Helena Gaunt: “The greatest danger to the arts is to become irrelevant”
Helena Gaunt spoke at Arts Without Borders conference in Helsinki, October 2016.
Professor Helena Gaunt from London is a visiting professor at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki.
Gaunt is Vice Principal at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the UK, where she focuses on leadership strategies for research, academic development and internalization.
This is not the first time for Gaunt to serve as a visiting professor at Uniarts Helsinki. During her last visit she explored potentials for students and teachers at the different academies of the newly fledged university to work together across academy borders.
She also reflected on how the University of the Arts could have a stronger international presence. Among the results was the extensive international conference, Arts Without Borders, held during 19-22 October at the Helsinki Music Centre on these themes.
Gaunt speaks strongly in favor of bringing art to where it reaches people. Artists shouldn’t retreat into their own bubbles.
“The conference highlights art that is public, interactive and reaches out to people, and art that pushes through boundaries, redefining the role it can play in society. People researching and developing new, radical practices can make art forms centrally present in people’s lives.”
As examples she mentions the case presented by Eeva Siljamäki, a reasearcher at ArtsEqual, on using improvisation and choral singing to help people who suffer from anxiety, or the use of artistic methods in work carried out among refugees.
“In all art forms there are innovative ways to communicate meaningfully with people without losing the values of art.”
Business leadership learning from artists
According to Gaunt, the art field has a lot to offer to, for example, businesses leadership.
“Leaders of businesses have been interested in learning not only creativity but also democracy from arts management. Many of them are searching ethical and more human forms of leadership, which art can offer.”
A leader of a business could learn, for example, fluidity of process from a choreographer.
Gaunt generally believes that the art field needs to build a stronger connection to businesses.
“The era of public funding is in the past. That is not to say that we should stop public funding, but it has not been altogether healthy.”
Gaunt points out that free art is, from a historical perspective, largely a romantic fantasy. The history of patronage is very long, and there are, on the other hand, certain dangers to this relationship.
“We all fear that the arts become commercially driven. A balance has to be found in the relationship between the arts and the world of business.”
Arts education needs reform
Gaunt believes that artists need to make their work relevant to society and people.
“Art is powerful, through zeitgeist and a genuine connection with the audience. It can be activism, or creative entrepreneurship. It’s not just about how to get funded, you have to go and find the need for your work as an artist and the context to do it.”
In Gaunt’s mind the greatest danger to artists is that their work becomes irrelevant.
A strong role of the arts in society requires reforms from arts education.
“Art institutions are accustomed to perceiving themselves as places where certain crafts are taught. That is no longer enough. Students need to think from the very beginning about what their visions or purposes are. They have to develop cooperation skills, learn human qualities, ethics, empathy, resilience. And then they need to reflect on how all this is seen in their art and presents itself to the wider world.”
Students need to get to collaboratively engage in learning across artistic boundaries and with different kinds of people.
“Many artists know what it’s like to work with actors, musicians or fine artists, but people from other walks of life may be an uncharted territory for them. A key question for the future is how artists can translate their own artistic passion into a form that comes into contact with, for example, old people, children or refugees.”
Fitting all this into studies can be a challenging task. According to Gaunt, the solution lies in efficiency.
“It is not just a question of how many hours a day you practice, but of the quality of the practice, its context. Practical skills for operating as a human being, integrated with your craft.”
But where does the line run between authentic art and a state where art is subjugated into an instrumental role or it becomes too popular?
“Where does that assumption come from, that popular things don’t have quality? Now that would be an interesting question to analyze”, Gaunt says.
Gaunt believes that, regardless of the art form, when you dig deep art is always about communication, sharing creativity.