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Right-wing governments have come to power in several places in Europe this year, and they are cutting back cultural subsidies. Sweden has been dealing with a changed political climate since 2006. In September 2010, the conservatives got re-elected in Sweden, and for the first time in the country’s history, an openly racist party entered Parliament [the ultra-rightwing Sweden Democrats – ed.]. The Social Democrats, who had been in power for most of the twentieth century, had their worst election in 100 years. The results came as a shock to progressive forces in general and the cultural sector in particular. Sweden’s progressive political agenda had made it an exception in the world but it is now following in the footsteps of other European countries like Denmark, France and the Netherlands, which already have conservative governments. An era is coming to an end in Sweden. Most people in the cultural sector seem perplexed about this change, but so far have refrained from publicly expressing their concerns.Sweden’s first national cultural policy was adopted in 1974, shaping the cultural landscape for decades to come. Perhaps this document could be best summarized with a phrase from the study by Ny Kulturpolitik [New Cultural Politics], a committee appointed by Parliament at the time to advise politicians ‘to help build a better environment for communities in society and contribute to equality’. That is, the cultural sector was in the service of society. At that time in Sweden, society was synonymous with the public sector. One of the aims of the cultural policy was to ‘counteract negative effects of commercialism in culture’, a statement that conservatives have always despised. In 1996, the Social Democratic government slightly revised its cultural policy. The contentious aim quoted above now read, ‘to promote cultural diversity, artistic experimentation and quality, thereby counteracting the negative effects of commercialism’.Soon after the conservative government first came to power in 2006, Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth appointed the Kulturutredningen [Culture Investigation] committee, comprised of a publisher, an intended director of a granting body, an actress, an economist and a multicultural researcher, in order to revise the policy. Two years later, the committee presented a 900-page document, the first major revision since 1974. They did not suggest any radical changes but steered mandates for the cultural sector towards a market orientation. The Kulturutredningen committee proposed that the passage addressing the supposed negative effects of commercialism be removed completely. Later that year, Parliament introduced a new policy, which states that there is ‘no inherent conflict between commercial viability and artistic quality or freedom’.Yet the most significant shift was not the one towards the market. The most fundamental change to the policy is the so-called ‘briefcase model’ introduced in 2009, which aims to de-centralize cultural funding, by taking administrative and policy tasks away from the state and handing them to the provinces. The briefcase model will be implemented over the course of 2011. There are already indications that what could have become a democratization of culture, where decisions about what kinds of expressions a community wants to support are made from within, is instead going to be a deconstruction of most national structures for cultural funding, putting everyone’s cultural ambitions at risk. The large funding bodies will soon be replaced with smaller and potentially less well-funded ones. Instead of employing the leftist term ‘cultural workers’, the capitalistic ‘entrepreneur’ is the preferred word for describing what artists, singers, writers, etcetera do. The concern here is that initiatives that promote the region and generate tourism will increase at the expense of more experimental endeavours that cannot promise local councils measurable outcomes.In 2005, Maria Lind and Raimund Minichbauer published the book European Cultural Policies 2015: A Report with Scenarios on the Future of Public Funding for Contemporary Art in Europe. In her introduction, Lind predicts that in 2015, ‘art is almost completely instrumentalised [in the economic sense], regardless of whether financing is private or public. Art services either national or European interests, where it is especially useful in the construction or reinforcement of specific identities. […] Art is a desirable commercial product. It is ideal for collecting and it contributes to regional development whilst providing society with new creative employment opportunities. Visiting art museums and centres is a popular, easily digested leisure activity.’Lind was painting a bleak but conceivable vision of the not too distant future. Unfortunately, after the last election in Sweden, many arts professionals fear that her prediction will come true more than ever before. The director of Konsthall C, Kim Einarsson, claims that Lind’s prediction is already a reality. As one of the more progressive institutions in Sweden, Konsthall C hosted the symposium Mountains of Butter, Lakes of Wine in 2009, which addressed the changing conditions for funding art. It was the fifth and last part of ALMOSTREAL (2005-2008), an experimental funding project exploring artistic collaboration as an advanced form of intercultural practice that was initiated by Igor Dobričić at the European Cultural Foundation. All over Europe, funding structures are shifting rapidly, yet people in the cultural sector are rarely aware of exactly how. Scarce knowledge and wide-spread misconceptions about the current and future situation have made constructive discussions and proactive efforts difficult. Mountains of Butter, Lakes of Wine was one of the very few attempts to address these issues.The lack of attention to these changes is especially troubling in Sweden, where our cultural sector has changed from being state-funded to market-driven in less than fifteen years. It has happened so fast that those affected have not had the chance to react or find coping strategies. However, William Easton, curator and until recently director of Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm, argues that it is business as usual. In a letter to me he states: ‘The move from false consciousness to instrumentalisation, or from seeing the effects of “late capitalism” to those of “neo liberalism”, seems slight. The demand remains the same: to develop an ethics that can confront the ways in which culture, politics and the economy meld into a single, all-encompassing presence that operates within a framework of domination. The bugbear of instrumentalisation seems a de rigueur fashion statement rather than a change in exegetic inference.’In the meantime, it’s clear that everywhere in the cultural sector, people are facing difficulties in making a living and sustaining their practices. Sweden’s new policy is supportive to national heritage and vernacular cultural expressions, but pushes contemporary art forms to rely on market forces. A similar shift has already occurred in most European countries run by conservative and populist governments. In this sense, Sweden is merely becoming another country in the increasingly inward-looking European family.Johan Lundh is a curator and critic, StockholmA PDF of European Cultural Policies 2015 is available at

Johan Lundh

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