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International Journal of Education & the Arts 


Terry Barrett 
Ohio State University 

Peter Webster 

University of Southern California 

Eeva Anttila 

University of the Arts Helsinki 

Brad Haseman 

Queensland University of Technology 

ISSN: 1529-8094 

Volume 18 Number 37 

September 22, 2017 

Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions of a Community Music Project: 
Impacts on Community and New Ways of Working 

Heli Ansio 

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland 
Piia Seppala 

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland 

Pia Houni 

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland 

Citation: Ansio, H., Seppala, P., & Houni, P. (2017). Teachers’ experiences and 
perceptions of a community music project: Impacts on community and new ways of 
working. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 18(31). Retrieved from 


This qualitative research discusses a Finnish community music project aimed at school 
pupils with disabilities. The practices of this project define community music as 
community-driven, goal-oriented participatory music-making with a musician as a 
facilitator. Instead of the effects on pupils, this research investigates the project’s 
impacts on school employees. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted 
with special class teachers and special needs assistants (n = 8) to examine their 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


experiences and perceptions of the project’s influences on their work and work 
environment. The project’s impacts were related to teachers’ learning of new skills, 
positive feelings and increased sense of community within and between the classes of 
pupils with special needs. The research is linked to the discussion on artist-teacher 
collaboration in schools, on artistic interventions at work, and on artistic initiatives in 
the public sector more generally. 


This research discusses a Finnish community music project aimed at school pupils with 
disabilities. We investigate the project’s impacts on school employees (teachers and special 
needs assistants) rather than on the pupils—their work, work environment, and working 
conditions. 1 We examine the employees’ experiences and perceptions of a community music 
project at a school, and seek to determine how it influenced the employees’ work. We focus 
specifically on the new skills and ideas they gained in the project, their feelings related to the 
music activities, and their perceptions of community. Our study is related to two research 
approaches: Research on artistic interventions at work and research on collaboration between 
arts and culture professionals and schools, especially teachers. 

Basic Education and the Arts in Finland 

In Finland, basic education encompasses nine years and caters for all children between the 
ages of 7 and 16. Municipalities are responsible for providing basic education in 
comprehensive schools. Finland only has a few private schools. The basic education system 
emphasizes equality and access for all. Education is free, and so are all school materials and 
school meals. Support for learning is provided on three levels: general, intensified, and special 
support. Forty-two percent of pupils receiving special support study exclusively in special 
needs classes. All schools follow a national core curriculum, but may draw up their own 
curricula within its framework. A new national core curriculum was implemented in August 
2016. Its key goals include enhancing pupil participation, transversal competencies, 
multidisciplinary learning by means of phenomenon-based project studies, and learning 
outside the classroom. Phenomenon-based learning in the Finnish context refers to an 
investigative approach to real-life phenomena that are studied in their contexts, in a cross- 
disciplinary manner. Arts subjects taught in basic education include music and visual arts. 

1 Cf. Jensen’s and McCandless’ approach to integrated arts, not from the perspective of student benefits, but 
rather as a potentiality for teachers’ professional development (Jensen & McCandless, 2013). 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


Crafts are also included, and drama and creative writing are studied as part of mother tongue 
and literature. 2 

The current Finnish government has launched a key project for facilitating arts and culture as 
part of the Government Program (2015), which pays special attention to children’s and young 
people’s access to arts and culture. The Government Program demands recognition of the 
‘wellbeing aspects of culture’ and supporting young people ‘in becoming more active’ by 
means of art and culture. (Prime Minister’s Office, 2015.) This has accelerated the spreading 
of the cultural dimension to health and social spheres as well as education in Finland. The 
community music project we are investigating was part of a cultural partnership program 
between a medium-sized municipality and a local cultural center, and though the partnership 
program is older than the Government Program, it is seen as part of the same agenda of 
promoting all children’s access to art and culture. Previous international research has shown 
that art may have a positive influence on pupils’ academic achievements as well as different 
aspects of their development (Culture and Sport Evidence Programme [CASE], 2010; 
Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012; Deasy, 2002; Fleming, Merrell, & Tymms, 
2004; Hallam, 2010; Schellenberg, 2004; Smithrim & Upitis, 2005; Standley, 2008). Equal 
access to arts thus seems to be important not solely for art’s sake, but because art is an 
important promoter of well-being, learning achievements, and active citizenship. 

Previous Research on Artists in Schools and Other Workplaces 

This article, however, is not about the impacts of art on school pupils but about its impact on 
employees. Some research exists on multi-professional collaboration among teachers and 
artists in various sectors of education. According to these studies, artists working in schools 
have enabled teachers to learn new skills, motivated them to adopt creative approaches, 
encouraged them to explore new ideas, and enabled whole school activities that allow staff to 
collaborate. Frequently reported impacts on teachers of working with artists were on the 
personal level (e.g. enhanced enthusiasm for job, increased confidence to try new things) and 
the interpersonal level (enhanced communication and sharing of learning with colleagues). 
(Cote, 2009; Lamont, Jeffes, & Lord, 2010; Pitts, 2016; Thomson, Coles, Hallewell, & Keane, 
n.d.) These impacts are largely similar to those found in participatory art interventions at 
other workplaces and work communities (for an overview, see Berthoin Antal & StrauB, 
2016). Previous research suggests that participatory arts activities at workplaces have 
improved working climate and cooperation, increased feelings of togetherness and sense of 
community at work, improved the quality of relationships, and increased solidarity. 

2 More information about the Finnish education system can be found on the website of the Finnish National 
Agency for Education, system . See also Kumpulainen, 2015. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


(Karpavicikute & Macijauskiene, 2016; Styhre & Eriksson, 2008; van den Broeck, Cools, & 
Maenhout, 2008.) 

