“Strong Kiasma has many opportunities”
Berndt Arell, Director of Kiasma since January 2007, wants to see a future where contemporary art and literature are equally important. The language and methods of contemporary art are close to the everyday lives of people, so visiting an art museum could be as natural as going to the library. In this interview with Kiasma magazine, Berndt Arell approached his new job from the perspective of a SWOT analysis.
“Kiasma’s main strength is its position, partly natural, partly hard-earned. Natural in the sense that, as part of the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma is the ‘official’ museum of contemporary art. However, Kiasma has worked hard to become Finland’s most popular museum and to retain that status.”
Among Kiasma’s other strengths, Arell mentions its good contact with its audience and visitors, significantly many of whom are young people. This strength is accompanied by a challenge: How, on the one hand, do you keep young people interested and, on the other, attract older visitors?
When visiting Kiasma, Arell has noticed that the employees care about their museum. Video works run as they are supposed to, guards know a great deal about how the various works of art function and are able to help and guide visitors. Everything shows that the employees are committed to Kiasma. This creates a solid base for new developments.
“The world keeps changing and there is a lot of diversity, so we have plenty of benchmarks. If you took the best parts of all the art museums, that would give you an idea of what Kiasma could be. Personally, I’m particularly fond of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego at La Jolla. It is just the right size to be seen at one go. What I like about Kiasma is that you can come and see a certain project or exhibition, there’s always something going on. On the other hand, people are used to the idea that once they come to a museum, they want to see everything.”
Arell has often expressed his interest in developing museum education. Good examples are available, for instance, from the United States.
“Museums in the United States invest heavily in education, as well as in all aspects of customer relations. It is understandable because the museums are mainly financed by ticket sales, but we can still learn a lot from them.”
“The worst threat facing a cultural institution is the constant reduction in resources. It can easily give you a feeling of defeat, something that must be prevented. However, I believe that our financial resources will grow, one way or another. We must also look after our human resources. Kiasma is full of skilled and committed employees, but we must not take them for granted. We must motivate our staff in various ways. The independent nature of the work and the opportunity to be a part of creating something new make the work more meaningful.”
Arell likes to see the rapidly changing environment and the new competitive position of Kiasma more as an opportunity than as a threat.
“New players in the field incite new discussion on art and culture, which is a positive thing. The national concert house, which will be built next to Kiasma, will be a natural co-operation partner for us. We’ll be sure to discuss future co-operation.”
Arell thinks that Kiasma’s weakness can partly be found in its strength. Retaining its strong position requires constant renewal, so the work is never finished. Kiasma’s activities are also scrutinised with a more critical eye than those of many other players in the field. This can easily lead to conservatism. On the other hand, Kiasma also holds the initiative in art debate. A functioning whole makes it possible to boldly experiment over a wide range.