Admin assistant

Outi Järvinen’s mission is to make life easier for freelance artists. She tells Andrew Anderson why her company Arts Management Helsinki is like a gym membership for your business. 

The life of a freelance artist is divided into two. The first part, the fun part, is coming up with ideas. That’s easy – it comes naturally. But the remainder, the admin, is not so easy. There are contracts to check, insurance policies to organise and the scary prospect of calculating your taxes. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could help you with all that?

Well, that’s exactly the service Outi Järvinen is offering through her company Arts Management Helsinki (AMH). With a background as an independent dancer and choreographer, Järvinen is well aware of the struggles that freelance performers deal with every day.

“Partly by chance, I found my calling in the production and management side of artistic creation,” says Järvinen, when I ask why she moved from creating her own work to helping others produce theirs. “My stronger assets were in that field and not in creating new pieces myself, so that’s the path I’ve followed.

“Working as a freelance artist, especially if in cross-disciplinary forms, is financially challenging,” continues Järvinen. “It’s a precarious job, and self-producing artists end up with a lot of administrative work in addition to their creative work. Sometimes they feel overwhelmed by this – after all, it’s not their core calling – so one of the main goals of AMH has been to find ways of providing such services to artists who have a small budget.”

While there are many arts consultancy firms out there, Järvinen’s is a bit different. For a small monthly fee of €50, freelance artists get access to her production and administrative support, coworking office, and a community of peers. At the moment, there are 27 artists in this programme.

“The artists pay a very low monthly fee, kind of like a gym membership, and for that they have production and management assistance available to them whenever they need it. They are still in the driving seat of their own careers and work, but help and support is within their reach – they are not alone.”

In addition to providing a platform and community for freelance artists, Arts Management Helsinki also collaborates with creative projects in cross-sector, multidisciplinary areas. “More and more artists are working on interdisciplinary projects, pushing the boundaries of different art forms and genres. But when they push the creative boundaries they then require new forms of producing and managing the work. Often the old structures – for examples theatres and galleries – are not used to facilitating new working methods. Artists are always a couple of steps ahead of institutions, which change slowly.”

Järvinen cites two current clients to illustrate her point. The first is duo Niskanen & Salo, who have created interactive installations for Finnish institutions like the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, SIC gallery, and URB festival.

“I’ve known Jani-Matti Salo for many years through the dance world, but together with Mark Niskanen he’s been moving away from the traditional theatre scene. Now they work more in interactive installations and performances that can be in galleries or in different formats. Because they are so busy creating – they have just finished a work for Helsinki Festival – I’m really there as back office help, handling the finances of the projects, sorting contracts and making sure everything is in order. That means they can keep their creative control without having to worry about the management side.”

The duo is currently creating a permanent interactive outdoor installation for Helsinki Art Museum, before heading off for a year-long residency in New York City.

“Then there are artists like Meiju Niskala, whose work is difficult to categorise,” says Järvinen. “She does these large-scale participatory projects with organisations like Helsinki Festival, Mänttä Art Festival and social-not-for profit organisations.

“Finland is a small country, so in order to do these things she needs to look abroad for partners. Right now I’m helping her develop a toolkit that makes her work easier to understand for international buyers. That’s a question we need to answer together: how can you turn an experience or concept into a product that galleries can understand?”

However, Järvinen says major institutions are getting used to interdisciplinary work – slowly. “It’s quite a trendy thing for museums to do more installations and interactive events, so it’s getting more normal. But production realities are still different for different institutions: a theatre will have a staff that understands live shows, but might not be so familiar with community processes; a museum might be very familiar with how to hang things on the wall, but not aware of the technical needs of an interactive installation.”

Finally, Järvinen is also sharing her production skills with the next generation. As one of the founders of Nordic Circle of Artistic Management (an international project aiming to develop production and management skills across the field of dance), she has helped pair up young Scandinavian producers with mentors in different countries.

“Being part of the development process has been hugely exciting for me,” she says. “Not only providing opportunities for artists but also strengthening the knowledge and capacity of producers and managers – that’s been my proudest achievement.”

This article first appeared in IAM volume 14 issue 10.