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Sweden/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Tobias Harding

While many of its institutions are much older, Swedish cultural policy in the modern sense emerged between the 1920s and the 1970s, consolidated around 1974, and has remained comparatively stable until present times. The government cultural policy created during the 20th century is still largely in place, in spite of an increasing tendency to change, especially on the local and regional levels.Stockholm

Cultural education, public museums, concert halls and public libraries were favoured areas of cultural policy in the early 20th century, typically with substantial contributions from private patrons and voluntary work. In the 1930s, the democratic welfare state began to evolve with increasing government involvement in arts and culture. During the same period, the efforts in popular cultural education made by movements such as the Labour Movement, the Temperance Movement and the Free Church Movement solidified into government-funded organisations. Other important institutions have a long history and have often been inspired by French, German or Italian models. Examples of such organisations are The Royal Opera, The Royal Dramatic Theatre, The Royal Library, The National Archives and The National Heritage Board.

From the 1930s, the main feature of Swedish cultural policy would be an emphasis on equal access to quality culture. One initiative typical of the early welfare state period was the national touring theatre company Riksteatern, created in 1934, organised according to a corporative model combining the ideals of state centralism and membership-based popular movement organisations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Social Democratic governments continued to expand the state to create an all-encompassing welfare system. Established cultural institu­tions were modernised and new ones were created, e.g. touring institutions for exhibitions and music, the Film Institute, municipal music schools, and colleges for art and drama. Another example is The Author's Fund, created in 1954 to distribute government grants to writers, established as a support system based in cultural policy and a compensation for the right of public libraries to lend out books.

In the 1960s, political activity in cultural policy debates rose dramatically, resulting in the first general cultural policy objectives in the Government Bill on Culture of 1974. The democratic welfare-state model of cultural policy was now institutionalised. A new gov­ernment agency, the Swedish Arts Council, was created. While these objectives was an initiative of the national government, the most significant result may have been the substantial strengthening of regional and municipal resources for the distribution and production of quality culture during the following years. In fixed prices, public cultural expenditure rose from about SEK 8 billion in 1973 to about 16 billion in 2000.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the most significant changes in the general conditions for cultural policy have resulted from increasing regionalisation, globalisation and the new media; in particular, the increased movements of people, cultural products and cultural influences across national borders have been major influences on developments in arts and culture, as well as in cultural policy. The main cultural policy responses to these changes can be summed up as a new perspective on Sweden as a multicultural society, a more positive perspective on the creative industries and new efforts to transfer policy-making powers from the national to the regional level. In 2009, a new Government Bill on Cultural Policy was passed by parliament setting new objectives for Swedish cultural policy, but also proposing a new and more decentralised organisation for government support of arts and culture.


Chapter published: 02-09-2014

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              Council of Europe/ERICarts, "Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 15th edition", 2014 | ISSN 2222-7334