The year 2005 may turn out to be a crucial turning point for the development of the Norwegian and Nordic art scenes towards 2015. Not only is Norway currently celebrating its statehood centenary, which the political right wing has criticised from the start for containing too much national self-criticism and too little fun and festivities. During the three last years, several white papers and strategy plans on the function and development of the art scene have been released and implemented. The contours of a very different art policy (and social policy) are emerging on the horizon with White paper no. 48, "Culture Policy Towards 2014" and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Strategy for Norwegian Collaboration with Southern Countries on Cultural and Sports Issues1 leading the way: systematic privatisation of the remnants from social democracy, while Norway is propagated internationally as an environmentally responsible and peace campaigning nation with culture as an important ingredient. No mention is made of the fact that Norway assisted the American war in Afghanistan with Special Forces and is investing its oil revenue in environmentally damaging fish farms in Chile. From 2003, Norway has had a vision of being one of the most innovative countries in Europe. The consequences for 2015 might be as follows:
- More State subsidies than ever are invested in art. The funds are employed to a greater degree through means such as Forum for Culture and Business, and as projects that are directly politically initiated and temporary, such as through foreign aid to countries in the southern hemisphere. Indirectly, the state supports commercial companies through support for cultural exchange connected to larger development projects in the Third World, and through the inter-Nordic collaboration Nordic Creative Alliances, a business-based cultural exchange forum. The differences between commercial and ideal foundations are blurred.
- The arm’s length
principle has become a two-edged problem for institutions and
artists, because paradoxically independence is offered in return for
obeying orders. Rather than letting go of its institutions, the State
is more determined in its instrumental use of them.
- Funding systems are run to a greater extent randomly and on a political/administrative basis, on account of a weakened Nordic identity and a deteriorating system of exchange in the art field in the Nordic countries following the closure of the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art (NIFCA) in 2006 by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The large national institutions swallow up more of the inter-Nordic subsidies because they are identifiable entities in the political system.
- As national institutions are merged into larger units and partly privatized into foundations, they compete with smaller organizations and artists from art collectives for available funds.
- Outsourcing projects and the wide use of external curators in the national art institutions widens the gap between the artist and the institution. As the roles are blurred, the responsibility for financing and paying artists is fragmented. The exhibition fee, a fee all state supported institutions are obliged to pay artists, which was won in the seventies by the Artists Union, is more often disregarded, because the institutions do not consider themselves responsible actors but mere facilitators. As a consequence, the identities of the museums/galleries are also indistinct.
- Cultural conflicts that used to be debated to a certain extent in the public sphere are hidden away in interdisciplinary committees, and consequently lack discussion in wider perspectives.
- The conditions of artists who refuse to become part of the entertainment economy are deteriorating, because funding for independent projects has decreased. This makes it more difficult for free groups and artists to survive in one of the most expensive countries in the world. But the role of the artists has become even more interesting than the products both for the business world and for cultural policies, as networking on a personal level is the new strategy for official cultural policy internationally. This could open up new possibilities, as well as dangers.
- Norway is still not part of the European Union. But it is a member of Schengen2.
Independent art institutions that were previously in close contact with the political bureaucracy have been turned into private foundations with boards of directors appointed by the Ministry, and merged into larger units according to geographical location rather than by discipline. The ideal for the selection of board members is disinterestedness. Art professionals (artists, art historians, critics) are therefore excluded from the boards of directors, while the places are occupied by representatives from other ministries, business representatives and professional board members3. On the other hand, this does not give cultural workers entry to the board of Statoil, for instance, or the state owned real estate company Entra.
In several articles, Knut Olav Åmås, editor of the periodical Samtiden, has pointed out how persons who are loyal to the Ministry are awarded central positions. In the commentary "The New Power Structures in Cultural Norway"4 he calls attention to how today’s cultural policy is formed by an administration which is constantly becoming stronger. Åmås stresses that restructuring and mergers are important ministerial instruments when funds are sparse. This increases the need for investigation into the shifts of power in the cultural sector. Rather than seeing the problem with concentration of power, the Ministries are actively cultivating it.