Thomson, Coles, Hallewell, and Keane observe that in studies concerning teacher 
development during the Creative Partnerships program in the UK, three types of teacher 
learning emerged. First, teachers can learn skills from artists and use them in much the same 
way. Second, teachers can leam skills from artists and transfer them to other similar topics. 
Third, teachers can develop new pedagogic practices on the basis of artists’ pedagogic 
principles. The latter was less common than the first two types of teacher learning. (Thomson 
et al., n.d.) 

However, it has been argued that artists and teachers employ different pedagogic approaches. 
For evident reasons, teachers are also more tied to the curriculum than the artists. These may 
lead to tensions and conflicts in artist-teacher co-operation. Long-term collaboration, open 
dialogue on different perspectives and mutual trust in each other’s professional skills have 
proved significant in artist-teacher co-operation. (Burnard & Swann, 2010; Cote, 2009; 
Galton, 2010; Hall, Thomson, & Russell, 2007; Kind, de Cosson, Irwin, & Grauer, 2007; 
Thomson et al., n. d., Thomson, Hall, & Russell, 2006.) 

Community Music 

Community music can be seen as part of the collaborative and participatory turn in the arts 
field. 3 Internationally, community music has been defined in many different ways, and the 
debate about the definitions and the boundaries between community music, music therapy and 
community music therapy goes on (see e.g. Ansdell, 2002; Daykin, 2012; Murray & Lamont, 
2012; Schippers & Bartleet, 2013). Mark Rimmer (2009) defines community music shortly as 
‘music-making with social goals.’ Community art projects are often targeted for individuals 
and communities who are disadvantaged in some way, and the aim is to empower them and/or 
boost their abilities to become civically engaged. It has been claimed that community arts and 
other forms of participatory art (Bishop, 2012; Finkelpearl, 2014) can enhance empowerment 
and confidence in individuals and communities (Guetzkow, 2002; Hacking, Seeker, Spandler, 

3 Collaborative and participatory art practices emerged as activist projects in the 1960s and 1970s. At large, 
community-based art involves members of a group in a creative activity leading to a public display or 
performance. This creative process is as important as the artistic outcome. (On different perspectives of 
participatory art, see Bishop, 2012; Kester, 2004, 2011; Kwon, 2002; Lacy, 1995.) 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


Kent, & Shenton, 2008; Matarasso, 1997; McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras, & Brooks, 2004; 
Ramsden, Milling, Phillimore, McCabe, Fyfe, & Simpson, 2011). 4 

In Finland, the term community music is mostly used for participatory music activities that 
take place in institutions (such as hospitals, nursing homes, reception centers for asylum 
seekers) and involve both members of the community (its residents or clients and staff) and a 
professional musician. Often the goal of (Finnish) community music activities is to promote 
psychosocial well-being. In addition to ‘community music,’ ‘care music’ has also been used in 
Finland (e.g. Lilja-Viherlampi, 2013), but this term is controversial. Internationally, as more 
and more musicians are involved in such activities, a professional category of community 
musician or health musician (Ruud, 2012) has emerged but remains difficult to define 
(Daykin, 2012). The situation is the same in Finland, where a professional specialization study 
program for community musicians started in 2017. 

In the context of this research, community music is an emic term introduced to the school by 
the cultural center that produced the project. In practice, the activities in the school fell 
between categories of participatory and presentational music (Turino 2008, 26-65). 
Collaborative music composition for presentational purposes was emphasized more in some 
classes than in others. Generally speaking, the process and the final composition were equally 
important in this project. 5 

Study Aims 

The aim of this study is to investigate how a community music project at a school influenced 
the school employees’ work: their skills and ideas, their feelings, and their perceptions of 
community. This is examined by qualitative interview data (n = 8). The research is part of a 
larger research project that explores the impacts of arts on well-being and equality in Finland. 

Research Methods and Material 

The community music project was carried out in a Finnish comprehensive school among four 
classes of pupils with special needs (from 1st to 9th grade of basic education; 7 to 16 years of 
age) and the special class teachers (4) and special needs assistants (12) working with them. 

4 It is worth noting that there is also a body of literature that critically reviews the methodologies of the so-called 
social impact studies in the arts (see e.g. Belfiore, 2002, 2009; Crossick & Kaszynska, 2016; Merli, 2002; White 
& Hede, 2008). 

5 Murray & Lamont (2012) compare community music and (visual) community arts and argue that community 
arts projects are more centered on processes than the quality of the final aesthetic product, whereas community 
music emphasizes both process and product as intertwined. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 

The school in question is located in a medium-sized municipality in the southern part of 
Finland, and has approximately 500 pupils and 90 staff members. Four of the classes consist 
of pupils with developmental disabilities, learning disabilities or other special needs. These 
pupils study according to an adjusted syllabus. Other pupils in the school are basic education 
pupils with no special needs. The community music project was part of the municipality’s 
cultural education program for children and young people. It is produced in collaboration with 
a local cultural center, which provides different art activities for schools to choose from every 

The community music project was conducted in April 2016. It lasted for one month, during 
which a musician worked at the school every day, spending one to two days per week (2-3 
hours per day) with each class. This was a new approach in the cultural education program, 
since in earlier years the arts activities were carried out in less intensive periods over a longer 
time span. The project ended with a performance at a celebration in the school in June 2016. 

Content of the Community Music Project 

The music project was specially intended for the four classes of pupils with disabilities. Its 
main aim was to promote the community and collaboration in and between the classes with 
disabled pupils by way of music. The project also aimed to bring out the disabled pupils’ 
voices by encouraging them to express themselves musically, and to support the adoption of 
phenomenon-based learning. 

