Article: Af­ter­thoughts on The Leap event

Article: Af­ter­thoughts on The Leap event



Student ambassador Homa interviews Daniel Malpica, Dash Che and Gesa Piper, reflecting on “The Leap”, an event held in February 2024.

Daniel Malpica Dash Che and Gesa Piper reflect together on the  Leap event that discussed the legal aspects of immigration issues and the working realities of foreign-born artists in Finland. It was organised through Teak’s international alumni network (TIAN) in collaboration with Globe Art Point with support of Teak’s Alumni Association and the student ambassadors. The event commenced with a panel discussion that offered insights from experienced professionals in legal matters related to immigration and the practicalities of working as an international artist. The panelists were the artist Dash Che, Henri Terho from Taike and the two lawyers Jussi Kiiski (TEME) and Hanna Laari (Finnish Refugee Advice Center), moderated by Daniel Malpica.

Gesa Piper: Let’s share some open impressions and recap the panel to begin with.

Daniel Malpica: The discussion panel was about the questions and concerns that the community of non-Finnish born artists, cultural workers and international students living in Finland have in the context of Petteri Orpo’s Governmental Programme (June, 2023) and its suggested policies regarding the future of immigration. It seems to be a common trend in the Nordics to strengthen the limitations and regulations that grant resident status to people coming from outside the EU zone. I might say obtaining a decent residence permit has always been challenging. At the same time, it seems that there’s still a disconnection between the cultural industry in Finland and the international talent, whose full potential remains dormant.

My role as a moderator was aimed to articulate a space where the guest speakers could address the intended subjects for the panel while also ensuring that the discussion made sense. The panel was constituted by a professional artist, Dash, one representative from Taike (Arts Promotion Centre Finland), and two lawyers specialised in migration and labour law respectively. Then forty minutes were devoted to the specific questions from the audience.

I personally believe that it was a good, yet slightly difficult, panel to moderate. On one hand, as a practical matter, it was great to have the participation of lawyers because they help to alleviate the fears of the community while clarifying some of the specifics regarding the Government’s proposed programme: the income ceiling for work permits, restrictions on asylum seekers, tighter requirements for citizenship applications and family reunification laws. This program still needs to be approved during 2024.

On the other hand, the panel was intended to understand if the needs of the professional international community were taken into consideration by Taike in the development of their proposals for the cultural field for the new government. This part of the discussion, I believe, showed that there is an existing disconnection between the institutions who might have a real influence over the policy makers and how the actual struggles of the international community in the cultural field are represented. Without direct links between the struggles of the arts and the policy makers, it’s very likely that the new proposal will become a reality without much change.

Dash Che: I agree that it was quite a successful panel even though the time was so short for such a large conversation. It showed, based on the active discussion with the audience after, that it was much needed.

I felt in the minority, since I was the only artist and a foreigner (besides Daniel) present among the speakers. I definitely dealt with inner frustration when speaking about such intense and bodily issues such as immigration process in Finland. Especially given the possible anti-immigrant regulations being proposed by the new Finnish government. Though the other speakers representing various Finnish institutions were supportive, there was a very visceral difference between our bodies. There is a level of bodily precarity and anxiety I experience daily regarding the immigration policies that I imagine these other speakers, being locals, are not familiar with. I felt a reaction rising in me to certain statements other speakers made and had to deal with that reaction during the panel. Also, Migri, the Finnish institution of immigration services, was brought up quite often and were not present in the panel. Later I learned that they were invited but had no concrete information about the legislation yet, therefore they decided not to join.

Still it was informative for me to understand more in detail the structures that are present here in the cultural field, that are either supportive or benign. Like what kind of institutional alliance is there for the artists. And it brought a lot of questions for me such as what’s next, what information do I need to follow? How do I support my fellow colleagues? So, it was a good start.