Examples of this relative disengagement from the State can be found in two different Norwegian institutions: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design (NFK) and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO). The National Museum was created as a private foundation in 2001 by merging five separate art museums and institutions5. While still financed by the State, a board of directors manages it with the businessman Christian Bjelland as chairman of the board. The KHiO, which now offers education in theatre, opera, ballet, visual arts, design and fine arts, has gone from having a separate management for each discipline to a system of a top management, headed by a Ministry-appointed principal. In both cases the Ministry appoints the boards of directors. This means that the boards are increasingly making the decisions that were previously taken by the Ministry in collaboration with the different artistic disciplines. Thus, the decision-makers have come closer to the institutions, while the influence of the artistic disciplines has been reduced because they no longer have representatives on the boards. Examples such as these bear witness to the fragmenting of the status of the disciplines against an omnipotent administration. They also tell the tale of growing proletarianization among professional employees, who are increasingly subject to suspicion in the systems. The art institutions’ widespread use of the head-hunting company Ørjasæther for recruiting professional employees has led to a de-democratization of processes which were previously open to discussion prior to decisions being made. In Norway, foundations, whether they are state supported or not, are exempted from the "Law of Publicity"6 (offentlighetsloven), a law that applies to all State administrations. Institutions like NMK can therefore decide which case documents to make public or not. Institutions create an attractive facade towards a larger group of the public, while transparency is lacking in fundamental areas.
In Norway, there has been no tradition for educational institutions in the art field to define themselves clearly in terms of political or radical views. An idea of radicalism of sorts has rather been taken for granted as a part of art’s inherent critical stance. Therefore, art education is also especially vulnerable to the new policies. The relative disengagement from the State, which the KHiO merger actually causes, could have been used to force the educational institution to become more self-critical and subject-oriented, as well as openly involved in the changes within society at large. Instead of thinking of art practise as investigations and research and creating studies like Critical Studies in Malmö, for instance, the opposite is happening, as the KHIO has started a collaboration with the private business academy BI to educate our future leaders.
White paper no. 48, "Culture Policy Towards 2014" was presented by the Bondevik administration (consisting of the Conservative party, the Liberal Party, and the Christian Democrats who hold the prime minister post) in 2003. By and large, the report acts as an inventory of everything Norway has to offer in terms of arts and culture and more or less affiliated industries such as tourism, food, agriculture and museums, with emphasis on the film and music industries and certain subsidy schemes. The sociologist Dag Solhjel describes the change of course in this way: "The white paper is without self-reflection when it comes to possible negative consequences of increased national central administration in the arts and culture policies. The democratizing, decentralizing, popular and culturally open aspects of the celebrated first white papers on culture in the seventies seem to have disappeared completely."7
Even though the white paper contains no proposals, it gives a direction to future cultural politics. Amongst others, a clearer political control of the Arts Council and a simplification of the state grants system into more interdisciplinary committees. A development like this will make it more difficult for artists groups and individual artists to gain support for projects outside of the politically prioritized fields. It also threatens smaller institutions possibility to counteract as critical counter public spheres, as they are totally dependent on support to survive on a professional level.
Based on this white paper, Parliament voted to request a white paper on the relation between art, culture and business. White paper no. 22, "Culture and Business" was published in March 2005. It sets out to give a thorough perspective on the relation between culture, business and society, where the objective is to give the cultural sector a larger role in something called a future-oriented innovation system. Because it has a scope as wide as its predecessor had, and because it lacks any concrete suggestions for action, it says very little. It must be read for what it doesn’t say and what it actually does: it redefines cultural life as cultural business.
In the white paper, the cultural businesses are defined as follows: "businesses which manufacture products where the communicative aspects are primary. The choice of business as concept is made in correlation with the focus on cultural production in a business perspective, and partly because the study primarily addresses private enterprises selling cultural products as commodities in a private market."8
I suspect that the report has a completely different function. In my eyes, it is an instrument for giving art institutions guidance on how to adapt to the roadmap of the future that the white paper draws up: a cultural Norway that creates new jobs and incites growth in businesses and national identity. The underlying message: in the future, the State will not fully finance cultural initiatives, and it will award initiatives which partly finance their projects with private funding. White Paper no. 22 is first and foremost a disciplining document.
The white paper encourages business and art to meet already in the course of art education, and it hints that especially artists in the fine arts are antipathetic to private capital, but that fortunately this is changing.
The private business academy BI has started an educational program in Cultural Management, and in 2004, the KHiO entered in a collaboration to expand the education into a joint Masters degree in Cultural Management. The collaboration is made public in the autumn of 2005 with a seminar entitled Art + Capital. Crossover Expertise.