The daily work in the community music project consisted of experiments with instruments 
(Finnish zither, djembe, xylophone, ukulele, guitar, and wind chimes 6 ), voices and singing, 
and different auditive elements of the environment and the body. In the project, each class had 
a special theme chosen together by the musician, employees and pupils according to their 
interests (see Table 1). Each class created a musical composition, using different instruments 
and further acoustic material, planned and recorded by the musician in collaboration with the 
staff and pupils. The audio tracks were performed at a school celebration, some accompanied 
with photographs and one with a live performance by the pupils. 

6 One reason for choosing these particular instruments seems to have been that they are easily accessible even for 
learners with disabilities. 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


Table 1. 

Content of the community music project 






Theme of the 


Pupils’ own 

voices and 


accompanied by 


Sounds of 

rescue vehicles, 

traffic sounds 

Sounds of 


exercise and 


accompanied by 


Everyday life 

sounds in the 


accompanied by 


The medium of 

artistic outcome 

Recording and 







Recording and 


Recording and 


What was 

special in the 


Pupils had 



Pupils were 

mostly boys 


class, pupils had 


interests and 


levels. Physical 

education as the 

school year’s 

special theme. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 

In her interview, the musician explains her approach to music as ethnomusicology-based: ‘In 
ethnomusicology, music is understood very broadly [...] it’s thought of as part of culture, man¬ 
made. [...] This has had a great impact on my thinking about what music is and who can make 
music.’ For her, this project was the first that she perceived as community music; before she 
had only been involved in what she understood as ‘participatory music-making activities’ 

(with elderly people in nursing homes, residential homes and hospitals as well as with 
children in kindergartens). The musician perceived her role in the project as a facilitator: 

I’m a facilitator, I’m not the focus, I give them tools to bring forth their subject matter. 
It’s important to find a balance between taking a big role for myself and allowing the 
activity to be anything. Balancing between leading the action enough but at the same 
time not leading it too much. It can’t be like ‘I did this’ but about bringing out what 
they want. 

Although the artist-led music exercises focused on pupils with special needs, the teachers and 
assistants were provided with the opportunity to be highly actively involved in the project. 

The employees’ presence, attention and participation was required in the planning as well as 
the execution of the process. All the employees of the classes involved in the project were 
given the opportunity and encouraged to participate. According to the musician’s interview, 
their overall attitude was positive and they participated actively. In her opinion, this was 
essential to the project’s success, because the employees’ attitudes also affect the pupils. The 
employees and the musician mutually agreed on a performance as the outcome of the project. 
They decided together to include both everyday noises and soundscapes and more traditional 
musical expression in the project. Teachers and assistants also had a say in organizing the 

In concrete classroom situations, pupils, employees and the musician brainstormed the process 
and the final musical performance. According to the musician’s interview, the employees’ 
knowledge of the pupils was extremely valuable for her work. The employees supported the 
musician in communicating with pupils who did not speak, for example. Some of the music 
exercises required group processes in which the teachers and special needs assistant also 
participated (for example, pupils with severe disabilities needed help to play the instruments). 
Even though the opportunities to be involved were the same for every teacher and assistant, in 
practice they had different levels of involvement and different strategies for approaching the 
music project. These are discussed in the Results section. 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


Participants and Procedure 

The interview data consists of four semi-structured dyadic interviews of special class teachers 
and special needs assistants (n = 8). Six of the interviewees were female and two were male, 
and their age range was 31-56. Each teacher was interviewed with one of the special needs 
assistants of her/his class. The reason for choosing dyadic interviews was to employ a dialogic 
approach, based on the assumption that interviewees may provide more and broader 
perspectives to the topic via dialogue with each other. Interviewing coworkers together as a 
pair was compatible with the collaboration and community themes of the music project, and 
was supposed to help the interviewees pay attention to shared experiences in the class. Dyadic 
interviews are most useful when the aim is to acquire both social interaction and depth 
(Morgan, Ataie, Carder, & Hoffman, 2013). They are more intimate than focus group 
interviews, but still retain a slight sense of a public event (Morris, 2001). The interaction and 
mediation that occurs between the participants can result in shared meanings of events and 
experiences. Usually it is valuable that participants have a pre-existing relationship, like 
working partners or friends. (Allan, 1980.) In the process of analysing dyadic interviews, the 
relationship between the participants becomes a unit of analysis (Morris, 2001). 

The interview themes were focused on possible changes in the ways of working, work 
environment and conditions during and after the music project, experiences of using music in 
the class and working with a musician, and previous experiences of using arts-based methods 
at work. All the themes were covered in every interview, but the order of the questions varied, 
and additional questions were asked if something was left unclear. The interviewees were also 
allowed to bring up topics of their own interest and discuss the experiences they considered 
important in the music project. The interviews were conducted two weeks after the ending of 
the actual music project, but before the performance. They lasted from 20 to 40 minutes. They 
were audio-recorded and transcribed. 

The musician was also interviewed. Unlike the interviews of the school employees, the 
musicians’ interview was conducted while the community music project was still ongoing. 

The interview covers the musician’s depiction of the process, her experiences, intentions and 
aims, and also her previous work history, education and other themes related to work in the 
participatory and community arts field. 7 The musician’s interview lasted an hour. It was also 
audio-recorded and transcribed. Additional data consist of the musician’s diary of the project 

7 The musician’s interview is also used as a part of a corpus of artist interviews (n = 39) for other purposes in this 
research project. These artist interviews have been collected for examining hybrid working practices of Finnish 
artists who do collaborative, socially engaged or applied art. For this reason, the interview also covers other 
themes as well as the community music project. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 

(6 pages). In the diary, she describes the content of each day’s exercises, and her reflections 
and feelings about the work. The musician’s observations on the participating employees’ 
roles are also included. The musician’s diary was used to clarify, supplement or contradict the 
teacher interviews. It provided information regarding the daily progress of the project, 
whereas the interviews of the employees were retrospective sensemaking. 