The discussion definitely felt confrontational to a certain degree. I appreciated that there was friction and it was invited to the space of the panel. It is not that common (or polite) in Finland to bring the confrontation and difference forward, so that was refreshing. That was a space where that friction was visible, and where I could say to the Taike person sitting next to me: Why is your website only in Finnish? and get a direct response both from the Taike representative and the fellow artists who were sitting in the audience.

I wish I said more during the panel, but also just my presence there felt important. Maybe more of a symbolic value, because I did not make informative statements that other speakers did, but still I was there speaking from my own experience. I had this whole speech prepared about how in my opinion we can support each other more as fellow artists but then I realised there was no place for it, because actually so many people in the audience had a question or wanted to share based on their very subjective circumstances.

After the panel I was approached by a few of my colleagues who said that they were glad I was at the panel and in a way my presence amplified other artists’ voices during the Q&A.

Gesa: I think it was really crucial to have you on the panel, Dash. Your points were very valid and came from lived experiences, probably very relatable for many who are in similar situations.

It was important that we did NOT have a set-up of structural representatives on the panel versus artists in the audience who were merely educated on some legal facts. Having you as an artist on the panel turned it into a collective learning space, in my opinion. I had the feeling that through your and other artists’ sharing, everyone got the chance to get a real insight into people’s struggles and experiences. The legal representatives seemed very willing to learn and also some light was shed on possible institutional  blind spots here and there. And good point about Migri: we actually invited them but it didn’t work out for this panel.

To pick up on what you, Dash, said about non-confrontationality in Finland: It is very common that work is structured in a way that everyone operates in their own zone. Therefore, I found it extra important that we had different bubbles coming together through actual human representatives discussing with one another.

Daniel: I agree. I think that during the panel Dash tackled a very relevant subject which was the issue of transparency in regard to the cultural institutions. It seems that a lot of the decisions taken, or the plans made for policy, are based on the goodwill of small groups behind curtains. And that’s problematic in many ways because it widens the gap between the actual concerns of the artists and how the decisions are made. By transparency I mean that there should be a way to make the process in which the cultural agenda is designed open and democratic.

Something that, in my opinion, differs from many other panels in which I have participated was the attitude towards the concerns of the international community. I think that in a way there was a humble approach to criticism, which is exceptional. Quite often feedback, among representatives of institutions, is perceived negatively. So perhaps the fact that there were lawyers in the panel helped to legitimise the struggles, isn’t it? The fact that there are legal questions behind the undefined status of cultural workers whose sources of income are not bound to a traditional working contract, like in the case of grant receivers, and how that affects their eligibility for a residence permit. All of this was, hopefully, a good insight for the representative from Taike.

I can also understand, at the same time, the difficulty to be in a panel like that as an artist on the field, because I think that in general we have a massive question mark as cultural workers regarding what’s going on. We can also see that there is a big spectrum of struggles, and that those struggles are quite particular depending on the case of each individual: if you’re a student, if you’re a worker, if you are a grant receiver, or if you just graduated from university. I mean, it isn’t a coincidence that marriage remains the simplest way to stay in the country, which does not seem to be the right answer for a professional in the cultural field whose expertise is supposed to be their main asset when it comes to the eligibility for residence permits. It should be a matter of skills and a matter of each individual’s ability to contribute to the nation, right?

Dash: I agree that the representatives of the institutional bodies were quite open to critique, and that was encouraging. I think it created this atmosphere that it was even possible to bring more critique, because those Taike and TEME representatives could take it and respond to it. Will that critique change anything in those institutions making them more open and inclusive? I have no idea. Of course, I heard so many of these kinds of responses from official bodies: “We’re looking into that already. We’re working on it. We’re going to look into that situation.” Will they actually? And who will be following up on that? I hope they will and I hope that we will continue this as a public discussion that can make these organisations more accountable.

Daniel: Yes. And at the same time, I think that we have a set of professionals who have all the means to stay in the country. But due to the fact that there is this limbo in regards to where to legally locate these artists, then it means that there is no concrete or standardised formula for their applications. We’re talking about artists whose means of income comes from different sources, for instance. That’s one of the specific problems that was raised into the discussion, but yes, it is very difficult to get a residence permit based on a cultural or artistic grant, even if it’s granted by one of the biggest cultural financiers of the country like the Kone Foundation or Taike.

