Theatre Studies must be retained as a degree subject and its future as a scientific discipline secured

Dear Kaarle Hämeri (Chancellor), Sari Lindblom (Rector) and Paula Eerola (Vice-Rector),
Dear Hanna Snellman (Vice-Rector), Tom Böhling (Vice-Rector)
Dear Pirjo Hiidenmaa (Dean, Faculty of Arts)

We the undersigned wish to express our deep concern at the plans put forward by the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Arts in respect of theatre studies and other smaller arts subjects. These proposals threaten the viability of theatre studies nationally.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of theatre to Finnish culture. More than four million tickets are sold to professional theatre, dance and circus performances each year (as at 2019). The professional theatre sector is complemented by Finland’s more than 500 amateur theatres which engage and entertain thousands of people each year. Finnish arts and cultural policy has historically been based on a thorough understanding of the meaning and value of the performing arts. Indeed, recent reforms have meant that the funding allocated to the performing arts will see an increase in the 2022 budget.

Theatre studies must be protected

Unfortunately, the success of the Finnish performing arts sector is not similarly reflected at Helsinki University, where plans are currently underway to undermine both teaching and research into this subject. Following the closure of the theatre and drama degree programme at the University of Tampere in 2019, Helsinki is currently the only Finnish university offering a full programme of study in these subjects. Notably, students are already admitted as part of the wider art subject intake.

The plans now being proposed threaten to undermine the status of theatre studies as a full degree subject offering teaching from undergraduate to doctoral level. In the event that they are implemented, theatre studies in Finland will be relegated to the status of a minor subject only and Finnish expertise in this area will suffer.

The theatre studies community in Finland has always enjoyed a strong reputation for their research and other activity and for their well-established links both internationally and with practitioners in Finland. The department has generated valuable research on performing arts audiences, drama as literature, the history of theatre and dance as well as the acting and directing practice.

Until now, the status of the theatre studies programme has been seen as an internal matter reserved for the University of Helsinki. However, it would be more accurate to view it in a wider context as part of Finland’s national policy on science. The question now being asked is: what support exists for theatre and performing arts research in Finland? In August 2021, Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto MP submitted a written question in parliament on the status of arts research in Finnish universities. In his response, Antti Kurvinen, Minister for Culture and Sport noted that ”it is not in the interests of any university mindful of its responsibilities to undermine research into the arts”.

Strong demand for theatre studies expertise

While valuable in its own right, it is also important to ensure the ongoing viability of theatre studies in Finland due to the employment opportunities it offers and the important role it plays in promoting the performing arts in society more widely. Theatre studies graduates are employed in a range of roles in the theatre, dance, circus and performing arts sectors both in administrative and management roles. The current theatre studies curriculum is an opportunity for students to develop a profound insight into the history theatre and the structures of and potential inherent in the theatre sector, while also offering them tools for analysing performance and performative approaches in a wider sense.

Significant changes are currently being introduced to the way the Finnish government funds arts and culture due to a drop in income raised through Finland’s highly regulated gambling sector. More than ever before, it is vital that the performing arts sector benefits from the input and insight of highly-trained professionals. It needs the kind of expertise that theatre studies graduates are ideally placed to offer.

At the moment, theatre studies graduates are employed by a wide range of organisations that operate within the sector, including the Finnish National Theatre, Helsinki City Theatre, Swedish Theatre, Espoo City Theatre, smaller ensembles, the Theatre Museum and other cultural heritage organisations. Many also work as journalists and critics. The Finnish performing arts ecosystem simply would not exist were it not for the contribution made by countless theatre studies graduates.

Some of the discussion on this topic has focused on how the University of Helsinki and the University of the Arts Helsinki might share responsibility for ensuring the ongoing viability of theatre studies in Finland. As things stand, the division of responsibilities between the Theatre Studies department and the Theatre Academy is clearly laid out: in collaboration with the University of Tampere, the Theatre Academy assumes responsibility for offering vocational training to theatre practitioners, while Theatre Studies trains professionals for administrative and management roles. Theatre studies researchers are not practicing artists; they specialise in studying and supporting the work of artists.

Arts research vital for Finnish national culture

When decisions about the future of the theatre studies programme at the University of Helsinki are made, it is essential to bear in mind that Finnish drama and performing arts are not studied and taught anywhere else in the world. As a signatory to the UNESCO convention, Finland is obligated to safeguard the country’s intangible cultural heritage, including the performing arts. Education and research are named in the convention as key ways of achieving its aims with regard to theatre, dance and the circus arts.

If Finland is committed to preserving its reputation as a nation of art and culture, it is vitally important to ensure that theatre studies and other arts subjects continue to be protected and maintain their independent status. Once the viability of an academic subject and an entire area of research is compromised, it will not be possible to reinstate it in the future. On behalf of Finland’s performing arts sector as a whole, we appeal to you to protect theatre studies in Finland.

We the undersigned demand that the University of Helsinki retain the status of Theatre Studies as a degree subject and ensure the ongoing viability of theatre studies as a scientific discipline.

This petition will be presented to senior management at the University of Helsinki in January 2022.  

On behalf of the Finnish theatre field,

Jukka Aaltonen, teaterchef / Åbo Svenska Teater

Karola Baran, toiminnanjohtaja / Teatteri- ja mediatyöntekijöiden liitto  

Hanna Helavuori, vapaa kirjoittaja 

Liisa Ikonen, esittävien taiteiden lavastuksen professori / Taideyliopisto

Mikko Kanninen, teatterinjohtaja / Tampereen Teatteri  

Otso Kautto, teatterinjohtaja / Tampereen Työväen Teatteri  

Elina Knihtilä, näyttelijätaiteen professori / Taideyliopisto  

Tuija Kokkonen, taiteellisen tutkimuksen professori / Taideyliopisto  

Marjo Kuusela, taiteen akateemikko  

Elina Kuusikko, toiminnanjohtaja / Näyttelijäliitto - Skådespelarförbundet ry.

Ralf Långbacka, teaterregissör och konstakademiker  

Mika Myllyaho, pääjohtaja / Kansallisteatteri  

Marianne Möller, dramaturg  

Lotta Nevalainen, vt. toiminnanjohtaja / Sirkuksen tiedotuskeskus  

Madeleine Onne, baletin taiteellinen johtaja / Suomen kansallisooppera ja -baletti

Lilli Paasikivi, oopperan taiteellinen johtaja / Suomen kansallisooppera ja -baletti 

Kaisa Paavolainen, toimitusjohtaja / Suomen Teatterit ry 

Sanna Rekola, toiminnanjohtaja / Tanssin tiedotuskeskus   

Laura Ruohonen, näytelmäkirjailija  

Ville Sandqvist, varadekaani / Teatterikorkeakoulu  

Raija-Liisa Seilo, museonjohtaja / Teatterimuseo  

Linnea Stara, johtaja / Teatterin tiedotuskeskus TINFO   

Erik Söderblom, teatterinjohtaja / Espoon Kaupunginteatteri  

Ari Tenhula, toiminnanjohtaja / Zodiak – Uuden tanssin keskus  

Joachim Thibblin, teaterchef / Svenska Teatern  

Translation: Liisa Muinonen

Linnea Stara (Teatterin tiedotuskeskus TINFO)    Contact the author of the petition