art mostly as a profession. To become an artist requires education, advancement of one’s own identity and a lot of knowledge of the national and international art field and capacity to join different networks. Finnish artists, in general, are highly educated, most of them have university degrees, many have completed artists’ pedagogical studies and many have done a part of their studies abroad. (Karttunen 2009; Houni & Ansio 2013; Rensujeff 2014). In a contradictory way it seems that the education has a relatively remote effect to the artist’s social state, or to their standing as experts and in consequence to their visibility. 
In the survey on the opinions of Finnish people on culture, ordered by the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2013, more than 8000 people of different age groups living in different parts of Finland were interviewed.  (Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013). Since the survey was not limited to contemporary art but included literature, music and visual arts both older and contemporary, as well as popular culture, it is not comprehensive from our point of view, but it still gives some hints about the attitudes of Finns in this field too. It was clear that both contemporary art and contemporary music were the fields most unfamiliar for the interviewees.
According to the results the most important purposes of art were:
1. Improving people’s lives by offering aesthetic and emotional experiences, consolation, sharing, contributing to health and emotional wellbeing.
2. Changing the world, highlighting social issues, breaking down barriers, promoting social values and depicting the world as it is.
3. Some of the interviewees however thought art had an independent purpose in itself, which doesn’t need to have any other specific goals or justifications – art for art’s sake.
In short, on one hand art is considered as a tool for realising something else, on the other, it is seen as an autonomous field with its own values.
The second point is interesting when confronting it to the survey made by the British Museums Association in 2013 on Public perceptions of – and attitudes to – the purposes of museums in society. Museums, of course, are a different issue compared to art and artists, but the British public did not buy easily the politically or socially active role of museums. If the public opinion is that museums are not appropriate environments in which to hold controversial debates, neutral places without any political standpoint, how could such contemporary art, which challenges social or political opinions be exposed in museums?
Also the first task mentioned in the Finnish report fights against opinions on the purposes of museums. Fostering a sense of community and helping those in need were seen as low priority purposes among the Brits. People were afraid that they would divert museums away from essential purposes. The fact is, though, that nowadays many museums collaborate with artists in community work and together with artists create projects aimed for various specific groups.
In Ireland the Arts Council made a similar survey in 2006 as the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s report, interviewing 1210 people living around the Republic of Ireland. (The Public and the Arts). The questionnaire was different from the Finnish one, covering more fields of art but also in this case the survey did not deal specifically with contemporary art and culture and doesn’t give a clear panorama about people’s attitudes on it.  However, from the charts published in the report, one can see that people had frequented more those events that could be defined as entertainment than those, which could be defined as experimental or “high culture”, the latter being though an old fashioned and normative concept which I find out dated and rather not use.
Irish attitudes towards the arts were very positive. Arts were seen important in education, three quarters of interviewees thought that art amenities should be given as much support as sports amenities, almost all believed that arts play an important and valuable role in modern society, and seven out of ten believed that spending on arts should be safeguarded in times of economic recession.  It would be interesting to see how opinions have changed after the economic crisis in Ireland, as so often art and culture are the first areas to suffer cuts during economic decline.
About the contemporary art scene
The Finnish visual artists Minna L. Henriksson has studied art scene of several cities, as for example of Istanbul, Ljubljana, Belgrade and Helsinki, creating sort of maps on the communication between different members in it. (  In this project we are doing a slightly similar research by mapping the individuals and organisations, which in contemporary art scene influence to the visibility of art and its impact in society. The diagram below is one example for visualizing this.
Please send to our blog your own maps or diagrams.
The next blog post will look more closely the use of contemporary art in welfare services and creative industries and also the methods for bringing it closer to the public. Soon we will also publish a post about the impact of prizes to the visibility of contemporary art. 
Heiskanen, Reetta 2014. Vanhukset ja taide eivät avaa kukkaroita. Helsingin Sanomat26.6.2014.
Houni, Pia & Ansio, Heli 2013. Taiteilijan työ. Taiteilijan hyvinvointi taidetyön muutoksessa. Helsinki: Työterveyslaitos.
Karttunen, Sari 2009. Kun lumipallo lähtee pyörimään. Nuorten kuvataiteilijoiden kansainvälistyminen 2000-luvun alussa. Helsinki: Taiteen Keskustoimikunta.
The Public and the Arts 2006. Dublin: The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaion, 2006.
Public perceptions of – and attitudes to – the purposes of museums in society. A report prepared by BritainThinks for Museums Association March 2013.
Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013. Helsinki: SKR, 2013.
Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013: Vaikuttuneisuus taiteilijoista ja tyylisuunnista. Helsinki: SKR, 2013.
Rensujeff, Kaija 2014. Taiteilijan asema 2010. Taiteilijakunnan rakenne, työ ja tulonmuodostus. Helsinki: Taiteen edistämiskeskus.
The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society. An evidence review. Manchester: Arts Council in England. 2014.