That’s why I think that is important for these kinds of panels to happen. Because then you have representatives of institutions giving statements that, regardless of how genuine or not those statements are, those words can be brought up later on as commitments to which they should be accountable for. Something concrete to give a follow up, right?

So perhaps a next possible step is to create these unconventional setups or panels that are based primarily on information and a rigorous approach to the concerns and in which all of us should be able to constructively dissent.

Gesa: I would like to acknowledge something here: The three, if we call them ‘structural bodies’, are clearly working FOR the cultural scene and are interested in how to improve it. So, there is a certain baseline or a consensus that we can agree on with them. The question is how to get there, because they are the ones who negotiate with these bigger structures that are basically racist, and not only that. They are also structurally problematic for artists’ working conditions in general, no matter if from Finland or from abroad.

While I just formulated a “we” and “they”, I need to go into some self-reflection here: acknowledging that the international artists’ community itself spans over quite a spectrum and is not one homogeneous crowd in which everyone faces the same struggles or opportunities. I might for instance have certain privileges that some Finnish artists might not have access to. Therefore, it is important to individually reflect on how I am situated within the structural issues to keep the arguments reasonable and not generalise without a certain spectral awareness.

Daniel, do you want to speak a bit to your role as a moderator, also in relation to being a foreign-born artist yourself?

Daniel: I have some mixed feelings… Of course, I have personally struggled with the migration structure, so I have a very particular insight regarding how Migri handles its clients. In that sense something was missing in the panel, which is the link with the actual people building the bureaucracy and making the decisions on Migri. They are the ones who make some of the processes completely arbitrary, the ones that purposely mislead their clients, sometimes openly lying about their rules and procedures. It is something that you wouldn’t believe that exists in a place like Finland. On the other hand, I kept myself in a lower tone by trying to grasp and connect the concerns of the questions given, in relation to the information provided by the panelists. My impression when it comes to the panel is that it was, indeed, informative, and that at the same time we need more particularised assistance for the concerns of people. I mean, we had 40 minutes of questions plus the individual legal clinics, and it still was not enough. So 1 to 1 sessions are a very immediate need. We should utilise these projects as a way to support the community while advocating for change in a wider picture.

Gesa: I’m very thankful that it was you who moderated, as I found, in a very skilful, knowledgeable way while sitting in your own lived experience. Also to acknowledge that your artist status derives from your work itself here in Finland and not from a Finnish degree. While I am sitting here, operating through a structure here, as the representative of Teak. I find it important to bridge the gap between the structures and beyond their own bubbles, basically to become aware that there is a bigger scene than just the university structure itself. The collaboration with Globe Art Point enabled that.

Daniel: Absolutely and I think that the university is the ideal place for these kinds of discussions. The university is supposed to keep certain neutrality in order to facilitate platforms for the free movement of ideas. They have the resources and the infrastructure to make it possible.

In that sense, I guess that the role of Globe Art Point was also relevant, because it is an association that has managed to build a reputation during the years advocating for international artists and cultural workers. So it becomes beneficial and informative for the international students to find unions of artists living in the country that are already professionally invested in the artistic network and the Finnish cultural infrastructure. Perhaps the right way to go.

Dash: Yeah, definitely, very helpful. Needs to happen more often. Or hopefully, there will be a tradition of these panels, discussions, meetings, transparency. I agree that that is something that is missing in these structures, for example, lack of Information, from all the sides, absolutely. The fear, the anger, the despair and all the affects that come from this lack of Information. So the question is how do we share this information with each other, share resources? I think what has been helpful to me or has been important for me is to know that I’m not an artist in a vacuum, like there are a lot of other artists around me. And we, according to our resources and energy, need to support each other and show up for each other, share resources. That is something that I learned a long time ago, as undocumented young artist In the United States. That’s the only way one can get gigs, or some resources is by others sharing that especially when you are outside the system or any institutional support as much as I was at that time.