The reason that the researchers did not observe during the project themselves was ethical. 
Because the participating pupils had disabilities and other special needs, they were vulnerable, 
and the presence of several strangers in the classroom may have compromised the success of 

All the interviewees were informed about the content and purpose of the interviews both 
orally and on paper, and they signed an informed consent form. The interviews were 
conducted in Finnish. Thus, all the interview excerpts in this article are translations. In the 
following text, the informants are referred to by pseudonyms given to their classes (Red, 
Green, Yellow, and Blue). The gendered pronouns used of the interviewees are mixed up so 
that they do not necessarily match their own perceived gender. These procedures have been 
undertaken to protect the interviewees from being recognized. 


The interviews of the school employees were analyzed thematically (Braun & Clark, 2006; 
Vaismoradi, Turunen, & Bondas, 2013) using Atlas.ti software. They were first carefully read 
through. Then text segments were coded according to the interest areas of the study, starting 
from one interview and proceeding to the others, all the time building on earlier codes, 
refining and developing them. Codes were added, removed, merged and refined throughout 
the analysis process. The codes were then connected into broader categories, and recurrent 
themes were identified. The analysis focused specifically on the teachers, because they plan 
and lead the pedagogic work in the classroom. The musician’s interview was analyzed in a 
similar manner, comparing and combining her information with that of the employees’ 


The overall impression from the interviews was that the employees found it difficult to 
recognize and articulate the influences of the music project on their work. They were much 
more prepared to consider the influences on pupils. Only one of the teachers stated in the very 
beginning of the interview that the project had an immediate impact on his teaching work. 
Even though most of the interviewees at first felt that the effects of the project on their work 
were scarce, several apparent effects arose during the interviews. They can be summed up in 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


the following three themes: 1) New perspectives, new ways of working, 2) Positive feelings, 
and 3) Sense of community. Table 2 summarizes the effects on each teacher’s work 
individually and presents their relation to teachers’ self-reported backgrounds and attitudes 
towards the project. 

Table 2. 

Teachers’ backgrounds and the project’s effects on their work 







Low confidence 

Expertise in 

Sees music as 

Likes using 

attitude and 

in teaching 

music and dance 

his weak side as 



music, had 

education: used 

a teacher. Was 

methods in 

slight doubts 

to work as 


work, no 

about the 

dance teacher; 

towards the 

specific relation 

project but sees 

studies in music 


to music. 

herself (and the 

other employees 

of the class) as 


Studies in 





The project’s 

Gained a lot of 

Enjoyed the 

Benefited from 

Had chosen 

main benefits as 

confidence in 

variety to 

the role of a 

sound as the 

experienced by 

music; learned 

normal routines; 

bystander; saw 

approach for a 

the teacher 

new ways of 


new sides to 


using music as 

recognition for 

pupils; learned 

based learning 

part of daily 

the use of music 

ways of 

module in the 


as a pedagogical 

approaching and 

spring term. 

method in daily 


Utilized the 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


work (pupils 

pupils from the 

music project as 

already had 


part of this 

skills that could 

approach (by 

be utilized in 


the project). 


material on 

senses and 


New Perspectives, New Ways of Working 

Although most of the employees did not immediately recognize the changes in their ways of 
working as a consequence of the music project, during the interviews it became evident that 
the project had indeed influenced their working habits. However, the changes in ways of 
working were related to the employees’ previous experiences and knowledge of arts-based 
methods, as well as to their attitudes towards music and their receptiveness to the project. 

Some of the employees said that music had not been a familiar art form for them and they 
were hesitant to use it, but with the help of the project, their courage to use music in the class 
increased. One of the teachers related being encouraged to step beyond her own comfort zone 
in the project: 

I have no musical talent whatsoever, and music is not my thing [...] but [the project] 
made me think that sometimes I could try doing things differently. I could, for 
example, pick up a single exercise to add somewhere. [...] It gave me courage to try 
musical stuff. Good, emotional experiences can be gained through small meaningful 
things. As a teacher, you sometimes fixate too much on the curriculum. You should 
remember that including a little extra could give strength on a larger scale. (Teacher, 
Red class) 

Through the project, this teacher had learned new music techniques, and been inspired to 
include more music in her daily work (cf. Bowell, 2014; Pitts, 2016): Her confidence in 
teaching music and using music-based methods had increased. In the interview excerpt above 
she also implies that she overcame the often-mentioned obstacle to arts teaching - a crowded 
and fixed curriculum (see Alter, Hays, & O’Hara, 2009) - by integrating music across the 
curriculum (on integrated arts, see e.g. Andrews, 2008; Jensen & McCandless, 2013). The 
special needs assistant had also noticed the change in the teacher’s habits: “There’s now more 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


music in our class. More gym with music, more music-this, music-that. More playing 
instruments.” (Assistant, Red class) 

The teacher discussed above mentioned increased courage several times during the interview. 
Courage was also mentioned by another teacher who does not consider himself musically 

I openly admit that music is my weak point, I can’t use music as any kind of a tool. I 
always try to grasp opportunities to provide it for pupils from somewhere else. [...] I 
don’t really feel that I got more courage to use these techniques from this project. I 
still think that everyone should use their own strengths. (Teacher, Yellow class) 