Wikimania 2014 Highlights

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about Wikimania, the annual event of the Wikimedia movement, which was held in London this year.
Wikimania, the official annual event of the Wikimedia movement, took place in London 8–10 August 2014. The event was an interesting mix between a conference and a festival, including over 200 speakers in 8 simultaneous spaces inside the Barbican Centre, with fringe events and hackathons running during the event and preceding it. Most participants seemed to be active Wikipedia editors, as Wikipedia is obviously the most well known Wikimedia product. The British have been active Wikipedians, the UK producing about 20% of all English language Wikipedia articles.
Wikipedia is now the world’s sixth most visited website and the British people trust it more than the BBC News. Despite the success of Wikipedia, the project faces a number of challenges. The majority of  Wikipedians are tech-savvy western men, which may impose a bias to the selection and style of articles, despite an ethos of neutrality. Wikimedia has so far “failed miserably” in fixing the gender imbalance, which requires new measures.
The English language encyclopedia also thrives compared to smaller languages. During the conference I met Finnish Wikimedia representatives and activists. It seems that in conjunction with the overall trend, Finnish Wikipedia is also struggling with declining editor numbers. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear about the development of different local Wiki projects, and for example about the slightly bizarre situation between Wikimedia and the Finnish fundraising law and its interpretation.
Image by: Sampo Viiri, CC BY-SA 4.0
I can admit that I’m not (yet) an active Wikipedia editor, and was mainly interested in the numerous sessions on open data and open scholarship, especially from a cultural heritage sector perspective. Wikimania demonstrated that Wikimedia projects are very much connected with the open knowledge ethos, manifested for example by the strong presence of Open Knowledge (Foundation) and the Open Data Institute. There were lots of relevant sessions and a whole programme track about the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector. The sessions demonstrated how open cultural heritage data can be used improving Wiki projects and also how active Wikimedians can be a huge asset for these organisations.
The Wikimedian in Residence programme is particularly interesting. Participants in the programme dedicate time to working in-house at an organisation, usually financially compensated by the institution or by a Wikimedia chapter. Besides editing Wikipedia, they enable the host organisation to continue a productive relationship with the encyclopedia and its community after the residency. The Wikimedian in Residence model was first piloted by the GLAM initiative of Wikimedia, but has since been adopted by other types of organisations too. Wikimedia UK has recently released a review of the programme and a video documentary about the project.
Another noteworthy GLAM project was the German project Coding da Vinci, where the local Wikimedia chapter teamed up with Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, digiS – Service Center Digitization Berlin and Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, organising a hackathon to make innovative use of open cultural data. The results included for example an iOS app that visualises the historical development of Berlin as an interactive map.
Wikimedian in Residence is quite similar to the Finnish Institute’s Mobius programme, a fellowship program for museum and archive professionals in the UK, Ireland and Finland. As open data and knowledge are some of the Institute’s focus areas, perhaps in the future there could be collaboration for open data fellowships too.
Some other interesting projects visible in Wikimania were Wikimedia’s own Wikidata and the Wikipedia Library, and the UK based projects ContentMine and Histropedia. It has to be noted that these are just some highlights from a variety of interesting initiatives.

