“Pro Arte Utili” – How does it feel to run the ARTS student publication?

Design student Lu shares her experiences in being part of the editorial team at Torso, a publication by Aalto ARTS students.

2 pieces of the Torso 2022 Issue 1 - “Utopia / Dystopia,” on a red sheet
Torso 2022 Issue 1 - “Utopia / Dystopia,” cover image credit Shanna Warocquier

Before you, it lays Torso, a publication run voluntarily by Aalto ARTS students since 1981. I was fortunate enough to be part of the editorial team in 2022. 

How does it feel to run the Aalto ARTS student publication? Precisely, how does it feel for an international student to participate in Finnish university student activities?

When researching and preparing for my application to Aalto, I came across a social media page called “Pro Arte”, the campaign of Aalto ARTS students running for positions in AYY (Aalto) Representative Council Elections. I was then impressed with the level of participation in Finnish student culture, hence, I decided to join student association boards, such as Nuoret Designerit (“NuDe,” the student union for the Design department) and Torso.

Student activities offer me an exciting way to get immersed in a new environment, especially the Finnish student culture. When planning for the themes of each issue throughout the year, we need to consider special issues such as “Wappu” (May Day celebration) and Maskerad (the annual theme party of arts students). To organise the editorial content, we dived deep into both the digital and physical archives to learn about these traditions – why are people wearing the white caps on Wappu day, what does the bronze mermaid statue have to do with Wappu, why did the Maskerad stop in the 50s’, what are all the past themes…? Viewed through a foreigner’s lens, some of the “ordinary” conventions surprised me – however, the “unexpectedness” also invited both the international and the Finnish fellow editors to re-examine the past and reflect on the present.

A person holding a leaflet called Wappu Torso
Torso 2022 “Wappu” - photo credit Zina Marpegan
5 Torso Under construction leaflets in a pile
Torso 2022 “Maskerad: Paradise Under Construction”

It is indeed about cultures when working in a team where everyone is from different backgrounds – we aim to bring in voices across various disciplines of design and arts, experiment with multilingual layouts, and ponder together on what the most topical issues are currently on campus. Yet, this hands-on experience also gave us chances to learn about the practicality of running a small publication: budget, bargaining, distribution, workload management… And most importantly, we try to answer a question for ourselves:

Why do we need an independent publication among students?

Our answer, for now, is to bond the community together through this “common space.” More than presenting polished works, the publication also welcomes sharing about community news, events, concerns, wishes, and ongoing experiments.

Looking back, this experience reminds me of the slogan again: “Pro Arte.”

“Pro Arte,” or “Pro Arte Utili,” you can still find the silkscreen prints with these words in the printmaking studio. With the meaning of “for useful arts,” it has been the motto of Aalto ARTS since 1871. Interestingly, I gained empirical learning for this phrase through taking responsibility in student associations. Striving for “useful arts” means probably more than evaluating everything through a utilitarian method, but also making purposeful decisions in our practices.

- Lu

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