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Culture helps handle the darker sides of working life

Culture helps handle the darker sides of working life

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén, photo: Mikael Nybacka

There are great hopes that creativity will give businesses the competitive edge, but amateurish attempts at introducing culture into working life do not help, say Finnish pioneers on culture in businesses.

 Culture can help create an understanding of working life’s complex structures, says Piritta Kantojärvi, an art pedagogue specialising in leadership and organisational development. She and her company Grape People use picture art, theatre and dance to educate workers in how to deal with difficult situations and processes of change.

”I was the first one to stage company art workshops where the point is to do something other than providing a bit of fun and relaxation,” she says.

”But when I first introduced culture as a strategic tool, people laughed at me.”

Today no one’s laughing anymore. Her customers include several major listed companies.

”I have for instance got the leader group of a large industrial company to get involved with modern dance. That is possibly the best way to stimulate your own comfort zone. We prepare them in how to change their work culture so that they are no longer afraid of failure.” 

Personnel issues

So this is about more than aesthetic wellbeing and striving to get away from the visual chaos which dominates in so many workplaces. Using culture can actually help simulate problems and lead to open discussions on how to solve them, without involving people’s concrete challenges. People can simulate situations without having to disclose what it is they are afraid of at work. But this goes further than helping people relax by painting pictures – it is about developing company processes which in turn demands a deep knowledge of pedagogical and business logics.

”There’s a great risk that people who don’t understand this can ruin the entire market,” says Piritta’s working partner Outi Raatikainen at Pink Eminence, a company helping cultural businesses create business-like relations to the companies, for instance in relation to product development and pricing.

”Our customers are involved in different kinds of cultural activities, from theatre groups to circus and art museums, and all want to offer their services to companies,” says Raatikainen.

Culture can get the creativity flowing, but at the same time it can work as therapy. A particularly vulnerable group of people are those working with personnel issues. In times like these, with redundancies and cuts, they are exposed to pressure both from their bosses and from employees. It can be liberating for them to be able to express their exhaustion.

Nokia’s heritage

We meet over a morning coffee at Helsinki’s Cable Factory, an oasis for producers of culture in Finland since 1987 when the manufacturing of cables ended. The 1930s industrial building was long home to Nokia. Many culture workers have their workshops here and as public funding shrinks they are forced to look for market-friendly solutions to secure their incomes.

”They are forced to deal with various hybrid models because cultural projects cannot be financed by public money alone; they have to create new models and find new target groups,” says Outi Raatikainen.

She and Piritta Kantojärvi often come across fuzzy cultural project whose only aim seems to be to spend project money, either from various domestic sources or from the EU.

”They exist as long as there is EU funding,” says Raatikainen.

Behind this lies a misunderstanding that cultural services are easy to produce and that companies have a lot of money to spend on this.

My prejudices

One of my questions is deliberately prejudiced and is about men: how can they become interested in culture-based development work? Piritta Kantojärvi claims the challenge is actually not particularly large and the key word is 3D.

”We have made sculptures out of scrap metal which has made engineers become interested in recycling copper. We have also built cities out of cardboard,” she says.

Grape People and Pink Eminence must do pioneering work, but the number of cultural based services is growing fast. The health and therapeutic benefits of culture have long been known, the theme celebrated 20 years in Finland in 2012. The comprehensive level of research in Finland into culture and working life is another proof of the increased interest in the issue. Yet it is only in recent years that the strategic importance of culture has emerged, not least as part of creative thinking and innovation theories.

Many more jobs

Finland’s Ministry of Employment and the Economy launched a development project with a cultural focus as early as in 2008 called ’Strategic project for a creative economy’.

The end report was published one year ago, but work continues to increase the growth of creative sector companies. The creative economy is part of the government’s programme until 2015. At the same time it is clear that this part of the Finnish economy is quite small. The end report estimates some 108,000 people work in the creative economy – covering the professional range from scriptwriters to computer game developers.

Yet the trade’s future is bright. New figures from Statistics Finland show employment figures for cultural occupations has risen much faster than the average employment figures during the 2000s – with a full 22 percent between 2004 and 2011 compared to 5 percent for all occupations. The increase is mainly found in graphics and advertising jobs, but it nevertheless illustrates the importance of culture in working life.

Outi Raatikainen

is one of the founders of Pink Eminence, a company helping cultural businesses create business-like relations to the companies.


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