In Norway and Sweden, the artists’ organisations won substantial victories when the national budgets for 2018 were passed in their respective parliaments in late November. The Swedish budget increases the funds allocated to the Ministry of Culture by SEK 745 million. In Norway, the government’s supporting parties, Venstre and Kristelig Folkeparti, have ensured that most of the artists’ organisation’s demands regarding the cultural budget have been met. In Denmark, the government parties and its supporting party, Dansk Folkeparti, have finally agreed on the Danish national budget after weeks of scuffles between the government party Liberal Alliance and Dansk Folkeparti. The cultural scene in Denmark will find little to cheer about in the new budget: all Danish art institutions are subject to the government’s overall policy of cutbacks up until 2020, and the few increases in the budget are mainly concerned with preserving cultural heritage and with events with national and/or historical leanings.
With all three national budgets in place, it is now possible to outline the differences evident in the Scandinavian countries’ policies regarding artists. Kunstkritikk has talked to the heads of the artists’ associations in each of the three countries.
More funds for Swedish culture
Sweden has gotten what the minister for culture, Alice Bah Kuhnke (Miljöpartiet de gröna/Swedish Green Party), describes as a ‘record budget’ – one that, according to the newspaper Sydsvenskan, involves the greatest increase seen in at least twenty years. The Swedish Ministry of Culture gets approximately 745 million more than before, of which 115 are earmarked for the free arts. A few years ago, the funds allocated to cultural journals were facing cuts to the value of SEK 15 million. This was averted after great protests. In 2017, a total of SEK 22.5 million was allocated to cultural journals, and in the budget for 2018 the minister has promised a joint increase of SEK 8 million for the fields of literature and cultural journals. The Public Art Agency Sweden receives an additional 10 million for public art. All in all, the Swedish Ministry of Culture controls a budget of approximately SEK 8.3 billion, corresponding to 0.83 % of the total national budget controlled by Stefan Löfven’s (Socialdemokraterna) red-green government. In other words, the Swedish budget for culture is approaching the levels that the former Norwegian red-green government wanted to achieve with their ‘cultural lift’ – allocating 1% of the total national budget to culture.
Would like to see structural reforms
Katarina Jönsson Norling, the national spokesperson for Konstnärernas Riksorganisation (KRO, the Swedish Artists’ Association, corresponding to Norske Billedkunstnere, NBK, in Norway and Billedkunstneres Forbund, BKF, in Denmark), takes a positive view of this development, but tells Kunstkritikk that the general situation for Swedish artists is tough. The most recent survey of artists’ income conducted by Konstnärsnämnden (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee) showed that the average income of artists was SEK 13,000 a month.
– The current red-green government has been more active and focused much more on art and culture than the previous government formed by the alliance of four right-wing parties from 2006 to 2014. However, we have seen only few proposals for structural changes that could affect the fundamental conditions faced by artists and craftspeople. The exhibition fees offered by public museums and art venues remain extremely low, and in spite of past promises, the Minister for Culture has chosen not to introduce stricter requirements on arrangers, which would have helped to improve the artists’ opportunities for negotiation. It is difficult for us to understand why artists are still expected to work for free.
What does the Minister for Culture’s ‘record-breaking budget’ hold in store for the visual arts?
– Important reforms have been made, such as the greater emphasis on the free arts, where 12 million have been allocated to artists and craftspeople and 60 new millions for stipends and salaries, even though it is not yet clear how much of these funds will go towards visual artists. Public art is another key focus area. By contrast, the action plan for visual arts and decorative art was rather flimsy. We would like to have seen reforms on the subject of copyright, and would also have liked to see the introduction of a foundation like Norway’s Bildende kunstneres hjelpefond (The Relief Fund for Visual Artists – a collective scheme based on a 5% fee levied on the sale of art). The kind of initiatives that would really make a difference are relegated to a wider-ranging assessment of the artists’ conditions, due to be presented in the spring of 2018.
Art as a bargaining chip
In Norway, the artists’ associations are heaving sighs of relief after the parties Venstre and Kristelig Folkeparti (Krf) have once again averted cuts in the government’s budget for culture. Ever since the parties Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet moved into the government’s offices in 2013, it has become something of an annual ritual to see the two supporting parties negotiating for funding for culture. In the budget settlement made on 22 November 2017, Venstre and Krf ensured, among other things, that an additional NOK 30 million were allocated to Norsk Kulturfond to distribute as they see fit, and that a 24 million cut to the cultural funding of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was revoked. Finally, the support parties negotiated a salary reform for the nation’s art stipends: beginning in 2018, the stipends must correspond to 50% of the average annual income in Norway.
