Sweden/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Tobias Harding, Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe

While many of its institutions are much older, Swedish cultural policy in the modern sense emerged between the 1920s and the 1970s, was consolidated around 1974, and has remained comparatively stable until present times. The cultural policy shaped during the 20th century, is still largely in place, in spite of an increasing tendency to change, especially on the local and regional levels.

StockholmCultural education, public museums, concert halls and public libraries were favoured areas of cultural policy in the early 20th century, typically with substantial contributions from private patrons and voluntary work. In the 1930s, the democratic welfare state began to evolve with an increasing government involvement in arts and culture. During the same period, the efforts in popular cultural education made by popular movements such as the Labour Movement, the Temperance Movement and the Free Church Movement solidified into government-funded organisations. Other important institutions were already old at that time, often been inspired by French, German or Italian models. Examples of such organisations are The Royal Opera, The Royal Dramatic Theatre, The Royal Library, The National Archives and The National Heritage Board. Most of these organizations had been founded by the monarchy and have remained under government control, even though private sponsors and donors have also played a role in funding them.

From the 1930s, the main feature of Swedish cultural policy has been an emphasis on equal access to quality culture. One initiative typical of the early welfare state period was the national touring theatre company Riksteatern, created in 1934. In the 1950s and 1960s, Social Democratic governments continued to expand the state to create an all-encompassing welfare system. Established cultural institu­tions were modernised and new ones were created, e.g. touring institutions for exhibitions and music, the Film Institute, municipal music schools, and colleges for art and drama. Another example is The Author's Fund, created in 1954 to distribute government grants to writers, established as a support system based in cultural policy and a compensation for the right of public libraries to lend out books.

In the 1960s, political activity in cultural policy debates rose dramatically, resulting in the first general cultural policy objectives in the Government Bill on Culture of 1974. The democratic welfare-state model of cultural policy was now institutionalised. A new gov­ernment agency, the Swedish Arts Council, was also created. While the objectives of cultural policy established at that time were the results of an initiative of the national government, the most significant result may have been the substantial strengthening of regional and municipal resources for the production and distribution of quality culture.

The Ministry of Culture was separated from the Ministry of Education in 1991, but many participatory cultural activities are still the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, as is artistic education. The two fields are in other words still closely linked, and the ministries were briefly reunited 2004–2006.

Since the 1990’s, the most significant changes in the general conditions for cultural policy have been results of increasing regionalisation, globalisation and new media; in particular, the increased movements of people, cultural products and cultural influences across national borders have been the main influences on developments in arts and culture, as well as 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 creative industries and new efforts to transfer policy-making powers from the national to the regional level. In 2009, a new Government Bill on Cultural Policy was passed by parliament setting new objectives for Swedish cultural policy, but also creating a new and more decentralised organisation for government supports of arts and culture.

In the 2000’s, regional governments have become increasingly involved in Swedish cultural policy, both in creating their own cultural policies and in distributing funding from the national budget. Because of the Government Bill on Cultural Policy of 2009, a significant part of the national funding for culture was transferred to regional governments. Under this model – known as the Cultural Cooperation Model – the Swedish Arts Council acts as a representative of the national government in approving the Cultural Policy Plans of the regional governments for national funding. In the making of their Cultural Policy Plans, regional governments also obligated to consult with representa­tives of cultural institutions, professionals and civil society in their respective regions. In 2011, this procedure was tested in five regions (West Sweden, Skåne, Norrbotten, Gotland and Halland). Eleven more regions have followed during 2012, leaving Stockholm County as the only region in which the model is yet to be implemented.

In sharp contrast to the political stability, which has marked Sweden since the middle of the 20th century, the election of 2014 resulted in a parliament with an unclear majority situation. In December 2014, the government bill on the national budget – including a number of reforms relevant to cultural policy (see chapter 4.1) – was voted down by parliament. During 2015, the government has reformed the model used for supporting film production; the Film Agreement will not be renewed, and from 2017, supporting film production will entirely be the responsibility of the national government. A government bill proposing a new museum policy is also expected in 2017.

Chapter published: 11-05-2017