The latest significant changes in Swedish heritage policy were introduced with Government Bill 2016/17:116, introducing a new museum law, and confirming existing objectives for heritage policy. The Museum Law (2017:563) regulates the primary roles of public, i.e. national, regional, and municipal, museums, defining a museum as “an institution that is open to the public, and which acquires, preserves, investigates, mediates, and exhibits material and intangible testimonies about mankind, and her environment” (Swedish Code of Statutes 2017:563, §2). It includes measures to protect their independence vis-à-vis political involvement. In the bill, the government also discussed general issues concerning policies on heritage and the cultural environment (see also 4.2.2).
As of Government Bill 2012/13:96 (Parliamentary Committee on Culture 2012/13:KrU9, rskr. 2012/13:273), the national objectives of Swedish policies on the heritage and cultural environment are to promote
- a sustainable society with a diversity of cultural environments that are preserved, used and developed;
- the participation of people in public work in the cultural environment, and providing opportunities to understand, and take responsibility, for the cultural environment;
- an inclusive society with the cultural environment as a common source of knowledge, education, and experiences; and
- a holistic view of landscape management, and that the cultural environment should be utilized in the development of society (Government Bill 2012/13:96).
The Swedish National Heritage Board is the government agency responsible for matters concerning cultural environment preservation, cultural heritage, and museums. The objectives of the Board include taking a proactive and inspirational role in cultural heritage efforts, as well as promoting a society that is sustainable in the long term and everyone’s ability to understand, participate in and take responsibility for their own cultural environment. The National Heritage Board and many of the museums and other heritage institutions in Sweden are currently working on increasing their emphasis on proactive work, encouraging discussions on the use of narratives as a focus for organising heritage presentation. Much of this work focuses on making both exhibitions and the national heritage more inclusive to all parts of the population. Main themes in this work have included civil society and the inclusion of minority perspectives in the heritage preserved and presented by government supported agencies and institutions. In 2015, the archaeological activities of the National Heritage Board were transferred to the National Museums of History. In 2016, it was announced that the National Touring Exhibitions would be merged with the National Heritage Board, which was given increased responsibility in the area of museum policy.
On the regional level, County Administrative Boards (Länstyrelser) are responsible for issues relating to the cultural environment. It is they who decide on matters related to the National Heritage Act within their regions, and who are responsible for ensuring that protection of the cultural environment is taken into account in regional planning and development. The county administrative boards also allocate state funds for the restoration of historic buildings, ancient monuments and historic landscapes within their regions. Together with the County Administrative Boards, regional museums work to protect cultural heritage. Their tasks include collecting and disseminating knowledge about the cultural heritage of the country. Regional museums are often involved in the care or restoration of buildings, ancient monuments and historic landscapes. At the local level, many municipalities run municipal museums, often labelled as city museums.
In the last few years, issues relating to museums have been the topic of reoccurring discussions in the media, mostly focusing on allegations against the government of politicizing and instrumentalizing museums, and cultural heritage in general, through increased ideological regulation. The suggested merger of the Mediterranean Museum, the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, and the Museum of Ethnography, has been used as an example of this tendency. The introduction of a museum law, and its emphasis on the independence of museums, may at least partially be understood in the context of this criticism (Harding 2021, 2022).