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Denmark/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.1 Amateur arts and folk culture

Denmark has traditionally been very active in the voluntary cultural area, thanks to the public movements behind Danish cultural policy (see chapter 1).

Historically, amateur art in Denmark is strong in the field of music and since World War II also in theatre. Today there are two main national amateur organisations in Denmark. The Joint Council of Voluntary and Amateur Arts Associations in Denmark (AKKS) and The Danish Amateur Theatre Association (DATS) have more than 115 000 active members who participate in primarily music and theatre activities on a regular basis, organised in local voluntary associations. Statistics from AKKS show that more than 25 000 cultural events every year in Denmark are organised by the voluntary amateur associations in AKKS and DATS.

Co-existing with the organised amateur activities, however, there is a large, but unknown, number of amateur activities in less formally organised forms like film, dance, photography, painting and literature - or they take place on a more on/off basis in for instance educational or social projects or organised by the municipalities or local cultural houses.

The major trends in amateur arts in Denmark in 2011 are, therefore, several co-existing trends:

  • First and foremost there are the traditional amateur associations with activities like folk music, folk dance, classical choirs and orchestras, brass bands, musicals, and stage plays as well as community plays. The participants are mostly very young or from the older generation.
  • Secondly there are a very large number of citizens who from time to time are active in arts-related projects in schools, at work or in their leisure time.
  • Thirdly there are a large number of young and ambitious amateurs who are aiming at careers as professional artists – even if this is not possible right now, they work in the same way as professionals, i.e. rehearsing many hours every day for a short while and not, like most amateurs, once or twice a week.
  • Fourthly there is also quite a large group of professional artists who occasionally participate in amateur activities without payment and a large group of amateurs who occasionally get paid for their performances. In other words the field is complex, and the terms professional / amateur sometimes do not really fit reality, especially because the technical development of the digital media has made it possible for amateur artists to promote themselves almost in a professional way.
  • A fifth trend is that an increase in participation is seen within “new” art forms from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, brought to the North by globalisation, in community art forms such as street dance and hip hop music and in merger forms between art and sports like parkour.
  • A sixth trend is noted in that the older generation are organised in formal voluntary associations whereas the younger generations tend to prefer a less formal organisation through websites and facebook groups using the platform of the internet. This development is challenging the formal national organisations and legislation.
  • The seventh and final characteristic trend is that amateur arts seldom are organised along parameters such as nationality, sex or disability. There are, of course, examples of male and female choirs, of theatre for the elderly or people with physical or mental disabilities - and of cultural associations for immigrants with amateur activities. But this is not the main trend. The main trend is that the art form is at the core of the cultural activity and the deciding factor when choosing an amateur activity.

Despite being large in numbers, amateur arts in Denmark have traditionally been supported politically in a more indirect manner than professional arts and only partly through the arts legislation. Until 2011 amateur arts in Denmark was subsidised and regulated under the General Education Act managed by the Ministry of Education as well as under The Music Act and The Theatres Act, managed by the Ministry of Culture. After the general election in the autumn of 2011 the three Acts were united in the Ministry of Culture where any new political development at this moment remains to be seen.

The main principle of public support to amateur culture is, therefore, still that the national associations, the national programmes for the development of talents and the occasional national funds / pools aimed at amateur arts are financed through both the State Budget and the annual lottery surplus allocations. The general conditions for the municipal support to local associations are set by the regulations in the General Education Act and applied by the municipalities.

Music and Theatres Acts and the Ministry of Culture's share of the lottery surplus

By means of The Music Act, the Ministry of Culture may support “artistically working amateur choirs, orchestras and their associations”. In 2010 an arm's-length-body granted DKK 6.428 million (equivalent to EUR 857 000) to amateur music organisations and events within this legal framework and financed via the State Budget.

Likewise, amateur theatre is mentioned in the Theatres Act, where it is stated that support may be given to “artistically working amateur theatres and their central organisations”. In reality, since 1970 this has meant funding distributed to and through DATS – up till and including 1996 financed via the State Budget and since 1997 financed via the lottery surplus but distributed by the Ministry of Culture. For the year 2010-11, DATS was granted DKK 3.684 million (equivalent to EUR 491 200) within the legal framework of The Theatres Act.

Furthermore, financed by the lottery surplus, the ministry grants annual support for the amateur culture umbrella organisation AKKS. For 2010-11, the grant amounted to DKK 523 000 (equivalent to EUR 69 700).

It is also from the lottery surplus that the occasional national funds / pools aimed at amateur arts have found their funding. Most noteworthy was the Cultural Fund that gave a “boost” to the co-operation between amateurs and professionals during 1990-97. Later the Ministry of Culture's development a fund for amateur and folk culture activities distributed DKK 11.225m (equivalent to approx. EUR 1.5m) during 2001-06 to innovative amateur projects throughout the country. And later again, a fund called the Project for the development of amateur culture, amateur art and voluntary cultural work distributed DKK 5.0 million (equivalent to EUR 666 700) between 2007-09 to the national amateur and voluntary arts associations’ development projects.