When I arrived in Finland, I realised that it was not a common thing – to share resources, especially with immigrants or foreigners. I didn’t encounter a culture where people often reach out and say: “hey, I saw this application for this grant or this festival – I think it fits you.” Or “there is this job opportunity that might be good for you.” It felt harsh that the culture of sharing was not present. Now it’s changing for me, of course, since I become more and more involved in different communities here. But I think it’s really beautiful when people make an extra step to reach out to someone who they think that would be good for and offer something, offer support or knowledge or Finnish language skills, whatever. But then it is up to all of us to promote this culture of sharing. Once Suvi Tuominen and I got a Kone grant as an artists duo, we actually offered our successful grant application to many artists we knew because we wanted all of them to get it. That’s something that I want to live, practice, share and be a part of. This kind of culture.

Daniel: I agree, at the same time we can’t ignore the fact that Finland has a relatively friendly granting system towards foreigners. Nonetheless, the ways in which those systems operate are not monoliths, so they should be open to criticism and improvement.

From my part, I would encourage the non-finnish born professionals to keep applying for these funds, because that’s precisely the way in which those institutions can realise how many people are trying to reach their support. Even in the case of Taike, without any service in English, you can still send an application in English and get the grant. I’m saying this from personal experience, I have received multiple grants from different founders and I have never applied in Finnish, for example.

Gathering together is also relevant because every place and community has its own codes to connect and to build the network.

Gesa: Yes, we might often be brought to situations that leave us feeling alone in our processes. I can imagine that many communities on the margins can experience exclusion that easily evokes loneliness. The feeling of scarcity might bring people to elbow one another as competitors. Structurally evoked, I mean. I would like to remind myself and the community that we are together in this. That it doesn’t help anyone to see the others as enemies fighting over scarce resources. Let us rather remember that we are here creating a scene together that we are part of.

More about The Leap event:


Daniel Malpica is a Finnish-Mexican writer, graphic designer, publisher and multimedia artist. His work involves the exploration of cross-narratives, transmediality, design and literary arts.

As an artist and curator, Malpica has developed multiple transdisciplinary and multimedia projects across Europe, the Nordics, and Mexico.

Malpica was editor and designer of Radiador Magazine and, between 2019-2022, a member of the board of directors of PEN Finland (Suomen PEN). Malpica has been the guest of many international literature and arts festivals, sharing a stage with world class authors and artists such as David Lynch, Amiri Baraka, Tomomi Adachi and Michel Houellebecq. Malpica’s most recent projects have received support from the Arts Promotion Centre Finland (TAIKE) and the Kone Foundation. He was the artistic director of the Copenhagen Literature Festival in 2022 and an artist in residence of HIAP (Helsinki International Artists Programme). Malpica has been a lecturer of Materiality of Writing at the Writing Programme of the University of the Arts, Helsinki.

Dash Che is a genderqueer performance artist, dancer and a performance teacher who also has a strong background in DIY organizing and LGBTQ activism. A child of a post-Soviet industrial town of Russia and a former undocumented immigrant in the United States, Dash is currently busy with an artistic research exploring toxic attachment to one’s country in a dance solo work called “Bear, my Love”. Dash holds a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Live Art and Performance Studies from University of Arts Helsinki.

Gesa Piper is a German dance-artist and -pedagogue. She has been based in Finland since 2011 where she did her MA in Dance Pedagogy at Teak. She holds a BA from the Dance Academy ArtEZ in Arnhem (NL)in dance and choreography. Her artistic interest deal with embodied ecological intra-relationality, as well as ancestry. She mostly works in collaborative settings. Her latest solo work was staged at UrbanApa x Ateneum in Nov 2023 in which she journeyed through her father line to confront national narratives from transnational perspectives. Furthermore, she is active as a performer, teacher and choreographer nationally and internationally, has taught in various programs at the Theatre Academy and coordinates TIAN.

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