Bild på Staffan Forssell. Foto: José Figueroa / Kultur i Almedalen

”Svensk kulturpolitik är en förebild”

Under ett av våra seminarier i Almedalen i början av juli 2018 höll vår generaldirektör Staffan Forssell ett tal om yttrandefrihet, jämlikhet och Sveriges kulturpolitik som förebild. 

Läs Staffan Forssells tal här (på engelska):

"Dear madams and sirs,

Today we ask the question if Swedish cultural policy is a role model or a warning example. For me, the answer is clear.  I would present our cultural policy as a role model to any other person or country. As far as I know, few – if any - other countries base their cultural policy as clearly on the freedom of speech as we do. Our national cultural policy goals state, that culture should be a challenging force - inviting the arts to be critical. The goals spell out the independence of culture.

The Swedish Arts Council promotes freedom of expression, artistic quality and development. To do this, we also need to promote equality. And prevent hate, threats and discrimination. This is why the debate in Swedish media the past months seems so absurd.  Do we have state control within cultural politics, limiting artistic freedom? I would say no.

On the contrary: Our cultural policy is based on fundamental democratic values. Freedom of expression is absolutely central and goes back to the Swedish Constitution. The constitution also secures the equal worth of all and the liberty and dignity of the individual. One of the opening paragraphs of our constitution states that: ”The public institutions shall promote the opportunity for all to attain participation and equality in society, and for the rights of the child to be safeguarded. The public institutions shall combat discrimination”.
When it comes to political control, in all my years as head of various cultural agencies, I have not once experienced political interference in artistic content. It is always important to review ourselves. I am glad there is a debate about cultural politics, that pushes for artistic freedom. But we are not at that alarming point of that debate has presented. In the worst case, the debate can cause us to question the whole system of public funding. And I am sure that we need cultural politics and public funding.

In a democratic society many different perspectives and a diversity of voices must be heard. And one way of promoting this is state funding for culture. In a democratic society, we need to make sure there is money to make possible opinions that are not shared by everyone. Children and young people who do not have parents with cultural capital must also have the opportunity to experience literature, art and culture. And meet other ways of looking at the world.
To make this happen, the Swedish Arts Council supports a free and accessible cultural life all over the country. To be sure that this funding is far from political control, we have a system with 15 expert groups who evaluate applications. These experts are often artists themselves. They work for us for 4 years at the most. Then new experts come in. Quality is the core of these evaluations.

So far, Swedish political parties have supported state funding for culture. Large investments have been made in culture. This has promoted both artistic freedom and artistic development. But we should not forget that promoting artistic freedom must also include those who do not have direct access to culture. The greatest challenge for the Swedish Arts Council is that we must make sure that everyone can access art and culture. And that every individual has an equal opportunity to develop their artistic abilities. Therefore, the purpose of some of our grants is to make sure that independent, high quality art and culture is practised by and enjoyed by more people. We need to direct funds to reach more inhabitants.

I am glad that we are taking new steps in this direction. This year we got a new mission, promoting cultural schools for children and, also large new funding for libraries. I am sure these investments will help the arts and culture reach new audiences. I look forward to the unexplored artistic expressions of those who have not had access to this area before. I cannot imagine the content. I would hate to influence it.  But I do believe that our current cultural policy and recent investments will have helped this happen.

Freedom of expression and equal rights are two sides of the same coin – our democratic values. It is reassuring that both are protected by our constitution. Salman Rushdie has said that “Two things form any open society - freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don't have those things, you don't have a free country”.

Staffan Forssell
Swedish Arts Council

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