Sweden Makes Historic Investment in Culture

‘I think governments around the world should see this as a template for how to deal with the corona pandemic’, says Gitte Ørskou, director of Moderna Museet.

The Swedish culture minister Amanda Lind (The Green Party).

Sweden has announced a substantial investment in the arts and culture sector in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, with what is described as the largest cultural budget ever presented: an extra 3.4 billion for 2020–2021. The announcement was made by the culture minister Amanda Lind (the Green Party) and the minister for financial markets, Per Bolund (the Green Party), during a press conference earlier this week.

The press conference was opened by Bolund, who described the initiative as a guiding choice for the future, as he emphasised the intrinsic value of culture for an open and democratic society. Lind stressed how a broad and multifaceted cultural life will be secured by a budget that, among other things, provides SEK 1.5 billion (EUR 144 million) in immediate crisis support this autumn and another billion in stimulus funds for restructuring and resuming cultural activities in 2021. This includes permanent reinforcements of regional culture and the conditions of cultural producers. The regions are given an extra SEK 450 million (EUR 43 million), while SEK 80 million (EUR 7.7 million) is allocated annually to arts professionals (6 million of which is earmarked for visual artists).

A striking feature of the crisis package is that the government set aside SEK 50 million (EUR 4.8 million) to increase the state’s art acquisition budget. This means that Moderna Museet and the Swedish Arts Council each receive a supplement of SEK 25 million (EUR 2.4 million) in what is described as “infrastructural” support for the art field. This will both ensure that artists are paid, but also, in practice, act as a support to the commercial galleries. Moderna Museet will also receive a share of the total of SEK 53 million (EUR 5 million) allocated to state museums in order to mitigate the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

As early as April, both Public Art Sweden and Moderna Museet indicated that they were prepared to acquire art by Swedish artists if the Ministry of Culture were to allocate extra funds. The addition of SEK 25 million (EUR 2.4 million) for 2021 increases manyfold the institutions’ respective acquisition budgets. For reference, in 2018 Moderna Museet spent a total of SEK 4.1 million (EUR 390,000) on the purchase of Swedish art.

“Moderna Museet has a mission to acquire Swedish contemporary art, and now we can plan to buy significantly more works by living Swedish artists,” Moderna Museet’s director, Gitte Ørskou, told Kunstkritikk. Ørskou emphasised that the museum will make sure to reflect the whole country and the scope of the Swedish art scene, and that the money will also function as a support directly to artists’ production.

The new cultural budget comes at a time when the cultural debate in Sweden has been characterised by widespread frustration over the government’s handling of the impact of the pandemic on the arts sector. Many believe that the government has acted too slowly, and that this spring’s crisis support of SEK 500 million (EUR 48 million) for culture has primarily benefited major events and artists and musicians with many employees. In some cases, beneficiaries with annual incomes of several million Swedish krona could pick out crisis support for missed events, which has angered many. In Norway and Denmark, the national museums received increased acquisition grants during the spring and summer, something that their Swedish colleagues had been calling for since the start of the pandemic.

When asked whether she sees similarities and differences between how the Nordic countries have supported the arts sector during the coronavirus pandemic, Ørskou answered with joy:

“Today I am extremely grateful to work at a Swedish art institution. This crisis support package is an enormously important initiative by the Swedish government. That the government has listened to us in the arts and culture sector is really major and significant. I think that other governments around the world should see this as an important indicator and template for how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.”

Gitte Ørskou, director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet.