to Call for Action letter
TO START WITH
We would like to thank the entire Call for Action team for their letter highlighting the importance of anti-racism in the art field. You are doing important work, for which we are grateful. Apaja addressed the questions from the letter in an internal workshop held in mid-September. The questions in the letter made us understand the challenges and limitations of our operations. We found answering the questions to be a good and effective beginning for our collective towards more equal and non-discriminatory operations.
NATURE OF APAJA
Apaja is a small collective that began from a student group in Oulu. Our operations began from a desire of architecture students to develop and create new knowledge within our profession. Therefore, an association was established as a platform to generate discussions about the built environment and related topical phenomena.
Apaja’s operations are characterised by a low internal hierarchy, a model we intend to retain in future as well. Apaja's operating principle has been discussion-based and open to internal criticism. Partly as a result, the collective has managed to create a culture of discussion that allows even difficult issues to be handled among the entire group, without having an effect on the positions of individuals or the internal dynamics of the collective. One could say that the desire to discuss and reflect on our own actions is one of Apaja’s greatest strengths.
Apaja is a relatively homogeneous group and consists mainly of white people, so we cannot be entirely sure that our conversation culture so far has been considerate of racialised minorities. In this aspect, we certainly have much to learn. Apaja is also such a small and recent actor in the Finnish architecture scene, that we are yet to receive external criticism for our activities. Should we receive criticism, the matter would be dealt with internally without delay, and we would not hesitate to apologize for our actions and correct our harmful practices.
MEMBERS AND RECRUITMENT
The members of Apaja got to know each other in course of their architecture studies at university, with lunch discussions between students eventually growing into a registered association. Partly due to this history of being founded in a relatively homogeneous environment, ethnic diversity has not been taken into account in recruitment. The size of Apaja has been intentionally kept small to keep operations manageable, and no new recruitments have been made recently.
Should Apaja recruit new members in future, we would strive to take ethnicity and diversity into account. So far, the recruitment of new members has been by invitation and the criteria have not been visible outside our collective. In the future, Apaja needs to develop member recruitment processes by reexamining the old principles. It is important here to understand the collective's own field of activity and to identify its power positions. It is possible that our group has a greater role than we realise, and it might also be that our activities would be of interest to a wider group than just our closest circle of friends.
Apaja's main communication channels are facebook and the website, as well as Instagram to a small extent. Apaja has so far communicated mainly about finished outputs, but not about decision-making processes, for example. In addition, Apaja's activities so far have been so limited, that the decisions made by the association have mainly concerned Apaja's own members. On the other hand, it can be considered as a principle going forward, that all decisions of the association should be such that they can be published. While considering the Call for Action letter at the workshop, we noted that there could be meaningful communications about, for example, the election of board members to keep the association’s activities as transparent as possible. Communication could also be developed in such a way that, for example, the various objectives set out in the collective’s annual action plan are available for viewing by anyone interested. Communication has so far been sporadic, resulting in certain messages strongly influencing the collective’s public image. We realise it would be worthwhile to develop Apaja's communication to be more regular and comprehensive.
Apaja used to post in English earlier, but recently the language of communication has mostly been Finnish. This language change is immediately obvious to those visiting the Apaja website - some of the content is only in Finnish, some only in English, and rarely in both languages. The language of communication so far has not been consistent, and has been determined by the situation. The website has also been intended to be translated entirely
into English, but the pages have been “under construction” for a while now, which has moved the process into the future. In the future, Apaja's goal is to always communicate in English in addition to Finnish. Unfortunately, the collective’s current resources are not sufficient to maintain communications in more than two languages.
Apaja has had a few collaborating partners and entities over five years of operations. In some cases, different actors have approached Apaja in a spirit of cooperation, while Apaja has also initiated cooperation as needed. After a discussion about our partners at the workshop, we realised that in our search for diversity in choosing collaborators, we had only paid attention to gender equality in the traditional sense. In reality, diversity has been lacking, as we have not taken into account the ethnic background of the partners, or other diversity. We have not understood how to use our influence to support various BIPOC players, for example. One way to acquire more diverse partners is by developing the association’s processes to be more transparent. This could mean, for example, an open call for collaborators. Another improvement would be to take the initiative to identify obstacles to equality, such as unconscious views and prejudices, and to develop actions on that basis.