Wikidata is a blooming project, a free centralised knowledge base for structured data that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike. While Wikimedia Commons is for storing images, sound, video and other media files, Wikidata is a similar service for machine-readable data. Wikidata could benefit all kinds of projects but in my opinion one important possible use would be to become a repository for academic researchers who need infrastructure for storing their digital research data.

In the United Kingdom the copyright law was altered in June 2014 so that it allows non-commercial researchers to legally copy material for a text and data mining analysis. ContentMine is a new initiative that exploits this new possibility. They use machine-reading to liberate 100 million facts from the scientific literature and make them free for everyone in Wikidata. This can enable new and exciting research, technology developments such as in artificial intelligence, and opportunities for wealth creation.

Histropedia is a new UK based project that made its public debut at the conference. It is an interactive tool to display historical events and described as “a combination of maps, timelines, and trends”. The site pulls data from Wikidata and Wikipedia plotting events on a timeline which is navigated with simple interface. (Demonstration in Guardian website.)

Open publishing is an important topic for Wikimedia and the whole academic community.  The publishing industry naturally wants to make money in their playground, and can be a bulwark against reform. Jonathan Gray from Open Knowledge argued that innovation in open publishing needs to come from the researchers, not publishers. Wikimedia has the Wikipedia Library project to fund active Wikipedians getting access to paywalled databases. Researchers could also be more active in editing Wikipedia, like the American historian Stephen W. Campbell has argued.
Open data and open knowledge may sound like an ideal state of affairs but the Wikimania conference reminded that these are controversial concepts and constantly being fought over. Both Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and Lila Tretikov, the new executive director of Wikimedia Foundation made a strong argument against the new “right to be forgotten” EU legislation that gives people power to remove irrelevant or outdated information about themselves. They argued that the legislation is immoral and would lead to censorship and appearance of “memory holes” in Internet. Quoting Wales: “History is a human right and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another.” This is certainly an interesting topic that provokes different opinions, like the Jimmy Wales’ interview on BBC Newsnight perfectly demonstrates.
Participants gathered on the Barbican courtyard. Adam Novak CC BY-SA 4.0

Placemaking, Community Projects and Citizen Participation

Maija Bergström blogs about redevelopment of the King’s Cross area. This is the second part of a series of posts about King’s Cross, the new home base of the Finnish Institute in London.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the role of history and culture in the development of places, drawing examples from King’s Cross. This post will look into a more communal way of developing places, especially the so-called placemaking approach I referred to earlier.
Regeneration in London can not be examined without acknowledging gentrification. As I explained in my previous post, it refers to the changes where inner city working-class areas start attracting middle-class people. This is followed by rising rents, which eventually force former inhabitants to move out. Gentrification takes different forms in different areas. It is connected to a certain type of aesthetics and the presence of the so-called creative class, and an altered use of old buildings. (1)
Gentrification also threatens the established communities that have formed to an area if it leads to the displacement of lower income households. Gentrification can also happen in a state-led manner, following the so-called social mixing policy that most of the European cities – including London – practice. Gentrification can be seen as a positive phenomenon, as it could mean more diverse services to the area, better public services that benefit the existing population as well. These arguments are often combined with the notion that richer mix of people would mean more contacts between them, which would eventually lead to a harmonious but lively neighbourhood. There is quite strong evidence that this is not always the case, unfortunately (2).
The so-called contact hypothesis assumes that living side by side with people from different ethnic groups or socio-economic groups leads automatically to communication between these people. However, quite the opposite might happen; the boundaries between groups can also become stronger. (3)
If we want to support the formation of communities that include different people, it is important to provide them with means to participate in decision making. Gentrification researcher Loretta Lees writes: “My feeling is that if people prefer to live with people like themselves we should not be forcing them to mix, because ultimately this will fail; rather, we should be keeping the possibility for mixing open to them. This means a refocus on urban design, disallowing fortress-style architecture and gated communities and rethinking the architecture of insecurity and fear.” (2)
The need for including people is becoming more and more important in city planning and decision making, and we need to find new tools for that. Community development refers to an approach where public authorities give communities more power over their area, and provide support and training for that.