The two teachers who saw themselves as having no musical talent report different degrees of 
openness towards the project. The Yellow class teacher, whose confidence to use music did 
not increase, talks about having been ‘very skeptical’ towards the project in the beginning 
(even though he was satisfied with the process and outcome afterwards). 8 The Red class 
teacher, who gained more confidence and inspiration, also admits to having small doubts 
beforehand but quickly losing them after the first session. She sees the receptiveness of all the 
employees of her class as one reason for the project’s success: “We are very receptive. If 
someone comes to do stuff with us, we respond and want to be involved. This shouldn’t be 
ignored. If we had been like ‘well, music... ’, the whole thing would have dried up.” (Teacher, 
Red class) 

Music was familiar to some employees. One of the teachers had a great deal of experience in 
different arts-based methods, and even studies in music therapy. This teacher said: “The 
exercises were familiar, we’ve used them ourselves, too. [...] I didn’t get anything new for 
myself from [the musician’s] activities, nothing I didn’t know before.” In the interview, she 
had difficulties specifying the project’s other influences on her work besides its refreshing 
effect, because she felt that she was not capable of learning new skills. She appeared to have 
been an active partner to the musician in planning activities suitable for her class. She and the 
assistant in her class emphasized that in special education, the boundaries of art and non-art 
are difficult to define: 

8 The same is reported in the musician’s diary. She gathered feedback from the pupils and staff on the last day of 
the project, and wrote: ‘The staff was like ‘ok’. They said that at first, they had difficulties piecing together what 
was going to happen and seeing the objective. But in the end. they were very happy with the outcome. I agreed 
with the class that somehow the objective was not clear until the final stages, but the outcome was good. ’ 
(Musician’s diary note, April 25, 2016) 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


Every possible thing is art, we make art with our hands and our bodies, our whole day 
could be seen as art. [...] It’s very hard to define what is art and what is our daily work. 
We use a lot of creative methods, special education methods, they are creative and 
some of them include art. (Teacher, Green class) 

We interpret this interview discourse as artification. According to Naukkarinen (2012), 
artification “refers to situations and processes in which something that is not regarded as art in 
the traditional sense of the word is changed into something art-like or into something that 
takes influences from artistic ways of thinking and acting.” 9 These interviewees saw special 
education methods as thoroughly creative and artful. Interestingly, however, they also 
distinguished between the artistic methods used in daily work and bigger arts projects. They 
explained that they had not done ‘real’ art projects by themselves. From the assistant’s point 
of view, the main reason for this was that with pupils with special needs, most of the time and 
resources are taken by basic care work. From the teacher’s perspective, the special needs 
education curriculum was overloaded. Besides, every pupil had individual learning objectives, 
of which skills of taking care of oneself and managing daily life played a large part. She 
recognized that phenomenon-based learning as a principle enables all contents of instruction 
to be taught through integration with an arts project, but claimed that the planning of such 
work would require huge amounts of time. 

One of the teachers had utilized the music project for pedagogical purposes. He had no 
specific relation to music as a pedagogic tool, but both he and the special needs assistant of 
the class felt that the musical methods used in the project were comfortable and familiar 
enough. In the interview, both of them emphasized that the project’s approach was 
characteristic for them and their class, even though the teacher normally used more drama- 
based than music-based working methods. The teacher had chosen sound as the approach for a 
phenomenon-based learning module in the spring term. He utilized the music project as part 
of this approach by adding a pedagogical approach to sense perceptions and emotions. In the 
interview, he says: 

I started expanding the themes immediately when the artist left. [...] I decided to seize 
the opportunity. We had already decided before the project that our phenomenon- 
based module in May would be about sound. In the project, our theme was everyday 
sounds and sounds produced by the pupils, and I started adding pedagogical aspects to 
this theme. (Teacher, Blue class) 

9 See also other articles in the special volume 4 (2012) of Contemporary Aesthetics. 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


The teacher had no ready-made plans before the project but he trusted that new ideas would 
arise during the work. The assistant saw the approach as typical of the teacher: “A small idea 
comes from somewhere, and [the teacher] starts immediately working on the idea, expanding 
it.” (Assistant, Blue class) For this teacher, the music project was a seedbed of new ideas to be 
applied to his own pedagogic work. 

New ways of working could also relate to the employees’ changed work roles during the 
music project. The Yellow class teacher, who was no expert in music and even felt suspicious 
about the project, said that adopting the role of a bystander in class situations, instead of a 
leading role, was beneficial for him. It allowed him a chance to learn. However, the 
musician’s diary includes several references of her longing for more support from the staff of 
this class to stimulate pupils (Musician’s diary notes, April 11, 2016; April 18, 2016). Thus, 
taking the role of a bystander was beneficial for the teacher, but left the musician with the 
feeling of insufficient support in classroom situations. In contrast, the Green class teacher 
(who had a lot of experience in music education methods), adopted a more active role and 
perceived herself, not the musician, as having the main responsibility for the class and the 
success of the project: “I’m the teacher, I’m in charge of the pupils. Even though [the 
musician] came to work with us, I carry the main responsibility. I can’t just allow anything.” 
(Teacher, Green class) She believed that if the project had been about an art form foreign to 
her, she would have taken a more passive, learning role. The musician also noticed that this 
teacher was eager to take a lot of responsibility for the process: “The teacher wants to hold the 
reins, which makes my role smaller compared to that in other classes.” (Musician’s diary note, 
April 8, 2016) Whatever their conceptions of their own roles were, all the interviewees felt 
they had been actively involved in the music project. It was something they felt they had done 
together with their pupils and the musician, not something they had passively received. 

