In total, the voluntary cultural organizations cooperating in Ideell Kulturallians claim over a million members and over 20 million personal visits annually. These organizations are, in most cases, organized in a way that is typical of Swedish NGOs, each dealing with amateur activities in a particular art form, or other cultural activity, e.g. choirs, music, theatre, traditional crafts, or local heritage. The largest of these organizations is the Swedish Local Heritage Federation (Svenska Hembygdsförbundet), which, in 2012, reported over 430 000 members in 1 973 clubs all over the country. Large national associations organize national and ethnic minorities, organizing many cultural activities in both Swedish and their native languages. While many organizations have high numbers of active members, their financial resources remain limited, and their activities to a high degree rely on volunteers. Civil society organisations in arts and culture have estimated the total number of hours of voluntary work in their activities to nearly 16 million, or an average of 100 hours a year per volunteer. In addition, most state museums have a “friends” association attached to them and these have, in many cases, provided significant financial contributions to the museum. Compared to volunteer work in other areas, volunteer work in arts and culture has decreased from 7 percent of all volunteer work in 2009 to 5 percent in 2019 (von Essen 2020).
Most government funding for national associations in culture does not come via the Ministry of Culture, or from its government agencies. Government funding for voluntary cultural organizations, as such, is relatively limited – on the national level, as well as on the regional and local levels. If such organizations receive government funding, they tend to receive funding designed for other purposes. Some of them are registered as youth organizations and others are organizations for national or ethnic minorities, both of which are eligible to access special funding and have access to specially designated government funds.
The major recipients of government grants for cultural amateur activities are the study associations. In 2019, their annual funding from the national government amounted to more than SEK1.9 billion. To this are added varying sums from local and regional governments, as well as income from various fees. Statistics (which?) show that most of the activities organized by the study associations can be described as cultural activities, ranging from lectures and study circles on cultural matters to rock music and theatre groups rehearsing. Easily available music training and public facilities for rehearsals have often been indicated as a driver of Sweden’s internationally successful music scene. Others have pointed to the prevalence of cultural group activities such as study circles and singing in choirs to explain the cohesiveness and high levels of trust in Swedish society.
Culture houses of various sorts are maintained by many Swedish municipalities. These often include public libraries (which exist in all Swedish municipalities), theatres and other local cultural institutions. Other cultural houses are maintained by the municipalities for leisure activities for young people (fritidsgårdar). New and larger cultural houses, concert halls, and art galleries have been built in recent decades by relatively large municipalities, such as Helsingborg and Karlstad, in small communities, like Hässleholm, Vara, Mariefred, and Skärhamn, as well as in suburbs of major cities, e.g. the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Botkyrka (Stockholm) and the Dream House in Rosengård (Malmö).
Three major national associations are supported by the national government to maintain cultural houses and other similar facilities throughout the country: Folkets Hus och Parker, Våra Gårdar and Bygdegårdarnas Riksförbund. All three have a background in the popular movements that arose in the late 19th century. The largest of the three is Folkets Hus och Parker, an organization maintaining about 900 venues all over the country. It has close ties to other organizations sharing its origins in the labour movement.
Many cultural activities, e.g. choir singing, often take place within the framework of registered religious denominations. The largest of these is the Church of Sweden, with 6.4 million members. When analyzing trends in the Swedish voluntary sector, it is thus worth noting that the Church of Sweden was separated from the state in 2000. It is thus now a part of the voluntary sector. Before 2000, it was, on the other hand, a public body. The size of the voluntary sector can thus be said to have increased significantly, without any major change in the habits of the population.
Studies indicate that the voluntary sector in Sweden is increasingly organized in non-profit associations with a more limited number of members and a large number of non-member supporters and volunteers. It is possible that the younger generation is not, as has been suggested, skeptical towards the voluntary organization as a form, but simply takes a more practical approach to it, placing the activity before the organizational form. It could also be that organizations of the old model are decreasing in importance and that cultural activities are increasingly organized in new ways. One should, however, not assume that the new modes of organization are entirely different from the old ones. New movements and forms of culture are often cooperating with older organizations, even when they themselves are more informally organized. The organizational forms of new cultural expressions appear to still be an open issue.
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