Community projects are collaborative practices where the responsibility of the main coordination is on a public authority, charity, or an organised group of citizens. They can also collaborate with businesses and other organisations. Britain has a long history of community projects, and it offers good examples that could be adapted to Finland as well.

Placemaking and community projects can be fitted together. Linda Rutherford wrote a blog post in Project for Public Spaces about placemaking: “I like to think of it as crowdsourcing meets urban and community planning”(4) and I find this comparison a very good one. Community projects could be a good way for crowdsourcing the information and know-how needed for building interesting and diverse public spaces.
There are several community projects at King’s Cross. One of the most interesting of them is the Skip Garden, a moveable organic garden built in old skips and placed next to York Way (and the Finnish Institute’s new office as well). The project is run by charity Global Generations (5) who work with young people, training them and supporting them in running ecological micro-businesses.  Their cafe provides a meeting place for local inhabitants and people working in the area. They also host several events in the garden and offer sustainability training for businesses.

King’s Cross environment is a local news media that provides citizen perspectives  for emerging issues (6). A very interesting entry (7) was made recently, where they claimed that “The King’s Cross Wikipedia entry has long been controversial with authors of this site having had references deleted as they did not fit with the ‘new’ view of King’s Cross. ” There is also a concern for the name King’s Cross used only for the new area, King’s Cross Central, and thus excluding the older residential areas to periphery. This could be seen as a battle for the ownership of the area and the call for a more diverse view to the area.

There are several cultural institutions and interesting businesses located in King’s Cross that could spread their know-how wider at the area, such as the British Library, Guardian newspaper headquarters and King’s Cross impact hub that promotes social entrepreneurship. Google is also building their new office to King’s Cross. There is a really dense and diverse knowledge capital in the area, which takes the form of organisations and companies of very different scale and forms a so-called “knowledge quarter”(8).
King’s Cross has a prime opportunity to make use of the innovative organisations, businesses and local community that exists and is developing in the area. The area’s developer, Argent,  is paying attention to this and supporting local projects in many ways, which I find very encouraging. Finding ways to engage the local community to participate in the development of the area is of the utmost importance, and finding the right tools for this is essential. Community projects like local media and gardens can bring diverse groups together and make them pay attention to their neighbourhood.
Laura Sillanpää wrote a report on participatory budgeting in the UK.  “The clearest benefits include improved service delivery through contributing to the variety of service delivery and especially receiving information about communities and its needs.” (9)  Participatory budgeting could offer another tool for the local people to have an impact on the development of King’s Cross.
Other community projects can have similar benefits for the community too, as those listed by Sillanpää. In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at the benefits perceived by the people involved in the community projects at King’s Cross.
(1) TC Chang. ‘New uses need old buildings’: Gentrification aesthetics and the arts in Singapore Urban Studies 0042098014527482, first published on March 18, 2014 doi:10.1177/0042098014527482
(2) Loretta Lees. Gentrification and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance? Urban Studies November 2008 45: 2449-2470, doi:10.1177/0042098008097099
(3) Valentine, G. (2008) Living with difference: reflections on geographic of encounter, Progress in Human Geography, 32(3), pp. 323-337.
(4) Linda Rutherford in Project for Public Spaces. Why public places are the key to transforming our communities.

(5) Global Generations

(6) King’s Cross environment
(7) King’s Cross environment blog post:

(8) Ian Burrell wrote about Googles UK headquarters 3 November 2013. Unfortunately not much information about Knowledge quarter is to be found online  yet.

(9) Laura Sillanpää 2013, Deliberating Service Delivery. Survey on the outcomes and challenges of

participatory budgeting in the UK.
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