It is essential to talk about the partners in public, and there have been cases where such information has been shared on Apaja's communication channels. For example, when organizing events, the parties who have participated in arranging the proceedings have been mentioned by name. Similarly, if an event or other Apaja activity has received external funding, it has been communicated openly in connection with the events and through various communication channels. So far, the funding of the activity has not raised any questions from outside the organisation, but we are ready to be more active in sharing information about collaborators and funding sources in future.
TARGET GROUP AND NARRATIVES
Organizing various discussion events has been part of Apaja's activities. Since 2017, we have organised discussion events dealing with the built environment in Oulu and Helsinki. The goal has been to organise low-threshold events that would be easy to access also for those from outside the architecture field. We will focus more on this aspect in the future as well. After going through our own operations in the workshop, we also came to the conclusion that the choice of venue for the events has a considerable effect on the target group. The events organized by Apaja have so far taken place in the inner city, but in the future we would explore the possibility of organising more activities in the suburbs. Working with new partners such as local youth organizations could help in this regard.
Equality, diversity and anti-racism have not yet been actively taken into account in curating content. In the future, Apaja will aim to normalise ethnic diversity in its activities by inviting, for example, racialised individuals to speak on topics other than racism. If no suitable speakers can be found from the field of architecture, experts from other fields of art or scholars can be invited. In addition, Apaja’s projects need to take into account ethnic diversity more broadly, in areas other than speaker diversity as well, for example, who we send event invitations to on facebook, whose premises we rent and with whom we cooperate.
It has not come to our notice that racist or discriminatory situations have occurred at the events we have organised, but this does not guarantee that they did not exist. In the future, we will try to pay more attention to this aspect, listen with a considerate ear, and follow the principles of safer spaces, which we have not implemented so far.
Accessibility has not been addressed in events to date, as it has not been the number one criterion in the selection of a venue. The most important factors in the selection of venues have so far been price, atmosphere and availability. In the workshop, we identified one discussion event organized by Apaja that would have been barrier-free space, but we unfortunately did not realise it then to include it in our communications about the event. Here we clearly have room for improvement. In addition, we found that the accessibility of Apaja's website and other communications has not been addressed, and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
APAJA’S ANTI-RACIST OPERATIONS
Equality, diversity and anti-racism have received little discussion in our collective during its five year history. In the spring of 2020, with the extensive news coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, we realised that there is a lot of room for improvement in the field of architecture as well as in our own operations. This led Apaja to release a statement listing the following objectives:
Listen to the thoughts and desires of racialised people about their own environment.
Actively follow research and experiences of racism in Finland, and develop tools to enable fair and equal urban planning.
Work more closely with anti-racist actors, especially companies, associations and other organizations run by racialised people.
Dismantle our own preconceptions, for example in discussions about Finns and Finnish society. Design work involves making assumptions about the users of the facilities being designed. However, it is critical that these assumptions are not discriminatory.
Highlight the importance of reducing urban inequality in our networks.
Increase discussion on developing a work culture in the architecture field that is more equal for all.
Produce more content in languages other than Finnish.
After receiving the Call for Action letter and collectively discussing its contents, we set ourselves the goal of finding out and getting acquainted with different strategies, based on which we would create an internal equality and nondiscrimination plan, as well as an anti-racist strategy. Our goal is to publish the plan and strategy in early 2021.
We have also decided to put more effort into learning about equality and nondiscrimination issues, and to appoint an equality officer. Apaja's operations are carried out by all 10 current members on a voluntary basis, and nobody receives monetary compensation for their work in the collective. Therefore, it is likely that the role of the equality officer would also be unpaid.
Apaja members do not receive or have not received anti-racist or anti-discrimination training led by an external expert within the framework of the organisation's activities. So far, the members of Apaja have educated themselves by sharing relevant links and accessing widely recognised materials. In the workshop, we decided to set up an internal information pool for the collective, in which we will collect literature and links related to anti-racism, especially in relation to Finland and the architecture field. Members can access the contents of this shared information pool, and also share its contents with others outside the collective. In this way, the database could also benefit other organizations in the field.
Being critical requires energy and active work. We have done our best, but thanks to the Call for Action letter, we realised that we have a lot of room for improvement. We apologize for any mistakes we have made in the past and will try to learn from them. Now that we have identified the challenge, we can gradually correct harmful practices and actively promote anti-racism, especially in the field of architecture, but also in other areas where we have influence.