The 1980s was a significant chapter in the history of Finnish art education. Then, a new school system, art schools for children and young people, was founded outside the collective all-round education school. In my article I will tell about the origin, reasons and consequences of art schools. Today, operation according to the original task of the art school is also organised in educational institutes other than special art schools for children and young people e.g. civic and workers’ institutes. In the 1990s, when schools and institutes started to organise education for children and young people outside the comprehensive school also in the fields of handicraft, architecture, cinema, dance, performing arts (theatre and circus) and literary art, the Finnish National Board of Education created a concept called basic education of art that covers all the above-mentioned fields of art as well as certainly also music and fine art.
Art schools for children and young people in Finland – a new phenomenon in the field of art education
In the founding phase of art schools over 25 years ago a group of art teachers, artists and parents of children joined their forces to start a grassroots-level movement whose objective was to organise art education for children and young people. In the great school reform in the early 1970s when Finland switched its school system to a nine-year comprehensive school the number of art subjects was sharply reduced in the curriculum. At the same time subject teachers started to teach students as late as upper secondary school onwards or grades 7, 8 and 9 (13-15 year-olds), while in the old school system they taught every school grade from 11 years onwards. In grade 9 art education became optional with music. Through their own association art teachers were strong advocates of art as an all-round educational school subject for all students, but they lost the battle.
As a result of the situation a state of will emerged, and since 1978 art teachers started to speedily found art schools. Successful operation of music institutes made art teachers ask themselves, what would happen if target-oriented and persistent art education would start already for young children? Should not possibilities be organised also for children interested in visual arts to develop their skills?
There was a great demand for art education outside the comprehensive school, otherwise it cannot be explained why the art school was “discovered” simultaneously all across Finland. Therefore, we cannot name one person in particular that was the founder of the art school; on the contrary, there was a large group of initiators that adopted a serious attitude towards art education.
Municipalities, individual persons, art associations, supporters’ associations of art schools and artist organisations founded art schools. So, immediately from the beginning there were both municipal as well as private art schools. Founding of art schools required great amounts of sacrificing work, faith in art education and skills to justify the necessity of the project. Unesco’s International Year of the Child was celebrated in 1979, and it forced decision-makers to listen to matters concerning children. An economic boom prevailed in the country, and as a result municipalities were willing to found new services. When big cities joined in the project an art school was considered a necessity also in smaller localities. It seemed that smaller municipalities were thinking: If there are art schools for children elsewhere, why don’t we start one also!
The operation was started in art schools with a clean slate, because the founders were, indeed, creating a school form that had never before existed. The founders had to rely on their own reason, experience and help of colleagues in all matters concerning school management. In municipalities the school and culture administration gave somewhat free hands to the persons planning of opening an art school. The purpose, objectives, contents, competences of teaching staff, premises and countless other questions were discussed here and there, and also together within bigger groups.
In spring 1981 the Art School of Espoo organised a national seminar in Hanasaari Cultural Centre, which wide circles interested in the matter (among others, representatives of artist organisations, cultural boards and higher education institutes, in addition to art teachers) participated in to discuss the future of art schools. The seminar made a proposal to the Ministry of Education to appoint a work group to discuss the status of art schools, but the work group was never appointed.
A development work group for art schools was founded in the first collective meeting of art schools in Joensuu in 1982. Principal Tuomo Airasmaa acted as chairman, Päivi Fredriksson acted as secretary and the members were made up of leaders and teachers of art schools. The work group received a grant from the Ministry of Education from grants allocated to the promotion of children’s culture, and it drew up a report titled Art schools for children and young people – background and development objectives (1985). In the report it notes that a coherent education system is missing in the field of fine art. ”A child interested in art or a young person aiming at vocational education must move from a club, institute or a school to a another, and the art education offered in them is not always neither target-oriented nor connected to the previous education.” (Work group Airasmaa et al 1985, 7.) When even civic and workers’ institutes did not organise art education for children and young people at the time, the work group presented that a coherent education system be created for fine art.
An interest group of art schools
An active group of art schools realised relatively early that an association was required to supervise the interests of the schools. The Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People was founded in 1982 to operate as an interest group of the schools. Its central task in the coming years was reporting and negotiation with the government on matters concerning assertion of the status of art schools. The association had an essential role in building a new school system, in which it was central to push the state subsidies and the Act on art schools. At the same time an important task of the association was to organise education for teachers and principals of art schools as well as to assemble developers of the schools together to make proposals and definitions of policy or to plan the future of the art schools.
A diverse representation has been taken into consideration since the beginning in the operation of the Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People. The members of administrative boards and work groups have been chosen from across Finland, from small and large, municipal and private schools. Annual training days and meetings organised by the association have also been held in different localities so that the staff of art schools have been able to familiarise themselves with each other’s working environments.