The seminar is held on the premises of the KHiO, and a sky-high participation fee (490 Euro for a one-day seminar) keeps all possibly interested artists and art students at an arm’s length from lectures like "Education for a New Market". Thus a situation which could lead to conflict and debate is avoided, but actual exchange is also avoided. This illustrates the private interest in art specifically as something private. Seeing art as a common space for reflection is less in the interests of the business world. The experience of art is regarded an exclusive privilege rather than a right. It is clear that if an art practice wants to be involved in society, it has to relate to and in some ways participate in the existing power systems and the exchanges. Meetings like the one described here might function as an opening to further studies of the rhetoric and mechanics of commercial markets, for instance, and critical artist praxis might influence some microstructures by asking the difficult questions. The question then is how and who can create these meeting points, and how can it best be done? Until now the commercial market and the art life have had a mutual advantage of a certain distance, and a further distinction is needed in order to create a challenging rather than an affirmative exchange. On the web pages of the Forum for Culture and Business as well as in state reports, it is obvious that the artist in persona has increasingly become more interesting than her products, and it is clear that artists are regarded as a means of communication in the purpose of the good. Lectures like the aforementioned mimic what the business world wants to hear. Or is it just what we think they want? Through the nineties, Norway has conducted several experiments and pilot projects to test collaboration between culture and business.9 Forum for Culture and Business was established in 2001, inspired by Arts and Business in Great Britain. The forum is funded by the State. Equivalents of the Forum are established in Denmark and Sweden10. Together these three organizations form a joint Nordic partnership under the umbrella Nordic Creative Alliances, founded in 2004 and economically supported by the Nordic Innovation Centre, which is again under the auspices of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. A further development of the collaboration is expected.
Roughly at the same time as the consolidation of a Nordic culture-business partnership, a study on Nordic cultural collaboration was published, which was written by the Finnish director Ann Sandelin11 and commissioned by the Ministers of Culture in the Nordic Council of Ministers (MR-K). The verdict is ruthless: the cultural collaboration is described as bureaucratic and badly marketed, with little political symbolical effect. The solution is to shut down the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art (NIFCA) and its sister organizations, and transfer its funds to agencies which are directly under the jurisdiction of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The report from the work group appointed by MR-K in the aftermath of Sandelin's study is phrased in milder modes of expression, but the consequences are the same. The report states that: "The current sector-based structure will partly be replaced by temporary programs. Programs will have a theme, an objective, a budget and a time frame to be determined by MR-K. To assist administration and idea generation, MR-K may appoint special expert groups that are to function as arm’s length organs for the programs (the control organs). The groups are always appointed for a limited period of time."12
Based on the Sandelin study, the essayist Siri Elisabeth Siger draws a parallel to the situation prior to the establishment of the Office for Contemporary Art (OCA) in Norway in 2001: "This looks very much like the former structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with a changing advisory expert committee lacking any form of decision-making authority. The artists experienced this as having poor information flow, discontinuity and strong confusion as to whom to consult, deadlines for applications, etc. Furthermore the structure was strongly characterized by diplomatic ways of thinking and organizing. By moving the responsibility out of the Ministry and into the professional community, much of the problem was solved."13
The question about the Nordic cultural collaboration is this: In whose interest will it work? The Danish organization Young Art Workers (UKK) was one of the first to protest.14 In response to the official report, a faction including representatives from the different Arts Councils in the Nordic collaboration and trade unions in Denmark wrote the report "A New Structure for the Nordic Cultural Collaboration". The report aims to comply with "the principal requirements in the MR-K’s proposition for a new structure", while at the same time attempting to preserve the autonomy of the Councils of the individual artistic disciplines and provide them with a degree of independence. The alternative proposition also speaks out for the importance of gathering knowledge. A Nordic Art Council maintains interdisciplinary functions with representatives from all respective organs, whereas decisions affecting the various disciplines are made by the organs of the disciplines, which may keep familiar names such as NIFCA.
Power and the distribution of funds are encouraged to be viewed as a conference table rather than as pyramidal hierarchies (according to Åsa Sonjasdotter), and while a hierarchy will exist for outward purposes, decisions will be made after collective negotiation and discussion of a project. The actions and positions of the institutions are not left to be decided solely by individuals, but the different disciplines have enough freedom at their disposal to be able to make their own decisions with qualitative justification. The alternative suggestion is a diplomatic document.