The music project provided an opportunity for mutual learning for the school employees and 
the musician. The interviews reveal that the musician’s work with the pupils was under the 
close scrutiny of the employees during the project. All the interviewees commended the 
musician for her way of interacting with the pupils. Some had picked up new techniques of 
approaching pupils, motivating them, or supporting their concentration from the musician. 
According to the musician’s diary, this experience of learning was reciprocal. The musician 
had no previous experience of working with children with special needs, let alone severe 
disabilities. She observed the employees’ working practices sometimes with wonder (‘The 
teachers and assistants are alert all the time, they watch blood sugars and bathroom breaks, 
etc.’), sometimes with admiration (“Some of the assistants especially act in a great, child- 
centered manner. I have a lot to learn from them.”). (Musician’s diary notes, April 5, 2016; 
April 13, 2016.) Therefore, both the musician and the school employees felt that they had 
learnt from each other. (Cf. Cote, 2009; Kind et al., 2007.) 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


Positive Feelings 

All the employees observed that the community music project raised positive emotions and 
feelings. The positive feelings were related to a refreshing change from routines and rejoicing 
over the project’s influences on pupils. 

First, all the interviewees stated that they had experienced temporary changes to their normal 
daily routines. However, they did not always relate these changes to the art form in question 
or to the community-arts-based working methods, but to the fact that something happened that 
was out of the ordinary. For example: “I felt that it was very nice for me as an employee, 
having a bit of a different day at work [once a week].” (Assistant, Green class) The 
interviewees felt that the changes in the daily routines supported their work-related well¬ 
being. They described the effects of variation to routines by an arts project in terms of 
refreshment, increased motivation, zeal, boost, and vitality. For example: “We got new ideas 
and enthusiasm, and all kinds of new ideas and enthusiasm always increase vitality and good 
feelings at work.” (Teacher, Blue class) 

Second, all the interviewees also saw the project as beneficial for the pupils. The employees 
depicted the experience of seeing the effects of music exercises in pupils as rewarding and 

It felt good to see [the pupils] do it together and like the outcome. It made me happy, 
in my work, to see that they have such a ‘yes’ atmosphere. So my work gets a little 
boost, too, from the success of the children. (Special needs assistant, Yellow class) 

The interviewees were eager to present their observations on the project’s influences on pupils 
(such as increased concentration, pupils’ excitement at making music, their experiences of 
success, the silent and withdrawn pupils finding a new way to express themselves and 
demonstrate their abilities). The project provided the employees with an opportunity to see the 
pupils in a different light and re-evaluate their abilities. Some of them found that for some 
pupils, music was their ‘thing,’ which they had not known before. (For similar findings, see 
Catterall and Peppier, 2007; Kilinc, Chapman, Kelley, Adams, & Soo, 2016; Pitts, 2016.) 

Sense of Community 

The theme of community was brought up in every interview by the interviewees prior to us 
asking. This was somewhat expected, because the intervention was introduced to the school as 
a community music project, not just any kind of participatory arts initiative. 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


The interviewees use the word ‘community’ in three senses. First, they described a sense of 
community being present in the fleeting moments of making music together: A sudden sense 
of being part of a community with other individuals at the classroom level. The following 
excerpt is from the interview of a teacher of a class of pupils with severe disabilities: 

In my mind’s eye, I can see [the musician] doing those things with someone 
individually, and somehow all our pupils were present in the moment, even though she 
worked with one pupil at a time. Such things don’t happen often. The moment did it. 
We adults, we were there, too, and we could sense it, and the whole community 
became a community. [...] If such moments could happen every day, it would be 
perfect, but in practice it doesn’t work that way in our class. These moments provide a 
good experience: If only I could achieve this some day. If I can get more of these 
moments into our daily routine, it will become our class’s ‘thing.’ Even the name of 
our show is “We are us.” (Teacher, Red class) 

The teacher sees such special moments of togetherness as rare in work with severely disabled 
pupils, but considers that they have great value for the class and its identity as a community. 

The following interview excerpt also serves as an example of whole class community, adults 
and children, experiencing an empowering moment of community, as one of them 
demonstrates a new side to himself with the help of music (cf. Kilinc et al., 2016, and the 
discussion above of the school employees’ re-evaluation of pupils’ abilities). An autistic 
pupil, ‘Elias,’ did not easily become involved in anything in the class, and at first, it was not 
easy to get him involved in the musical moments either. 10 Then one day, he took the ukulele 
and started playing. This little moment was immediately recognized as important by everyone 
involved, and remained a source of strength for pupils and employees for weeks after the 

A: Our composition starts from Elias playing the ukulele, and singing. He doesn’t talk, 
but at that moment, he sang with that voice of his. The other pupils were excited about 
that afterwards, and told their music teacher that “Elias was playing and then he started 

10 According to the musician’s diary notes (April 11, 2016; April 18, 2016; April 22, 2016), 
she struggled to involve this pupil and felt that the teacher and assistants did not support her. 
In his interview, the teacher appealed to his knowledge of the pupils and explained that 
pushing this pupil into participating would not have helped. This was a small contradiction 
between the musician and the employees, but did not grow into a conflict. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


singing and it was so wonderful!” It was wonderful that Elias could produce 
something that he normally can’t. And the others noticed it. It was a great moment. 

T: Yeah, the insight that this fellow can produce something other than the sound of 
anger and rage that is familiar to everyone. 

