2.2 National definition of culture
Cultural policy in Sweden is marked by the country's self-image as a small, democratic and modern welfare-state nation. Culture is viewed as a public benefit uniting society, a central condition for democracy and a basic resource for individual well-being and collective welfare. As such, access to culture should be distributed and enjoyed on equal terms by all citizens, regardless of residence, socio-economic situation, gender, age and place of birth. A feature of most public debates on cultural policy over the last 40 years has been the high level of consensus and the corresponding low level of political conflict.
Central to the historical development of how culture is viewed in Swedish cultural policy from the late 19th century and onwards has been the concept of folkbildning (derived from the German Bildung, bildning in Swedish). Bildning relates to knowledge as a way of cultivating the personality. Towards the end of the 19th century, this concept became a part of the movement towards democracy in the form of folkbildning, popular bildning, or bildning for the people. When a national cultural policy was established as a part of the emerging welfare state, the central aim became granting access to culture to all citizens in all parts of the country, thus creating a focus on equal access to what can be described as high culture. In the last ten to twenty years, this concept has been questioned in efforts to create a broader and even more inclusive view of culture. The established views based in the concepts of bildning and folkbildning, however, remains central to the understanding of Swedish cultural policy, although they are now often amended to recognise differences in individual choice, socio-economic status and background, thus creating a more pluralistic concept of personal growth through education and culture.
At the formulation of the first cultural policy objectives in 1974, cultural policy included measures within the areas of "language, the stage, images, sound, and in the areas of media and communication [...] certain measures within the areas of adult education and organisational activities and measures to preserve and bring to life the cultural heritage." (Government Bill 1974:28, p. 287). The Swedish state has since continued to pragmatically define culture as that which public cultural policy deals with, trying to find a formula that summarises the object-matter of cultural policy, the Cultural Policy Commission of 1995 identified culture with matters concerning (1) the arts, (2) the media, (3) popular cultural creativity and education (“bildningssträvanden”) and (4) the cultural heritage (Kulturpolitikens inriktning SOU 1995: 84, p. 40). The most recent Government Bill on Culture, that of 2009 (2009/10:3), included no explicit definition of culture or cultural policy. However, the Ministry of Culture is presently responsible for matters concerning the arts, cultural heritage, media, religious denominations and sports. Cultural and creative business is emerging as a focus area for cooperation between the ministries of culture and business. On the local and regional levels, this area is often viewed as a central responsibility for cultural policy.