Art Academy meeting the challenges
of today and tomorrow
Photography is one of the most popular subjects. Hanna-Kaisa Korolainens and Hannele Romppanens work Two Annas at Terijoki conveys an atmosphere of bygone days.
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Besides being the place with the oldest history of trade and seafaring, Turku also has a strong claim to being the cradle of education and culture in Finland. The country's first university, the Royal Academy, opened in 1640. As early as the 13th century, however, the Cathedral had run a school. It was common practice in bygone centuries for Finnish scholars to supplement their studies at elite universities in France and Germany, bringing the latest knowledge back with them when they returned home. That was the substrate from which today's institutions of science and art grew. The best of them are in the vanguard of progress and attract students from many countries.

The Turku Art Academy is a well-rounded cultural institution that confidently faces tomorrow in this rapidly-changing world. "We are launching a new line of studies, for which we only have a working name: new media, in autumn 2001," says Maija Palonheimo, the Academy's enthusiastic director. "The idea is to combine different media to create an effective totality. For that we need IT experts, filmmakers, visual artists, animators, musicians - everything possible! No one knows what these students will become after they graduate. After all, who can say what new inventions in the field of communications will have become available in a year from now?"

Since 1997, the qualification that the Academy offers has been the equivalent of a polytechnic degree. The purpose of training is to turn out people with a high level of competence in their chosen discipline. Including job-experience periods, it takes four or four and a half years to complete the degree. Internationalism is an important part of the training.

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The Academy is on the site of an old shipyard beside the river. On the lower floor of one of the large halls where vessels were built, people now perspire in dance tricots rather than boiler suits, whilst upstairs nude models are now sketched where blueprints were once drawn. There are six hundred or so students in the building each day and cooperation is lively; people studying different disciplines of the arts constantly interact with and inspire each other.

Training in everything that the arts have to offer is provided: for example, film, music, dance, animation, the visual arts, puppetry, photography, circus, musical theatre, advertising planning, handicrafts and industrial design. "Ours is the only institution in Finland that trains circus artistes and musical theatre makers," boasts Maija Palonheimo.

Circus is art

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The fact that circus is on the curriculum is an apt reflection of the way the Turku Art Academy works. "Someone mentioned during a conversation around a coffee table that, apart from a two-year course for clowns in Denmark, there is no professional circus training at all available in the Nordic region. We immediately set about changing that, but people were horrified at first: 'Now they're spending the taxpayers' money on training clowns!'. But we were on the right track, nevertheless; the circus is soaring in popularity and esteem."

In Maija Palonheimo's assessment, gaining admission to the Academy is as good as a lottery win. Only 4 - 8 per cent of applicants are selected, depending on the line of study. Teaching is of a high standard - and free of charge. The number of applicants from abroad is more than can be accommodated. The most popular lines are photography and advertising planning.

For a professional art is a livelihood

All lines of study include a solid grounding in marketing and business. Maija Palonheimo says this begins interesting people after they have reached an advanced stage in their studies. That is when they are beginning to realise that they will have to be able to employ their skill to earn their daily bread. A polytechnic gives them solid skill. It is an international currency valid in any country.

Maija Palonheimo's pride in the Academy is unmistakable "A student here can think up and experiment with anything, which is no longer always possible in working life. That is how things ought to be done, too. For that reason the Academy is a rewarding pace also for teachers. But what matters most is that we here know what is going on in the world. That enables us to take account of the latest trends when planning what we teach."

Turku Arts Academy - Circus Arts