1. Introduction: Arctic Arts, Sustainability and Arctic Arts Summit 2019
The sustainable development of the Arctic and Arctic sustainability is defined in many ways and for many purposes [1
]. Three well-known and commonly implemented variations are ecological, social and economic sustainability. In the Arctic, discussions on sustainability are most often associated with natural resources and both ecological and economic dimensions. In this article, the themes covered include the arts as political encounters, education for sustainability through arts and culture and the economic potential of creative industries. We discuss these topics in the framework of cultural sustainability, which is seen as a fourth variation of sustainable development or as an aspect integrated into ecological, social and economic approaches [5
]. We also ponder the potential of arts and culture to enhance sustainability amid changes in the Arctic and around the globe. Interest in the Arctic has been growing both inside and outside the region, in parallel with an emphasis on the Arctic as a barometer for climate crisis, competition for natural resources and cultural, social, economic and political transformations caused by globalisation [2
The following countries are members of the Arctic Council: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States (US). Four million people live in the north of these countries, including more than 40 indigenous groups representing 10% of the entire Arctic population, as noted by the Arctic Human Development Report [7
]. Reports from the Nordic Council of Ministers [8
] have defined certain ‘megatrends’ taking place in the Arctic. The climate crisis is one of them, and global warming is happening much faster in the Arctic than anywhere else, with serious consequences for local communities. In the Arctic, livelihoods, cultural traditions and world views are bound to nature, and thus, megatrends, such as the climate crisis, have immediate influences on society. Another notable trend is globalisation related to mass-tourism and the exploitation of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, harmfully impacting nature and its fragile ecosystems. Globalisation has also resulted in a shift from the rural to the urban in terms of economic activity, livelihoods and cultural life. This process is complex, changing cultural and locational identities and challenging the well-being of the population, regional development and the vitality of cultural heritage among local cultures. In addition, political structures, communication and the distribution of power, demographics, and social and cultural relations are impacted [8
]. Hanna Lempinen, a researcher on Arctic sustainability [10
], explained that when considering Arctic cultures and their sustainability, the emphasis is on change. Furthermore, although the ongoing societal and environmental changes are fast and unpredictable, the importance of local cultures for development has been recognised [10
Changing ecosystems and the socio-economic transformations interwoven into them have impacted the cultures and identities of the Arctic; for example, altered harvesting, hunting and fishing patterns have affected cultures, identifications and the value of traditional knowledge [2
]. The concept of eco-cultural resilience, which emphasises that ecological and cultural processes are interlinked, calls for renewal and innovative thinking when facing these changes [5
]. Arts, culture and educational practices are expected to enhance resilience and creativity and, thus, have significance for the people in the Arctic.
Arctic cities, as well as rural villages and communities, share a variety of common challenges. Arctic communities have a mix of populations, each with its own languages and traditions. Increasingly, young people in the Arctic are sent to the south or to larger cities to be educated. Thus, the youth of the Arctic are expected to move from their homes for education and employment. In addition, educational opportunities determine the settlement choices of those in smaller communities [11
]. In many villages and small towns, this has led to an erosion of the social fabric and associated problems, such as ageing populations and a lack of intergenerational cultural activities. Also, challenges have appeared in terms of well-being and the continuation and revitalisation of cultural identity and traditions. Need for educational and cultural institutions and organisations is evident.
At the same time, since the impacts of the climate crisis and globalisation on the Arctic are better recognised than before, there is also more research on the means for and potential of art education and arts-based methods in social work and informal education [13
]. In addition, research has been conducted on the creative economy and the use of arts and culture in, for example, sustainable Arctic tourism [17
]. Recently, researchers, as well as educational and cultural institutions, have been demanding a stronger focus on arts and culture and their potential for enhancing sustainability. Furthermore, public bodies in the Arctic countries have developed national Arctic strategies, although art and culture are not prioritised within them [10
Aiming to address some of the above issues, the second international Arctic Arts Summit (AAS) took place in Rovaniemi, Finland, in June 2019. The first one was held in Harstad, Norway, in 2017. Representatives of ministries from Arctic countries, cultural and educational institutions, non-governmental organisations and artist unions discussed arts, culture, sustainability and circumpolar collaboration. The event aimed to strengthen international interaction, the vitality of the arts and culture sector and implementation of art in other sectors of society such as regional development. The discussions of the three-day event were arranged into a Pre-Summit day consisting of meetings, Policy Day with key-speakers and panel discussion and Hands On day with seven parallel sessions: (1) Arts in the Arctic, (2) Challenges and Opportunities, (3) Sustainable Development, (4) Creative Capacity Building, (5) Networking, Cooperating and collaborating: Creating powerful circumpolar infrastructures, (6) Research Findings and Reformed Questions on Arctic Arts and Culture, and (7) Workshops. Discussion were accompanied by a comprehensive art programme, including exhibitions, concerts and performances, produced by art institutions and organisations in Lapland in collaboration with their Arctic partners. While contemporary art can be a powerful means to investigate, report and assimilate critical issues into the public consciousness [13
], the AAS 2019 art programme made provocative as well as sensitive contributions to the dialogue through exhibitions and performances. The authors of this article led the AAS 2019, designed the overall themes of the discussions together with international and national advisory boards and evaluated the event according to set aims.