During the past decade the association started to establish connections with foreign institutes providing art education for children and young people and to organise study visits and seminars also abroad. During the 2000s the association has started co-operation with similar associations in other fields of art.
The task of the art school for children and young people and the Act on Basic Education of Art
The above-mentioned development work group for art schools defined the art school for children and young people for the first time.
” An art school for children and young people is an educational institute whose task is to offer all-round art education that develops the overall personality for children and young people of 5-16 years of age, to support and broaden the art education offered in nursery schools and comprehensive schools as well as to create preconditions for vocational education of fine art and other visual arts.
Art schools provide target-oriented basic education of fine art that progresses in accordance with the curriculum taking the level of development of the pupil into consideration as well as offer advanced special studies.” (Work group Airasmaa et al 1985, 75).
The need for a definition of the art school increased, because of the before-mentioned disorganised situation. Art schools wanted to be distinguished from club activity, and they cringed at identification with anything classified as pottering or hobby activity. The definition has a certain emphasis on the word ’educational institute’ – it is a quarter organising serious activity.
The ”all-round art education that develops the overall personality” mentioned in the definition referred to the fact that schools were ready to take in any child or young person that only had enthusiasm and motivation to engage in art as a pupil. The education did not want to be developed necessarily into vocational education that would produce small starting artist, but rather the education in the art school was considered to benefit any child or young person whether his/her life career was going to be in the field of art or not. The education provided was all-round education, and at the same time of such high quality that it ”created preconditions” also later to possibly continue on to vocational studies of art. ”Developing the overall personality” refers to an idea that engaging in art has an impact on the person as a whole – it is not a question of practicing only a narrow ability or skill, but, among others, thinking, emotional life and observation will develop with the help of art.
In the definition, support is given to art education in nursery schools and comprehensive schools. This was an important education-political definition of policy. It sent a message that art schools do not replace art education in nursery schools and comprehensive schools, because the education in art schools does not concern the entire generation. Art schools have often given voice to their view on the organisation of art education in comprehensive schools: more of it is needed and all children have the right to receive it. All these years there has been a fear – justified or not – that some quarter will think of abolishing art subjects from the comprehensive school entirely, and justify it on the grounds that there are active art schools and music institutes.
“Art schools provide target-oriented basic education of fine art that progresses in accordance with the curriculum taking the level of development of the pupil into consideration as well as offer advanced special studies.”
An occasionally operating club does not fulfill the conditions of the definition. Target-oriented operation that progresses annually and forms an entity is proper education, and also could expect to receive public funding.
Art schools received public funding for the first time in 1982 by a separate decision of government parties. The next year art schools received their own budget within the state Budget, from which the government started to allocate discretionary state subsidy to the schools. Throughout the 1980s the Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People made proposals to the Ministry of Education to create an education system for art and to assert the status of art schools with the help of legislation. A memorandum (1991:22) of the art education work group of the Ministry of Education did, indeed, contain a government bill on basic education of art. The need for art education for children and young people also in other fields of art than fine art and music was anticipated in legislation and, thus, a concept ’basic education of art’ was created, which refers to all type of education in different fields of art outside the comprehensive school in accordance with the Act and legislation. The first Act on Basic Education of Art came into force on 1 June 1992. It was revised in 1998 (Act number 633/1998).
The Act of 1988 defines basic education of art as follows:
”Basic education of art is target-oriented education in different fields of art progressing in levels organised primarily for children and young people, which at the same time gives a pupil readiness to express him/herself and to seek his/her way into vocational and higher education in the relevant field of art.”
The Act has been drawn up in the spirit of the first definition of the art school. The Act also requires that basic education of art be organised in accordance with the bases of the curriculum drawn up by the Finnish National Board of Education. In 1992 when the first Act on Basic Education of Art came into force, consulting official of the Ministry of Education, Paula Tuomikoski, characterised basic education of art as an example of modern administration. ”The most essential guidance tool in the basic education system is quality objective: education planned and given by a competent art teacher in accordance with the bases of the curriculum.” (A Guide to Basic Education of Art 1993, 13)
Spirit of the art school and development of the curriculum
Several art schools started their operation as a trial under cover of small grants. In the beginning there were only a few students and teachers often worked part-time. This open situation allowed a free ideation also at a pedagogic level. As the school leaders had imitated music institutes in administrative organisations, they wanted to plan the school contents entirely free of role models.
The development work group for art schools noted that ”music institutes are more performance-oriented, while art schools for children and young people are education-oriented.” (Work group Airasmaa et al 1985, 8). The development work group drew up a curriculum, which acted as a trend setting model for the curriculums of art schools until 1992. The work group stated cautiously:
” Although a coherent curriculum was drawn up for art schools for children and young people the work group emphasises that the success of the operation of art schools depends essentially on the education being renewing, experimental and enthusiastic. A possibility must be given for trial operation of art schools for children and young people. Co-operation among art education, specialists in pedagogics as well as creatively working artists will become more central in future.” (Work group Airasmaa et al 1985, 9).