Part of the reason why these three causes were successful rests on the diligent lobbying done by Kunstnernettverket (the Artists’ Network), which comprises 20 artists’ organisations numbering 29,000 members in total. Their action culminated in the protest action #kunstneroppropet on 26 October; several hundred artists demonstrated in front of the Norwegian parliament, Stortinget, while wearing or holding up masks featuring the face from Munch’s Scream. However, a fourth important cause – preserving the artists’ organisations’ right to appoint members to the stipend committees – was lost.
The chairman of Norske Billedkunstnere (NBK – the Association of Norwegian Visual Artists), Hilde Tørdal, is pleased at having three of the Kunstnernettverket’s four demands met in the final budget, but is also exasperated by the government’s negotiation technique.
– Last year, a 14 million cut to the cultural funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was made, only to be revoked by Venstre and Krf. So when the government proposes to cut 24 million this year, I am tempted to say that this is tantamount to overthrowing a parliamentary decision, turning it into a lever to be used in negotiations. The government knows that this issue is important for Venstre and Krf, who yet again had to fight to get the funds back, says Tørdal to Kunstkritikk.
She also believes that the treatment of the most discussed art policy issue this autumn – the proposal to change the way that stipend committees are organised – has been quite deplorable. Linda Hofstad Helleland wanted to strip the artists’ organisations of the right to choose the members who sit on the twenty-four different stipend committees. From now on they can only nominate candidates; the final decision rests with a committee appointed by the government. The discussion surrounding this matter has been a populist smear campaign, full of accusations about nepotism and elitism. In early December, the opposition sought to stop the change, but Venstre and Krf chose to support the government.
– Discussions about a right, such as the right to appoint members on a committee, has no place in budget negotiations. The issue has also been difficult to address properly in the media because it is so complex and because the politicians know so little about these systems. Having a supervisory board in place to check that the committees have a suitably broad membership and that the relevant regulations are complied with is only natural, but to abolish the right to appoint members is going much too far, says Tørdal.
But even though the artists’ organisations meet with little understanding from the current government, Tørdal believes that the conditions and opportunities for promoting artists’ causes and politics are actually better now than under the red-green government. The budgets for culture were boosted more than ever under the Stoltenberg governments, but the red-green cultural policies did little to benefit visual artists. Now, the parliament is much more aware of the artists’ situation.
– Things are generally much better now, but it’s important to keep the nuances in mind: when the red-green government resigned, they had already stated their intentions to improve the financial situation for artists, and in their proposals for national budgets the other parties in parliaments have allocated much more to art than the government. Now, Høyre and Frp are the only parties in parliament to not work towards improving artists’ finances.
Slimming down the Danish art scene
When the proposal for the Norwegian national budget was presented in October, it was regarded as being so unambitious on behalf of culture that the head of Arts Council Norway, Tone Hansen, called it ‘a betrayal of the entire field of art’. This response probably seems rather excessive from a Danish point of view: for several years now, Denmark has suffered from considerably worse cultural policy conditions than its Scandinavian neighbours.
The Danish art scene has as little cause for celebration now as in recent years. The government has previously decided that the budget for culture must be cut by DKK 0.2 billion a year in 2018 and 2019. In the autumn of 2017, the Danish Minister for Culture, Mette Bock, announced that DKK 74 million will be allocated to new cultural initiatives from 2018 to 2021. Kunstkritikk has communicated with the Danish Ministry of Culture, but we have been unable to get an answer as to where this money comes from. Even if these funds are new allocations, the Danish Ministry of Culture remains subject to the general policy of cutbacks. From 2016 to 2017, for example, a total of DKK 88.2 million went towards new projects while the general cuts came to 91.5 million.
Among the Danish Ministry of Culture’s new initiatives we find projects like the conservation of a Viking ship and a nationwide information campaign about Denmark’s reunion with Northern Schleswig. DKK 4.8 million have also been set aside to a fund focusing on regional art production. In other words, the cultural focus areas appointed by the Danish government lean towards the national and the historical, demonstrating priorities that unmistakeably bear the signature of the right-wing party Dansk Folkeparti. When the negotiations on the Danish national budget had been completed in 2015, Alex Ahrendtsen from Dansk Folkeparti said to Berlingske Tidende: ‘We are the only party who even had culture on our agenda during the budget negotiations’. There is much to suggest that this was also the case this year. In 2015, Dansk Folkeparti successfully funnelled additional funds to the field of cultural heritage to a value of DKK 36 million, funds that were taken directly from the Danish Arts Foundation, which, among other things, supports the production of new art. As a result, the Danish Arts Foundation was ordered to find cutbacks of 2% a year for the next four years. The operational budgets of cultural institutions such as Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark) must also be cut by up to DKK 600 million up until 2019, money which will, according to Danish newspaper Politiken, go partly towards funding the government’s tax relief scheme.
