The most significant trends in cultural policy in the 21st century have been the results of increasing regionalisation, globalisation, and new media; in particular, the increased movements of people, cultural goods, and cultural influences across national borders have been significant influences on developments in arts and culture, as well as increasingly 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 cultural and creative industries, and new efforts to transfer policy-making powers from the national to the regional level. These trends, and debates, have been noticeable also for cultural institutions, and are visible in regional culture plans and government instructions to relevant cultural institutions.
The notion of Sweden as a multicultural society, and what this entails, has increasingly been the subject of political debate in the last several years. So far, cultural policy remains relatively stable, but there are indications that the consensus that once characterized Swedish cultural policy is beginning give way to increased politicization. One reason for this is the emergence of the nationalist Sweden Democrats as a major political party, but many researchers also see a more general tendency towards an increased polarization of the political climate of Sweden, if not necessarily of the political views of the population. Increasing polarization and politicization of cultural policy can be noticed, for example, in recent debates on threats against artists and other professionals in the cultural sector, political activism in libraries, politicization of museums, and politicization of the influence of grant giving bodies on artists and artistic projects (Blomgren & Sundeen 2020, Harding 2021, Harding 2022, Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis 2021).
Partially as a result of increasing debate, the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis was tasked by the government in 2019 to review the effects of political control on artistic freedom. In 2021, they delivered their report from this project, identifying four main threats to artistic freedom, recommending that the government should increase its efforts to counteract these:
- Hatred, threats, campaigns, and harassment of artists, motivated by hostility against cultural expressions and/or the artists themselves.
- Government restrictions on artistic freedom in the implementation of cultural policies.
- Excessively detailed policies and policy objectives forcing arts and culture funded by government bodies to adapt to policy agendas.
- Excessively strict financial frameworks circumventing the freedom of artists and cultural creators, and undermining free and inclusive cultural life, in practice restricting the opportunity to express oneself artistically to only a few (Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis 2021).
In the short term, the main issue in Swedish cultural policy over the last couple of years has been the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. As elsewhere in Europe, government recommendations and restrictions against public events have had serious consequences for the cultural sector of the economy. According to preliminary statistics from the Arts Grants Committee, revenue from artistic activities decreased 28.6 percent from 2019-2020 (2021b; for a discussion on the consequences of the pandemic for the arts and cultural sector in the Nordic countries, see also Kulturanalys Norden 2021). During the pandemic, the Internet has played a larger role than ever in people’s cultural habits, from listening to music to ordering books, and watching theatre performances. Many cultural institutions have increased their efforts to make their work electronically available.
The long term consequences of the pandemic remain difficult to predict, but it is clear that they will continue to affect the cultural sector, as well as society as a whole, for the foreseeable future. In September 2021, the Commission for the Restart of Culture (Utredningen för återstart of kulturen), a specially appointed government commission, submitted a report on “restarting” the Swedish cultural sector after the pandemic, proposing financial measures which would amount to SEK 3 916 million in the years 2022–2024, and 760 million a year after 2024 (for some of these proposals, see below under area-specific headlines), in addition to the support programmes already initiated by the government. Among the proposals is the distribution of culture checks of SEK 150 per adult resident of Sweden to spend on cultural activities in order to both, distribute funding in the culture sector, and attract a broader segment of the population to cultural activities (SOU 2021:77).