The spirit of the art school can be described as a creative and experimental atmosphere that has inspired schools throughout the years. When enthusiastic teachers fervently dedicated to their cause started small-scale education in modest conditions 25 years ago they were, according to some standards, megalomaniacs with impossible dreams. When resources of art education were continuously reduced in comprehensive schools art schools wanted to create ideal conditions to teach art education. Enough time was required for education (at least 2×45 min./week/group), the size of the teaching groups needed to be small (10-12 pupils/group), professional working tools and materials, appropriate teaching premises, proper teaching tools as well as competent teachers were required. Within the limits of these boundary conditions it was possible to organise experimental education, in which a student’s own thoughts and ideas could be taken into consideration.
Assertion of the status of art schools with the help of legislation required creation of collective bases of curriculum for all schools. A new teacher training also required a collective curriculum for art schools. The Education Centre of the University of Art and Design Helsinki had started a pedagogic further education for artists in 1987 ordered by the Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People, and since 1990 artist’s pedagogic studies were added to the programme of the art education department ordered by the Visio committee. This education programme was directed primarily at artist teachers working in art schools.
In 1991 the Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People appointed a curriculum work group that drew up The Curriculum for Art Schools (1992) and proposed to the Finnish National Board of Education that it be the premise for the bases of curriculum for basic education of art. The Finnish National Board of Education, indeed, used the art schools’ own curriculum as a basis for its work. The Finnish National Board of Education published the first Bases of the Curriculum for Basic Education of Art in 1993.
In the curriculum of the work group of the Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People art education is defined as follows: ”- – – Inquiring attitude towards learning, education and expression is characteristic to education in art schools. The task of the education is to activate and guide students’ active, mental working. The process of teaching and learning is considered to be as important as the concrete end results that emerge during working. Teaching of art is creation of new, just as is making of art. In the teaching process the teacher and pupils interact together: they are, as it were, a work group on a joint journey, the knowledge and skills of its members influencing the success of the journey.” (Fredriksson, Hahtonen, Heinimaa 1992, 6).
The work groups appointed by the Finnish National Board of Education have twice (in 1993 and 2002) drawn up bases of the curriculum for basic education of art, which have since acted as bases of municipal and school-specific curricula. The bases of the curriculum for the broad syllabus of basic education of art of visual arts were completed in 2002, and the equivalent bases were completed for general syllabus in 2005.
In the bases of the curriculum for broad syllabus basic education of visual arts is characterised in a form true to the original spirit of the art school.
”- – – The need for artistic learning must derive from a pupil’s own motivation, and a pupil must have an active role in studying and learning”. ”- – – In the education, inquiring and functional learning should be exploited alone and in interaction with others. The objective is that a pupil him/herself sets problems, processes information and discusses and forms assumptions.” (The bases of the curriculum for broad syllabus of visual arts 2002, 9)
”- – – Learning of visual skills and knowledge as well as an inquiring, problem-centered attitude toward learning and expression require continuous interaction between the pupil, the teacher and the group. Observation, working and play must be the central work forms. A pupil’s own experiences, skills, knowledge as well as interest are the bases of education. The joy of working and learning should be strived to maintain with choices of subjects and themes.” (The bases of the curriculum for broad syllabus of visual arts 2002, 10)
The chapter of introduction to art stresses that ”education must be creative” as well as ”inquiring and problem-centered”. (2002,16)
Along with the new curriculum art schools started pupil assessment and the possibility to have a final assessment. Experiences on the influences of the reforms are not yet available.
Indeed, it would be interesting to examine how the pedagogic thinking in art schools has changed and developed over the years. In what ways the education is renewing, experimental and enthusiastic today? And does the original spirit of the art school still stay alive in the 2000s?
Lasten ja nuorten kuvataidekoulut – taustaa, kehittämistavoitteet
Valtion taidehallinnon julkaisuja No26, Helsinki1985, Valtion painatuskeskus
Fredriksson, Hahtonen, Heinimaa, Lasten ja nuorten kuvataidekoulun opetussuunnitelma, Helsinki1992, The Finnish Association of Art Schools for Children and Young People
A Guide to Basic Education of Art, editor Ismo Porna and Pirjo Väyrynen, Helsinki 1993, The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities
Act on the Basic Education of Art (424/1992)
Act on the Basic Education of Art (633/1998)
The bases of the curriculum for broad syllabus of basic education of visual arts 2002, Helsinki 2002, the Finnish National Board of Education