A: I remember when we were making music in the music class. Usually Elias only 
takes those [Boomwhacker] tubes. But now he took [the ukulele] when the others did, 
too, and he started playing. [The musician] started recording him immediately. We let 
him do it for as long as he wanted. Nobody interrupted, or asked him to stop, or said 
“good for you!” Everybody just listened for as long as he played. It was somehow so 
amazing. (A=assistant, T=teacher, Yellow class) 

The second level of community depicted in the interviews was between the classes. The sense 
of community between the teachers and assistants of different classes of disabled pupils 
increased when all the employees found out what other classes had accomplished with the 
musician. This experience is articulated in the following interview segment: 

We all worked in our own classrooms for the specific days [of the music project]. We 
had no contact with the other classes. We didn’t even know what they were up to. But 
when we had a shared rehearsal, seeing each other’s presentations created a 
community spirit: “Wow, this is us, this is a wonderful thing.” (Teacher, Blue class) 

The sense of belonging to ‘us’ expanded from the classroom to a mutual feeling between all 
the classes that took part in the project. 

However, the interviewees also recognized a third level of community, which was not greatly 
influenced by the music project: The whole school community as their workplace. The school 
had recently moved into a bigger building, and that was considered to have weakened the 
work community. The interviewees longed for justification for their classes’ existence as part 
of the school community. They found it important that the management, other employees and 
pupils were more aware of the music project, and through this, of the disabled pupils’ 
capabilities. They were aware of a deficit view that some of their colleagues might have of 
pupils with disabilities (see Kilinc et al., 2016). The theme of empowerment on the individual 
and group level is very much present in the interviews. The process boosted the employees’ 
confidence in their own abilities to use and produce music (see above), and in their pupils’ 
abilities to do this. It strengthened the employees’ faith in their pupils in front of the whole 
school community, and provided them with a chance to be proud of their pupils. “There’s 
nothing that can’t be done with disabled pupils if you find the right way to do it,” said one of 

Ansio, Seppald, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


the assistants. However, the employees felt that recognition of their achievements by the 
management or the other community members was at least partly lacking. 

The interviewees perceived the music project’s approach as truly community based: They felt 
that the content of the project was related to the pupils’ interests and their own. Each class’s 
own characteristics and interests were taken into consideration. The interviewees highlighted 
the musician’s skills of interaction with both the pupils and the staff as the central reason for 
the project’s success. In the employees’ opinion, she had treated the pupils openly and 
equally. The activity was depicted as ‘sensible,’ ‘pupil-friendly,’ not ‘too high-flown,’ having 
realistic skill requirements and no pre-set artistic objectives. At the same time, all the 
interviewees were impressed by the quality of the process and the artistic outcome. They all 
considered the presence of an artist as very important in the process; they could not have 
achieved the outcome without her artistic vision and her skills in music, technology and 
production. This notion of artistic excellence is important, since it is often missing in the 
evaluation of community arts processes; they are assessed predominantly in terms of their 
impact (Ramsden et al., 2011). 


This research investigated the perceptions and experiences of a community music project 
conducted in a Finnish comprehensive school among pupils with disabilities, their teachers 
and special needs assistants. Qualitative interviews of four teachers and four assistants 
revealed three kinds of impact: 1) Positive feelings related to changes in routines and 
perceptions of the project’s influence on the pupils, 2) New perspectives, new ways of 
working (finding new ways of using music in the classroom), and 3) An increased sense of 
community within the class and between the classes of pupils with disabilities, although not 
necessarily in the school community as a whole. In addition to the work-related effects, the 
project as an artistic process resulted in four musical compositions made collaboratively by a 
musician, pupils with disabilities, and the school employees. 

New Ways of Working 

It is known from earlier research that generalist teachers may experience difficulties in 
teaching arts subjects. Teachers’ perceptions of their level of arts experience, artistic abilities 
and skills influence their confidence in teaching art. In the research by Alter et al. (2009), 
teachers who saw their competence in teaching arts subjects as limited, tended to ‘teach to 
their strengths’ and focus on the arts subjects they felt most confident in, or delegated partial 
or total responsibility of arts teaching to experts. (See also Welch, 1995.) The teachers and 
assistants in our research also had clear perceptions of their own personal talent (or lack of it) 
in arts subjects, of their strengths as arts pedagogues and also their personal interests towards 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


(teaching) specific arts disciplines. In this respect, our research supports the findings of Alter 
et al. (2009). However, our study also shows that even quite small positive experiences can 
improve teachers’ confidence in themselves as arts pedagogues and increase their interest 
towards specific art forms - e.g., the Red class teacher was inspired to use more music with 
the class (see also Bowell, 2014). 

Some research on artist-teacher partnership points to tensions and even conflicts experienced 
in such collaboration (Galton, 2010; Hall et al., 2007; Kind et al., 2007; Thomson et al., 2006; 
Seppala, Ansio, Houni, & Hakanen, 2017). In the case of our study, the collaboration seems to 
have been successful. Our interpretation is that the success was due to the involvement of 
school employees in the process from the outset. The engagement of the teachers and 
assistants was further supported by the fact that the pupils had disabilities; the artist needed 
constant, practical support from teachers and assistants. The mutual trust and respect between 
the school employees and the musician as well as the expertise areas complementing each 
other seem to have supported reciprocal learning in the project. Since the musician had no 
experience of pupils with disabilities, the school employees could retain their expertise in 
special education, while relying on the musician’s expertise in music. A very important aspect 
is that the project was conceptualized as community music, not just participatory music¬ 
making. It provided the musician and the school employees with a framework of community 
arts. Regardless of whether the teachers and assistants were familiar with the term and 
principles of community arts, the mere name of the project hinted at an idea of something 
being done together. 