The AAS 2019 was successful in creating cross-sectoral dialogue: the forum brought together academics, members of the art world, officials, politicians and entrepreneurs in a unique way. Over 450 participants from more than 20 countries took part in the event. Finland had served for two years as the chair of the Arctic Council — the intergovernmental forum that aims to promote cooperation and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants [23
]—and interest in Arctic issues was high in Finland, as attested by the country’s 180 participants. A few previous and parallel political events challenged the preparations for the AAS 2019. The Artic Council held the Arctic Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi in May 2019, just a month before the AAS 2019. The event received lots of media attention but was deemed to be a disappointment as no joint declarations were made [23
]. In the Arctic Council meeting, the discourse on friendship and peace in the Arctic shifted to an aggressive-sounding description of the Arctic as a space for strategic competition [24
]. As a result, Professor Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Centre [24
], raised the question of whether the meeting had brought an end to the so-called Rovaniemi Arctic spirit, the mutual goal of fostering peace and international co-operation in the Arctic since the end of the Cold War. In addition, the National Parade on the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces was held in Rovaniemi at the same time as the AAS 2019. Approximately 1000 troops and 49 vehicles from the Finnish Army, Air Force and other military organisations took part in the parade, accompanied by Air Force and Army aircraft in the sky [25
]. As such, the political atmosphere in the Arctic and in Rovaniemi did not seem as peaceful and hopeful as we had expected.
Tensions have continued in Finland and elsewhere in the Arctic after the AAS 2019, especially around indigenous issues. Finland has not ratified the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989 (ILO-convention 169) due to political disagreements and conflicted debates between the Sámi people and the so-called non-status Sámi [26
]; the discussion became heated once again during the Sámi Parliament election in October 2019. Meanwhile, in Russia, the Arctic Indigenous Rights Group was shut down. Moscow’s city court ruled to disband the group, which has provided wide-ranging assistance to the peoples of the Russian North, Siberia and the Far East [27
]. In terms of environmental concerns and conflicts between local and national interests, Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline continues to generate debate over energy policy in Canada and in the international media. In Whitehorse, the proposed G7G Railway would carry Albertan bitumen across indigenous land in Yukon to terminals in Alaska. What is common to these conflicts is the way they are seen as risks to traditional ways of life, livelihoods and the continuation of culture. These are just some examples highlighting the topical nature of themes on Arctic cultures, communities and their sustainability, as well as the kinds of issues that environmentally and socially engaged artists are involved in in the Arctic.
In this article, we analyse the discourse on sustainable Arctic arts and culture from the AAS 2019 and research literature. Specifically, the research data is twofold: (1) panel discussion abstracts, conclusions that the chairs of the panel discussion wrote to us, blogs and newspaper articles reflecting on the presentations, art events, exhibitions and notes of dialogues at the summit, and (2) research literature on arts and culture in Arctic and sustainability in Arctic. The discourse analyses which served as the research methods helped us to identify the construction of visions and challenged in the Arctic arts and sustainability as well how they are framed. We have arranged our analysis according to five themes that appeared to have a high relevance in the research data: (1) global politics and ecological crises as part of the cultural politics of the Arctic; (2) indigenous and non-indigenous Arctic arts and culture; (3) handmade and material culture; (4) place-making, revitalisation and regional development and (5) economy and sustainability. We identified these themes by reading and analysing the research data in relation to previous research: in this article we present the analysis from both of the AAS 2019 and existing literature.