Since 2009 there has, however, not been any additional governmental funds specifically aimed at amateur arts.

The General Education Act and the Ministry of Education's share of the lottery surplus

Besides the Music and Theatres acts, The General Education Act plays – and has historically in particular played – a very important role in the financing of the national (not any longer) and, not least, the local amateur associations. For many years this support has been ever decreasing, first at the national level but later also locally, being administered by the municipalities.

From The General Education Act, the national amateur associations have received support for their professional advisors and the general education of their members and member groups. But this support has almost vanished.  As an example, DATS received DKK 759 000 (equivalent to EUR 101 200) in 1987, but in 2007 the amount had dropped to DKK 69 763 (equivalent to EUR 9 300).

The greatest impact of the General Education Act has always been on the local amateur associations, as this legislation sets the conditions for the funding from the municipalities to the amateur associations. This includes both funding for the general education of their adult members (i.e. music tuition) and the funding to the associations themselves and their premises. The latter two are primarily aimed at associations working with children and youth.

However, a revision of the act in 2002 led to very extensive cuts in the funding from the municipalities. This primarily hit the funding for the general education of adults that has decreased by 45 per cent. But the funding for the local associations and their premises has also dropped by 5 and 9 per cent respectively.

Finally, The Ministry of Education's share of the lottery surplus has historically been of great importance for the financing of the national amateur associations specifically aimed at children and youth through funding distributed by the Danish Youth Council (DUF). But also in this field the arts associations have experienced cutbacks. From 2002 to 2010 the total support from DUF to the arts associations dropped from DKK 6.432 million (equivalent to EUR 857 000) to DKK 2.835 million (equivalent to EUR 378 000).

Despite the decrease in funding, the amateur organisations are still a strong and pro-active force in Denmark focused on solving issues such as the recruitment of new members especially from youth and minority groups, co-operating with related organisations and initiatives like national performances of music, developing talent, strengthening international, European and Nordic networking and striving to get political acknowledgement for the work done by and for the large group of ”older” members in their associations and for arts education in general.

Read more about the amateur arts in Denmark on

The Network of Children's Culture

Danish cultural policy has also traditionally been very active in the area of culture for children, especially in the making of TV-programmes, many of which are well known all over the world today in children's theatres and music schools. Culture for children has been an important and official part of the work of the Ministry of Culture, with its own department, working groups and secretariat since the 1970s. The performance contract system between the Ministry of Culture and the public cultural institutions (see chapter 3.2) are encouraging the institutions to give their activities for children a top priority. The Danish Film Institute has its own funding support for the production of children's films etc.

In 2006, the report "Children's Culture for all of Denmark" was published by the Network of Children's Culture, together with a status-report on its work in 2005 and a plan of action for 2006-2007. The Network of Children's Culture was established on 1 January 2003. The Network consists of the Danish National Library Authority, the Danish National Cultural Heritage Agency, the Danish Arts Agency and the Danish Film Institute. The aim of the network is to initiate and to co-operate on present and future culture initiatives for children. The network should bring new projects to life across existing cultural fields - and find amendments on the existing culture-for-children-policy. The experiences of the activities improved by the Network of Children's Culture in 2005 have been positive in all parts of children's everyday life. The vision of the new plan of action for 2007 is that all children shall meet art and culture, that all professional public cultural institutions will have to contribute to this aim and that all forms of art will have to be available for children.

The Network of Children's Culture has published the book Children's Culture in the Municipality with ideas and inspiration to initiate projects for children's culture after the Local Governmental Reform. The reform of the regions and municipalities has given visible and clear division of responsibility between the new municipalities and the state. It is expected that this will strengthen local culture, including amateur culture. The new municipalities are now responsible for local music schools, theatres, museums etc. (see chapter 3.1 and chapter 3.2). The voluntary work within the local amateur communities is – as it was before the reform came into force in January 2007 – still coordinated and run by the municipalities.

In June 2007, the Network of Children's Culture appointed 14 Danish municipalities to join the general experiment Children's Culture in the Municipality – new roads and methods in the work with children, culture and leisure time.

In March 2008, the Network of Children's Culture published a new plan of action for 2008-2009. The plan is based around three issues which have been very successful in the recent work of the network:

  • presentation of art and culture in the public day-care institutions;
  • integration of art and culture in primary and lower secondary school; and
  • culture for the family with special focus on the activities of culture and leisure institutions.

More information on the work of the network:

Chapter published: 11-04-2012

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