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Despite tough economic times, Sweden has increased public spending on the arts. Culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth explains why engaging with the next generation is her first priority

4 min read

Just by writing in a magazine about collaboration between arts and business, I face the possibility of being perceived as advocating that businesses should take over some part of the responsibility for funding the arts.

In fact, in an earlier issue of this very magazine an article unequivocally stated that the future would hold greater dependence on private funding and that the Swedish government would spend less on culture. According to this view, the motivation behind an interest in arts and business collaboration would quite simply be to withdraw or decrease public support to cultural life.

However, anyone who follows Swedish cultural policy and the facts of public spending on culture realises that nothing could be more wrong. During the last few years of deep recession, we have seen many countries have had to cut back on cultural spending considerably. Great cultural institutions and organisations across Europe, from the grand opera La Scala in Italy to the Arts Council in England, have been subjected to severe reductions.

In contrast to this, Sweden has increased public spending on the arts every single year in the midst of an almost worldwide recession. While others have been required to manage with diminishing funds, we have been able to put forward new investments in our national cultural infrastructure.

These investments in the arts are obviously not accidental. On the contrary, they are but a consequence of the national cultural policy to promote everyone’s opportunities to experience culture. The intrinsic value and independence of culture, as well as material and economic considerations, need to be weighed against deeper human, social and cultural values.

As a result of strong cultural policies, a recent survey from the European Commission showed that, in terms of frequency of participation in cultural activities, northern countries scored highest, led by Sweden.

So there is evidently no reason whatsoever to believe that the arts in Sweden are well on their way to becoming the domain businesses, while the state withdraws from all responsibility. Why then does the topic of collaboration between arts and business nonetheless tend to lead to so much misunderstanding and simplification?

All parts of society, from businesses to the education system, need to pay more attention to the arts and to advance creativity

I want to raise awareness about the possibilities of collaboration between arts and business. Not with the intention of giving the arts less public backing, but to give them even greater influence in society as a whole, in addition to the government’s substantial support.

I’m convinced that all parts of society, from businesses to the education system, need to pay more attention to the arts and to advancing creativity. I’m also confident that boardrooms, councils and political bodies would benefit greatly from having more artists represented. We already know that an ever-growing part of our future competitiveness lies in the creative sectors, including architecture, design, film and art.

To me the greatest challenge ahead therefore lies in engaging with the next generation and providing them with access and understanding of the arts. While, for example, literacy levels in Sweden are high for the population in general, the young have fallen behind. We need to make culture and creativity a priority for our young, if they are to be ready for the future.

In recent years we have therefore introduced a new national cultural policy objective to pay particular attention to the rights of children and young people to culture. To strengthen co-operation between schools and professional cultural life, we have also established the Creative Schools Initiative, which gives all pupils throughout compulsory school, as well as pre-school class, the opportunity to experience professional art and culture.

The long-term aim is to integrate cultural and artistic expression into the education system. It’s a lasting investment in the next generation that will hopefully further some of our future artists, educate a more demanding future audience and make the arts an even more natural part of life, education, work, and yes – even businesses.

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