2. The Impact of Arctic Arts on Diverse Sectors of Society and Culture
We use the term Arctic arts
to refer to contemporary art, design and media productions discussing Arctic themes and sustainability in the Arctic. This concept was introduced in research by the Arctic Sustainable Arts and Design network within the University of the Arctic [28
]. We mainly use it to discuss arts, crafts and design productions that reflect and reform the cultural heritage or create new forms of expression based on Arctic nature, culture and topical discussions. Arctic arts reform and present northern and Arctic knowledge and create connectedness between the past, present and future. The concept includes indigenous and non-indigenous art, as well as art blending the two, and it is politically loaded in that it is used to identify the specificities of the arts and culture in the Arctic and promote sustainability and diversity [33
]. The concept of Arctic arts also refers to an alternative way of seeing art, design and crafts as interwoven as well as integrated into daily living—in contrast to the dualistic Western culture of separating art, design and crafts into distinct disciplines [34
]. This idea is derived from indigenous scholars in the Arctic, such as Sámi artist and researcher Gunvor Guttorm [36
]. In addition, Arctic arts have the potential to contribute to the sense of a human being´s relation to a more-than-human world, to the animal kingdom and the land. In the Arctic, a deep and interactive relation to nonhuman nature is a principal element of many cultures, and it is often reflected and presented in the arts. Globally, researchers of sustainability call for fostering nature connectedness and a comprehension of the human being’s relation to nonhuman nature [37
]. Arctic arts have the potential role of enhancing the understanding of the human´s place in the world.
A parallel discussion on Arctic arts takes place through the concept of northern art
]. In this article, when we discuss Arctic arts, we are referring to the arts and cultures of the circumpolar region, the northern lands of the world’s eight northernmost countries who are members of the Arctic Council. The terms north
indicate direction, orientation, or even atmospheric or aesthetic qualities. In cultural studies, the north is often associated with solitude, night-time and a cold, hostile emotional climate [40
]. Similarly, winter is seen as a cold, oppressive period in Western cultures, while Arctic indigenous peoples see snow as an ally and a friend [41
]. Even if the concept of Arctic arts is evident to the authors, we are aware that many artists in the Arctic identify themselves as northerners rather than Arctic artists. The concept of Nordicity
is also relevant when discussing the arts and culture of the Arctic. Nordicity is defined in Canadian research and can be used to refer to a physical reality, as well as to subjective experiences, the imaginary and ideological, including visions and values. So-called total Nordicity embodies worldviews, knowledge systems, know-how, arts and humanities [42
In this article, we have chosen to use the concept of sustainability
instead of sustainable development
, knowing that these concepts are politically charged and carry various connotations in relation to the Arctic region, culture and politics. Sustainable development is commonly understood as a condition that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the context of the Arctic, this kind of development is complex because Western development, for example, as a result of growing southern cities, higher standards of living and increased needs for natural resources, has put at risk the continuation of Arctic cultures and livelihoods. Differentiating itself from sustainable development, the discussion of Arctic sustainability is often influenced by rhetoric about fragile ecosystems and human communities, namely indigenous communities, and is the opposite of a resource frontier [3
]. On the other hand, the concept of Arctic sustainable development has a focus on change, while sustaining can be associated with conserving and preserving, even in a negative sense. Frequently, preservation politics cause local conflicts since many of the inhabitants depend on income from the use of natural resources. Whereas the concept of sustainable development would draw attention to Arctic change as a potential space for human growth on individual, collective and cultural levels, we follow the definition of sustainability coined by researchers Monica Tennberg, Hanna Lempinen and Susanna Pirnes [4
], who understand sustainability as a practice beyond politics and frame it as a social practice and a way of understanding the world. This way of using the concept of sustainability is in line with educational studies, in which education for sustainable development has been rethought and refocused on education for sustainability [43
] or on post-sustainability [44
] to avoid the demand for eternal economic growth exceeding planetary boundaries. We perceive that the Arctic’s sustainable future requires progress that respects the fragility of its natural environment as well as the diversity of local cultures and people and is not dominated by the global market.
There is cultural and linguistic diversity within the Arctic due to the indigenous populations and other local people inhabiting the area. At the AAS 2019, Sámi artists, researchers and policy makers were very well represented because the event took place in Rovaniemi, located in Northern Scandinavia, where most of the Sámi people live. Of the 40 indigenous groups in the Arctic, several Sámi cultures are active in Scandinavia and the Russian North. The Sámi are an indigenous people with their own cultures, languages and, to an extent, livelihoods. Contemporary Sámi art has been recognised in Nordic countries [45
]. The Sámi pedagogy, developed in collaboration with other indigenous education models, responds to the educational needs of the Sámi people and creates theories and practices on their own premises [51
]. Culturally oriented Sámi research covers many issues, such as self-determination and decolonialisation [54
], indigenousness [56
], transiting traditions [37
], cultural history [57
], religion and cosmology [59
] and the North as a particular way of knowing and being [61
]. These fields of educational, cultural and political research are relevant for developing arts and culture policies and enhancing sustainability. Their relevance clearly goes beyond indigenous cultures, as a variety of non-indigenous Arctic cultures share parallel histories, corresponding positions and challenges.
Although the Arctic is culturally rich and diverse, Arcticfication
is a trend presenting the Arctic as a cold and snowy destination, devoid of people. As Tennberg, Lempinen and Pirnes [4
] explained, the imaginaries of the Arctic as the home of the polar bear or an uninhabited, infinite pool of natural resources does not resonate with lived and experienced realities. According to literature professor Daniel Chartier [38
], this phenomenon has long roots in Western arts and research, in which the Arctic has historically been marginalised as the ‘Imaginary North’—an empty and horizontal landscape—instead of as a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-lingual place with a rich cultural history and living traditions. The increase in Arcticfication since the 1980s has not happened by itself. Efforts to brand the Arctic for the global market as a magical, spectacular and wild arena for extreme and even ecstatic experiences are intentional, as professor in the social sciences Willy Guneriussen explained in his research on how the identity of Northern Norway had been re-defined when promoting the town of Tromsø [63
]. Arcticfication has also been increased by tourism marketing, and presentations of magnificent landscapes trigger touristic demand [64
]. Arcticfication can also be defined as a social process creating new geographical images of northern Europe as part of the Arctic, on the one hand, and new social, economic and political relations on the other hand [6
]. Artists and the creative sector in general may benefit from Arcticfication, but they also have the agency to reflect on and depict the changes in the nature and culture of the Arctic as insiders, thereby expanding global understanding of the region.
Meanwhile, the participatory turn in contemporary art has increased the use of arts-based methods in diverse sectors of society, including in the Arctic [14
]. In the fields of art education and socially engaged art, the potential of arts-based methods is seen in terms of human growth and well-being, a sense of cultural identity, community enhancement, empowerment and the ability to support dialogues and experiences of the meaningfulness of life [67
]. Co-design practices can also contribute to the well-being of those on the periphery, along with other disadvantaged or underserved communities [74
]. Also, the value of arts and culture in regional development and place-based regional development work are now studied and discussed in Scandinavia [78
] and in rural islands and remote regions in Canada, respectively [79
Even if the societal and economic potential of arts and culture is studied, the national strategies of Arctic countries deal with culture in a narrow and limited way. When culture is addressed in the strategy texts, it is most often done in the specific context of the region’s indigenous peoples [10
]. Thus, the value of the cultures of non-indigenous residents, who represent the majority of the people in the circumpolar North, is not recognised in the strategies [10
]. Also, the Arctic Human Development Report
states that indigenous culture is increasingly valued as a resource; furthermore, the Arctic is seen as marketable in terms of tourism, as well as in other areas [7
]. Elements of Arctic culture and nature, such as the Arctic state of mind, the Arctic wilderness, the resource base, local experiences and concept of homeland, have shifted from being causes of isolation and marginalisation to a kind of advantage in contemporary identity politics [7
]. However, although this may be true to some extent, it is worth noting that the Western colonisation of Arctic indigenous cultures has caused ongoing structural violence [80
]. While the ongoing impact of colonisation and cultural suppression is often described as intergenerational historical trauma, the structural inequality has led to a lack of well-being among Arctic indigenous peoples [80
]. Thus, opinions about considering indigenous cultures as an economic resource are divided [81
]. Cultural appropriation and exploitation, which often take place through visual symbols and cultural productions, is judged to be unacceptable by representatives of indigenous cultures, as well as by several researchers of sustainability in the Arctic [60
Cultural sustainability must be seen as an important variation of sustainability, to be considered along with ecological, economic and social sustainability, or interwoven into all other aspects of sustainability since culture is both an enabler and a driver of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Researchers Katriina Soini and Inger Birkeland [5
] analysed aspects of cultural sustainability and explained that related discourses fall into seven storylines: heritage, vitality, economic viability, diversity, locality, ecocultural resilience and eco-cultural civilisation. These discourses are relevant in the changing Arctic and in debates of livelihoods and growing industries such as tourism [86
]. Soini and Birkeland [5
] explained that eco-cultural civilisation, as one thread in the sustainability discourses, refers to an ecological shift in the values and behaviours of people. The need for eco-cultural civilisation has its roots in the climate crisis and social injustice. Eco-cultural civilisation can be achieved from cultural activities as well as from formal and informal education and has immense importance in achieving the overall aims of sustainability. In addition, ecocultural civilisation can support cultural resilience. Increasing an eco-cultural civilisation is one of the aims of the Arctic arts; Arctic artists need to inform, educate and transform their global audiences. Artistic and cultural production have the potential to impact on shifts of values and lifestyles to help them become more sustainable [22
]. In addition, artists and cultural organisations in the Arctic need to have supporting infrastructures that enable their work.