This finding of new ways and new perspectives of working and changing the social 
environment at work resonates with the construct of job crafting (Berg, Dutton, & 
Wrzesniewski, 2013; Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). Job crafting represents different kinds 
of proactive behaviors that employees use in their jobs to improve aspects of work and/or 
working conditions to make work more meaningful and engaging. These proactive changes 
that employees make may include different kinds of behaviors for altering a job’s cognitive 
(e.g., shaping and redesigning the facets of the job - framing what the job is about), relational 
(e.g., alter the nature of interactions with others at work), and task boundaries (e.g., change 
the type and/or number of tasks and work activities; Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). 
Furthermore, job crafting can also be considered a collaborative and shared activity performed 
by a group of employees (Leana, Appelbaum, & Shevchuk, 2009; McClelland, Leach, Clegg, 
& McGowan, 2014; Tims, Bakker, Derks, & van Rhenen, 2013). In collaborative job crafting, 
group members decide to change their working conditions and characteristics in agreed-upon 
ways in order to attain their shared goals. However, to the best of our knowledge, no studies 
have thus far investigated the meaning of participatory (community) art activities in job 

Ansio, Seppdld, & Houni: Teachers’ Experiences and Perceptions 


crafting and therefore, future studies should clarify the possibilities of participatory art for 
developing and shaping one’s work. 

Positive Feelings 

All the participants expressed experiences of positive feelings and affects (e.g., enthusiasm, 
inspiration, attentiveness, alertness) during the music project (see Cote, 2009, on similar 
findings). The results of this study are partly in line with the previous research findings of 
Catterall and Peppier (2007), whose study showed that teachers saw the pupils differently 
after arts activities and perceived an increase in collegiality within classes. The results also 
link to the research by Kilinc et al. (2016), who argue that artistic working (in their case, 
drama exercises among preschool children with disabilities) mediated teachers’ 
reconceptualizations of children’s learning identities and abilities. Our research, too, supports 
the argument that artistic activities can highlight pupils’ hidden personal interests and abilities 
and let the school employees re-evaluate what pupils with disabilities are capable of. 
However, this research adds some new perspectives to this discussion by including positive 
feelings and affects that are related to finding new sides to their pupils. 

Interestingly, positive affects, which describe context-free dispositional feelings and emotions 
that reflect the level of pleasurable engagement with the environment (Watson, Clark, & 
Tellegen, 1988) have also been found to be related to a positive work-related state of mind, 
that is, work engagement (Ouweneel, Le Blanc, & Schaufeli, 2012, 2013; see also 
Fredrickson, 2001). Thus, participatory art projects may even have longer-term impacts on 
work-related well-being. However, future studies are needed before further considerations. 


Finally, community-building in the community music project can be discussed from the 
perspective of the concept of social capital developed by, for example, Pierre Bourdieu 
(1986), James Coleman (1988), and Robert Putnam (1990). The sense of community 
experienced within and between the class communities of pupils with disabilities can be seen 
as the emergence of bonding social capital. However, the interviewees mention the lack of 
bridging social capital: Bringing different people together to create new links. (Cf. Lynch & 
Allan, 2007.) The latter was the aim of the public performances of the musical pieces 
composed in the project, but since the interviews took place before the performance, we 
unfortunately have no information on the interviewees’ perception of its effects on the whole 
school community. 

IJEA Vol. 18 No. 37 - 


Strengths, Limitations, and Suggestions for Future Studies 

A strength of this research is that it contributes to the limited knowledge of the impact of 
artists-in-school projects on school employees. Previous studies have mostly investigated 
artist-teacher collaboration in more pedagogically-oriented settings (artist being positioned as 
a teacher) and with pupils with no special needs. The project investigated in our study was a 
community music project that required active participation from the employees and the pupils 

The limitations of this study are its small sample size and limited interview data. Thus, the 
results are not generalizable beyond this specific group. In addition, the study design did not 
allow follow-up. Thus, unfortunately, we have no knowledge about the long-term impacts of 
the community music project. A detailed analysis of the process would also have required 
interviews both before and after the project. 

As artistic activities and arts-based practices are spreading to the educational sphere and other 
sectors of public services (such as health and social care) in Finland, it is important to take 
their impacts on public sector employees into consideration. On the one hand, the employees 
may be seen as invisible ‘gatekeepers’ in public sector institutions and, by their attitudes and 
performed actions, either promote or complicate artistic processes in the institutions in which 
they work. On the other hand, it is important to further investigate how the employees 
themselves experience the art-based practices, as previous studies have implied both 
beneficial (Cote, 2009; Karpavicikute & Macijauskiene 2016; Lamont et al., 2010; Liikanen, 
2014; Pitts, 2016; Thomson et al., n.d.) and controversial (Galton, 2010; Hall et al., 2007; 
Thomson et al., 2006) results and effects. Thus, more research is needed on the impacts of arts 
on employees and artists’ collaboration with them in public sector workplaces. 


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This research has been undertaken as part of the ArtsEqual project funded by the Academy of 
Finland’s Strategic Research Council from its Equality in Society programme (293199/2015). 

About the Author 

Heli Ansio, MA, BTh, Researcher. Her academic background spans the fields of theatre and 
drama research, gender studies, comparative religion and Lutheran theology, but her recent 
work relates mostly to working life research. She is specialized in qualitative research 
methodology. Her latest publication topics include artists' well-being, dual leadership in 
Finnish theatres, and coworking spaces in creative industries. 

Piia Seppala, PhD in Psychology, Specialized Researcher. Seppala’s main research area is 
positive work and organizational psychology. Seppala’s research especially concerns work- 
related resources and work engagement. Seppala is interested in finding ways in which to 
encourage employees to develop their job resources and increase work engagement - to craft 
their jobs so that they best suit the employees themselves. 

Pia Houni, PhD in theatre and drama, Adjunct Professor, Philosophical Practitioner and 
Writer. Houni has conducted research in the field of art for over 20 years. Her main research 
subjects have been artists’ work, publicity, well-being at work, dual leadership, coworking 
spaces in Finland, and contemporary art in general. 

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