Income and employment conditions among artists and cultural professionals have been a central issue in Swedish cultural policy for decades, but results have remained unsatisfactory. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has become significantly more problematic, and large numbers of people have ceased working in arts and culture due to increased difficulties (SOU 2021:77). According to preliminary statistics from the Arts Grants Committee, revenue in artistic activities had decreased by 18.6 percent by July 2019. Between July 2019 and July 2020, the number of persons registered as unemployed in the culture and media division of the employment service (Arbetsförmedlingen Kultur Media) doubled.
According to studies carried out by the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis, artists and other cultural professionals work under poorer financial conditions than professionals with comparable education and experience in other sectors of society. In its annual report of 2020, the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis stated that “The cultural institutions upon which many career opportunities rely in the cultural field are also facing financial challenges, especially with regards to their ability to act, due to trends in wage expenditures.” In that year’s situational assessment, the Agency identified the economic circumstances of the cultural sector as a threat to artistic freedom, along with “hate, threats and harassment”, and various forms of political control with and without direct financial connections (Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis 2020).
Historically, Swedish support systems for the unemployed have often been relatively favorable to artistic professions, enabling independent professionals to mix short periods of employment and unemployment. The system has been criticized as enabling theatres to force independent performers to rehearse on unemployment aid. Programmes to help people into employment have also been used to finance e.g. trainee positions in the culture sector to a relatively high extent. Several initiatives to “move resources from the unemployment budgets to the cultural sector have been taken. An example of this combined budgeting is the “theatre pool”, (Teateralliansen) financed by the government, to provide salaried training and rehearsal facilities for actors. Since 2008, similar pools are in operation for dancers as well as for musicians.
Since 2005, the Arts Grants Committee is responsible for monitoring the economic and social conditions of artists and publishes annual statistical reports. In 2011, the Arts Grants Committee published a report concerning the employment situation and sources of income of Swedish artists. According to this study, artists spend 73 percent of their time on direct artistic work or administration of such, while 61 percent of their income is derived from this. Of the artists who said they have been employed in their artistic profession during the previous year, 35 percent were permanent full time employees and 15 percent were permanent part-time employees; 20 percent were temporary employees, and about 35 percent of those employed had so-called project employment. In the Swedish labour market in general, 85 percent of all employees have permanent employment. The survey also indicates that artists’ labour is more mobile. One third of the artists said they had at least six employers or principals for their artistic work during a year.