Analyses of the discourses in AAS 2019 show that Arctic artists have agency in discussions of geo-politics, climate crisis, environmental conflicts, social and cultural issues, and the relation of human beings to the animal kingdom and the land. Artists address colonisation and the exploitation of natural resources, empower local communities, create future imaginaries and foster alternative images of the Arctic. The AAS 2019 supported artists and the arts and culture sector by fostering networking and creating a forum for sharing knowledge and know-how on joint challenges and possibilities.
Arctic indigenous artists, researchers and policy makers were strongly present at the AAS 2019 and were active in defining the themes of the discourses. Issues specifically concerning indigenous cultures were the focus of many panel discussions. Meanwhile, participants also expressed that indigenous cultures and other lifestyles of the peoples in the Arctic are blending. The concept of Northern knowledge systems describes the way non-indigenous cultures also have valid nature-bound traditions and know-how that is worth revitalising. During the AAS 2019, participants demanded that non-indigenous Arctic cultures also be incorporated in national policies and strategies, and not only due to their economic impact. They also demanded that self-determination and participation in decisions regarding cultures and cultural life in the Arctic should be made by the people living in the region. Circumpolar mobility and collaboration were seen as means for contributing to the appreciation of cultural diversity as well as to the sense of being northerners with pride. As an event, the AAS 2019 enhanced this sense.
New materialism, a paradigm shift in contemporary theory, has importance in the Arctic since arts are understood to include contemporary forms of expression, as well as traditional crafts and contemporary art based on crafts. The concept of crafting sustainability is implemented in projects where dialogue, revitalisation and empowerment are created though crafting. In addition, Arctic crafted sustainability describes new initiatives for developing a culturally sensitive creative economy in the Arctic. Place-making and revitalisation are means of promoting the continuation of Arctic and Northern knowledge systems and are essential concepts for discussing traditions in transition and educational strategies. Artist education in the Arctic is momentous; sustainability needs creative capacities and capabilities. When artists are educated in the region, they gain knowledge and commit to participate in Arctic politics and conduct socially and environmentally engaged art. Meanings, symbols and values created in artistic processes are important for identities, place-making and Arctic pride. We need to make sure that Arctic arts, design and crafts retain their vitality to contribute to sustainability.
Creative capital can foster the economy as a complement or alternative to extractionist cultures and resource-based development, which causes conflicts in the region. Arcticfication supports some industries, such as the film industry, which then impacts communities by giving hope and work to people living in the region and contributing to the sense of being northerners with pride. Moreover, there is the potential to develop sustainable tourism in collaboration with artists and creative industries. Art, cultural life and artists as community members have importance for creative synergy in order to attract other creative capital to the region, which can be seen as one of the reasons to guarantee regional support for artists. While Arctic artists would benefit from increased support for circumpolar collaborations, ecological sustainability must be included in all cultural policies. In addition, the ways in which arts can increase eco-cultural civilisation must be further developed.
The discourses covered at the AAS 2019 are essential not only for cultural sustainability in the Arctic but also for elsewhere. Arctic environments and social-cultural settings can work as laboratories for innovative arts and arenas in which context-sensitive methods for art and design can be developed as well as models for cultural policies and arts funding supporting regional development and creative synergy. This is not only relevant for the Arctic but also for the rest of the world, especially areas that qualify as peripheral and as having culturally sensitive interactions.