Integrity Is Key

Even with a solid cultural family background and classical ballet studies, I entered the culture sector from “the outside” – as many say – with 25 years of business and media experience. When the Business of Culture program started, I was serving my seventh year at the Dance House project, as a pro bono consultant for three years, as Board Vice Chair for three years, and finally as Board Chair.

Kuva: Jari Hudd

Elli Mäkilä, 21.12.2020

During my Dance House years, I was very aware of the pressure of trying to earn the fields’ trust and appreciation for my work as an “outsider”. Often, I felt that the work I did was not considered for what it was, but through quite introverted dance field glasses. As if otherness was something that – ironically the mainly contemporary – dance fields’ inner circle did not see as a possibility and new asset, but as something that endangered the status quo of existing structures, which from my experience a small elite benefited from.

Coming from “the outside” gave me space to think and rethink."

On the other hand, coming from “the outside” gave me space to think and rethink, to study the history behind the status quo, and evaluate and re-evaluate for myself whether I believed it served the common good of the larger field, artistic innovation, and very much needed revenue model development.

Re-evaluation turned out to be the gamechanger that escalated many events during my Business of Culture studies and Dance House times. And for these I am so very grateful, for they gave me even more strength, knowledge, vision, and determination.

Re-evaluation of prior decisions vs. the current climate were at the very core of discussions during my Business of Culture studies. This too was central to my actions and era as Dance House Board Chair. Are prior decisions reasonable and functional now that we know more? In the light of new knowledge and a rapidly changing context, how can we conduct responsible leadership?

No matter the field of art or nationality presented, it was very clear to us all at the Business of Culture that this program had an acute calling with a fundamental mission to update not only culture and art leadership, but also the discussions and politics around it.

As “an outsider” representing the scary otherness, I dare to say that fairness and respect are something that I have found lacking in the Finnish cultural field. This, combined with outdated equalization payment models and rare private funding models, has created an asylum for unethical administration and power dynasties, leaving the majority of artistic talent, innovation, development, and hope and belief outside. With my Business of Culture colleagues, I finally found a place where I could discuss my observations and have my thinking challenged with interest, intelligence, and respect.

I finally found a place where I could discuss my observations and have my thinking challenged with interest, intelligence, and respect."

During our studies, the different areas of professionalism that we had the privilege to draw from, and the necessity to discuss on a larger scope than our own fields, created a new, healthy, un-biased platform and network. Even during our studies, we were able to evaluate, test, and re-evaluate, and then create new solutions and quality thinking. Our discussions started to shake the invisible barriers in the culture sector related to political thinking – public and behind the scenes. Conduct with absolute trust and respect was immediate.

As for myself, my experience is that the majority of the barriers restricting the art sector from development are built on personal agendas – the misuse of power. I must say, that I have met very many wise, good, and experienced professionals in different stakeholder groups when working with the dance field. But to be diplomatic, there is still a lot of work to be done at the important tables – and the seats surrounding them.

I have witnessed pure Machiavellianism in actions driving the fields’ opinion, as well as good people and really talented professionals trying to get their voice heard. The latter represent the power that we need to nurture and provide new options for.

When talking about decades of neglected responsibility to learn and enhance, you cannot change the broken from within. We need to create new opportunities for common development and success. My vision of creating new business and funding models that benefit all the creative forces with no space for biased processes or decision making, manifested its first form during my Business of Culture journey.

My mission is to offer tools and encouragement for creating concrete new possibilities outside the existing structures. The Business of Culture support and program had a major effect on this personal development journey. And I’m happy to say to the culture sector that I’m here to stay, to spur, to challenge the dysfunctional, together with the amazing artistic and professional assets that we hold. Integrity is key.

So please do join me, and fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy, but vital, ride!

Elli Mäkilä founded the marketing agency Storybound Oy in 2018 after working in media and advertising for 25 years. She has coached both publishers and advertisers, and theatres, festivals, and companies in the culture sector, in Finland and elsewhere Europe. She has served as the Vice-Chair and Chair of Board at Dance House Helsinki in 2016-2020.
Elli Mäkilä participated in the Business of Culture program in 2019–2020. Mäkilä's scholarship has been supported by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation. Wihuri Foundation´s purpose is to support cultural and economic development in Finland.

The support of the Art Professionals plays a key role in ensuring lifelong learning in leadership and strengthening collaboration in the Art and Cultural field. Arts and Culture professionals are supported in the first program cohort 2019–2020 by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, the Saastamoinen Foundation, the association Föreningen Konstsamfundet and the Kulturfonden för Sverige och Finland.

The Business of Culture leadership development program is responding to current challenges all leaders are facing in the cultural industry. The cultural sector, like any other sector, is facing challenges because of social, economic, and technological trends and their impact on customer behavior. It will put even higher pressure on the cultural sector's need for leadership development and organizations to reorganize the business with the latest tools and methods. The usual structures of financing are drastically changing at the latest now. New forms of action must be actively sought. As necessary is to grow the international and both cross-industrial, and professional networks to serve societal challenges and citizens. The program is tailored to answer these needs, and it is now more important than ever.


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