While many of its institutions are much older, Swedish cultural policy in the modern sense emerged between the 1920s and the 1970s, was consolidated around 1974, and has remained comparatively stable until present times. The cultural policy shaped during the 20th century, is still largely in place, in spite of an increasing tendency to change, especially on the local and regional levels.
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 an increasing government involvement in arts and culture. During the same period, the efforts in popular cultural education made by popular movements such as the Labour Movement, the Temperance Movement and the Free Church Movement solidified into government-funded organisations. Other important institutions were already old at that time, 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. Most of these organizations had been founded by the monarchy and have remained under government control, even though private sponsors and donors have also played a role in funding them.
From the 1930s, the main feature of Swedish cultural policy has been 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. 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 also created. While the objectives of cultural policy established at that time were the results of an initiative of the national government, the most significant result may have been the substantial strengthening of regional and municipal resources for the production and distribution of quality culture.
The Ministry of Culture was separated from the Ministry of Education in 1991, but many participatory cultural activities are still the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, as is artistic education. The two fields are in other words still closely linked, and the ministries were briefly reunited 2004–2006.
Since the 1990’s, the most significant changes in the general conditions for cultural policy have been results of increasing regionalisation, globalisation and new media; in particular, the increased movements of people, cultural products and cultural influences across national borders have been the main 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 creating a new and more decentralised organisation for government supports of arts and culture.
In the 2000’s, regional governments have become increasingly involved in Swedish cultural policy, both in creating their own cultural policies and in distributing funding from the national budget. Because of the Government Bill on Cultural Policy of 2009, a significant part of the national funding for culture was transferred to regional governments. Under this model – known as the Cultural Cooperation Model – the Swedish Arts Council acts as a representative of the national government in approving the Cultural Policy Plans of the regional governments for national funding. In the making of their Cultural Policy Plans, regional governments also obligated to consult with representatives of cultural institutions, professionals and civil society in their respective regions. In 2011, this procedure was tested in five regions (West Sweden, Skåne, Norrbotten, Gotland and Halland). Eleven more regions have followed during 2012, leaving Stockholm County as the only region in which the model is yet to be implemented.
In sharp contrast to the political stability, which has marked Sweden since the middle of the 20th century, the election of 2014 resulted in a parliament with an unclear majority situation. In December 2014, the government bill on the national budget – including a number of reforms relevant to cultural policy (see chapter 2.1) – was voted down by parliament. During 2015, the government has reformed the model used for supporting film production; the Film Agreement will not be renewed, and from 2017, supporting film production will entirely be the responsibility of the national government. A government bill proposing a new museum policy is also expected in 2017.
Main features of the current cultural policy model
The Swedish cultural policy model has until recently been marked by a strong national level, with most of its powers invested in government agencies under the leadership of government appointed directors and boards, including representatives of relevant fields and professions. The complexity of the Swedish cultural policy model is revealed by the large number of heterogeneous units directly subordinated, and / or financially dependent on, the Ministry of Culture. Among the most important, such bodies are the Swedish Arts Council and the Swedish Heritage Board. Other large public bodies are the Swedish Film Institute, and the government agencies responsible for various museums and other cultural institutions. The autonomy of cultural institutions organized as government agencies is protected by constitutional law.
In addition, there is a tradition of respect for the autonomy of artists and cultural professionals in matters of content and quality of cultural production. This can be described as a double arm’s length principle. Safeguards against political intervention in the practices of publicly owned and / or publicly financed cultural institutions are relatively strong.
In the Government Bill on Cultural Policy of 2009 (2009/10:3), the previous focus on the national level of cultural policy was somewhat changed. Since then, a new system has been introduced, in which national government funding of regional institutions is governed through regional Cultural Policy Plans approved by the Swedish Arts Council (see chapter 2.1). The autonomy of cultural institutions on the regional and local levels is not constitutionally protected.
Cultural education is largely outside of the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture. Instead, higher artistic education is integrated in the university system, a responsibility of the Ministry of Education. Lower level culture and music schools are a municipal responsibility. The Ministry of Education also supports national study associations and folk high schools, also often dealing with cultural activities and cultural education (see chapter 5.1 and chapter 6.4). While the national government is in many ways the main actor in Swedish cultural policy, the organisation of arts and culture in Sweden can be described as a complex web of interactions between the state, the market, civil society, private patronage and cultural professional associations. The dominant political attitude in cultural policy has favoured cooperation between the state and the cultural professions, while – typically and until recently – being more suspicious towards the market and private sponsorship.
Such attitudes are now increasingly being replaced by a perspective that is more positive towards the market, especially on the local and regional levels. At the same time, the regional level is becoming increasingly important in the Swedish cultural policy model.
Cultural policy objectives
In 2007 and 2008, Swedish cultural policy was evaluated by the Cultural Policy Commission. A Government Bill on Culture, based on the recommendation of the Commission, as well as on the criticism directed at it, was adopted by parliament in 2009. It states the following objectives for Swedish national cultural policy:
“Culture should be a dynamic, challenging and independent force based on the freedom of expression. Everyone should be able to participate in cultural life. Creativity, diversity and artistic quality should mark society’s development.
To reach the objectives cultural policy should:
- promote everyone’s opportunity to cultural experiences, cultural education and to develop their creative capabilities;
- promote quality and artistic renewal;
- promote a living cultural heritage which is preserved, used and developing;
- promote international and intercultural exchange and cooperation; and
- especially notice the right to culture of children and the young.”
The objectives of Swedish cultural policy are thus similar to objectives on the EU level and among the other EU member states, such as the promotion of cultural diversity, support of creativity, participation in cultural life, and respect for cultural rights. They also have much in common with previous Swedish objectives (decided in 1974 and 1996).
Cultural education (here used as an English translation for the Swedish word bildning) and artistic quality were added as explicit objectives in 1996. This should be understood as an affirmation of an already established view, rather than as a change of direction. The most important change in the revision of 2009 was that the objective of “counteracting the negative effects of commercialism” was removed. This signifies a more positive view of the role of the business sector in cultural policy.