The Danish Arts Foundation, which allocates funds to the visual arts, performing arts, music, literature, architecture, film, design and crafts, had approximately DKK 570 million at its disposal in 2017. Within the field of visual arts, these funds go towards stipends/grants, project funding and public art. In Norway, the corresponding subsidy schemes are distributed among several different foundations and institutions. In 2017, Norsk kulturfond (The Cultural Fund) distributed NOK 893 million to the visual arts, performing arts, music, literature and crafts. Statens kunstnerstipend (the Norwegian government grants for artists) had NOK 300 million at its disposal. In Norway, public art has its own institution – Kunst i offentlige rom (KORO/Public Art Norway) – and in 2017 it had a budget of NOK 18 million for smaller-scale art projects. Funds for art in public buildings is a separate matter. In Denmark, this is included in the Danish Arts Foundation schemes. Film subsidies are handled as a separate entity in both countries, but in Denmark they fall partly under the auspices of the Danish Arts Foundation. These differences mean that the figures cannot be directly compared, but even without including the funds for art in public buildings and film, the subsidies paid out in support of culture are more than twice as high in Norway compared to Denmark.
If we look specifically at the field of visual arts, we find that the Danish grant committee for visual arts (Legatutvalget for billedkunst) had DKK 34 million at its disposal in 2017, of which DKK 18.7 million went towards stipends and grants. In Norway the corresponding figure was approximately NOK 73 million. This is to say that when cuts are now made to cultural funding in Denmark, these cuts are made within levels of funding that already fall significantly below the corresponding Norwegian schemes.
Thanks to united lobbying, the Norwegian and Swedish artists’ organisations have succeeded in achieving greater cultural funding. Why haven’t you achieved similar results in Denmark, Nis Rømer, chairman of Billedkunstnernes Forbund (BKF – Danish Visual Arists)?
– As you say, the Norwegian artists’ organisations have been very good at averting cuts to the cultural budgets in recent years. We are greatly inspired by their efforts. Unfortunately, art and culture do not occupy the same prominent position on the Danish political agendas as they do in Norway, which has a stronger tradition for ambitious art and culture policymaking. Art and culture have been largely absent from the programmes of changing Danish governments for many years. BKF collaborates with 24 other artists’ organisations under the auspices of the umbrella organisation Dansk Kunstnerråd, where we voice our opinions on overall art and culture policies in Denmark. The demand for 2% cuts applies to all state institutions in Denmark, so it is difficult to specifically suspend these cuts within the field of culture alone, but we nevertheless still believe that driving political change within this field is an important task for the artists’ organisations.
What is the current climate for artists’ policymaking like in Denmark?
– At a national level, the message currently conveyed by Danish politicians is, sadly, that no more resources can be allocated to art. Even so, we engage in a positive dialogue with the politicians; this January we will meet the Minister for Culture and a range of the parliamentary spokespersons for cultural policies. At this meeting we will discuss opportunities for improving conditions for artists, for example within the field of supplementary education.
The Norwegian and Swedish artist organisations NBK and KRO have engaged in close contact with each other in recent years, for example by exchanging lessons learnt and strategies within international forums. However, there has been only little contact with BKF. Why is that?
– BKF does take part in Nordic and international collaborative initiatives, but in recent years we have focused on education policies and organisational development. This has made BKF a bigger, stronger organisation, and we look forward to building and strengthening our Nordic and international networking efforts. We have been greatly inspired by our Scandinavian counterparts. For example, we have referred to the 2013 study of the social and economic conditions of Norwegian artists when discussing matters with politicians, and our wish to have a similar study conducted in Denmark came true last year. The report will be published in 2018 and will form part of BKF’s continued efforts to improve the conditions of visual artists. Exchanging lessons learnt between artist organisations in Scandinavia is important because our societies are very similar in many ways, allowing learning and ideas to be instantly applicable across national boundaries.
What will happen to the Danish art scene if the cutbacks continue after 2019?
– If cutting 2% a year continues to be mandatory, we cannot avoid a deterioration of the professional standards at the art institutions and of the conditions for operating art academies. And if the funds allocated to art museums and art venues continue to be cut we risk that the artists end up taking the brunt of the damage because the artists’ exhibition fee is often the very last item on the list when art institutions arrange their budgets in order of priority.