The question is who will define the open space of art and how the autonomy of the art institution can be defended while defending an open and radical art practice that connects to communities outside the art space. In many ways the art space can be a common meeting point, a centre for activities where several interest groups are involved. New parallels and new definitions which cannot be confused with a business-based or bureaucratic concept of art must be developed. This is both a linguistic and an organizational question. Should collectives be formed to a greater degree outside the traditional systems, or conquer the existing structures? In Norway the establishment of the Office for Contemporary Art (OCA) in 2001 has warded off growing nationalism, and at the same time it provides an opening for international artistic practice. Institutions working without a gallery space play an important role in inviting artists and researchers interested in investigating certain structures, phenomena or collections in the specific regions. Rather than just facilitating studios, they can have a significant role in creating research laboratories (to use a worn out metaphor), or function as small universities. The white papers should be further examined to find ways of using them. One strategy might be to see them as useful tools opening up possibilities different from their intentions. A conformist Norway is waking up to a dawning political consciousness, but as all parties, including the Socialist Party (SV)15 and with exception of the Progress Party, are gathering in the centre of politics, turning to politicians might be futile. Political work has traditionally been carried out by powerful trade unions. Trade unions have the power and capital to start alternate studies conducted by diverse groups of society to provide a more realistic picture of the art field and the economic situation of the artists, in order to create a common base of references for further goals to be set. Personally I would like to see that happen, but only as report coming from the field itself, conducted by research artists. The question is whether traditional unions can act quickly enough and whether they are capable of building long-lasting strategies, or whether new alliances and pressure groups must be built. If the latter is the case, knowledge-producing collectives working across national borders is the way to go. The conflict between self-organized strategies and taking over institutions needs further discussions. In Denmark and in Sweden the formation of the UKK and the IKK16 unites professional art workers independent of status and aims to work for the art world and not merely the artists' rights. Students at KHiO are arranging counter-conferences, and they are currently starting a new student union17 with regulations based on those of the Danish UKK18 and the Norwegian UKS, to prevent their struggle for values from disappearing when the next class of students takes over. Their project functions as a parallel situation securing information for the students.
Nordic Council of Ministers:
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1 White paper no. 48, "Culture Policy Towards 2014 and Strategy for Norwegian Collaboration with Southern Countries on Cultural and Sports Issues. The latter is a strategy document from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented by the Minister of International Development, Hilde Frafjord Johnson from the Christian Democrats.
"It is thought-provoking that the first general strategy for international cultural collaboration is presented by the Minister of International Development. And not by the Minister of Foreign Affairs," culture editor Per Anders Madsen in Aftenposten stated in August this year. There is no such strategy plan for collaboration with countries which are Norway’s economical peers. It is nonetheless important to have an idea of cultural exchange beyond the development aid budget.
2 All new European Laws are implemented, as Norway is member of the European Free Trade Association – EFTA and The European Economic Area – EEA.
3 The extreme right wing Progress Party has succeeded in getting the culture-hostile former editor in chief of the gossip magazine Se og Hør, Knut Haavik, elected as board member of the Arts Council Norway. It is no exaggeration to assert that appointments of persons to positions in institutions, to whom they are basically hostile, can only happen in cultural institutions. Haavik uses his position to publicly attack artists' ability to make a decent income and accuses them of being lazy in general.
4 Aftenposten, June 26 2005
5 The National Museum consists of the former National Gallery, Museum for Contemporary Art, Museum for Arts and Crafts, the Architecture Museum and the Touring Exhibition Norway. Other institutions might be merged later on.
6 Lov om offentlighet i forvaltningen av 19. juni 1970 nr. 69 (The Law on Publicity in the Administration of June 19 1970 nr 69). The law secures the public right to insight into case documents, and it encourages openness also in cases of conflicts.
7 Dag Solhjel, "Sterkere styring over kulturlivet" ("Stronger Government Over Cultural Life"). Kunstkritikk.no 5 September 2003
8 Stortingsmelding nr. 22, Kultur og næring, 2004
9 Kultex from 1996 was to sell cultural products directed by the Norwegian Export Council. In 2001 the report Samspill mellom kulturliv og næringsliv. Tango for to ("Interplay Between Culture and Business. A Tango for Two") was published to increase the interaction between culture and business and incite creativity and growth. Innovasjon Norge (Innovation Norway) was allocated 5 million Norwegian kroner earmarked for culturally based commercial development.
10 Kultur och Näringsliv (Forum for Culture and Business) in Sweden was founded in 1988. The members are around 200 businesses, business organizations and cultural organizations, and membership fees finance it. An important goal is to increase tax deductions for businesses with cultural engagements. Their annual meeting in 2005 was held in the National Museum in Stockholm, and they have many of their meetings and awards in museums and galleries, but then most of them are members anyway. NyX forum for kultur og erhverv in Denmark was established in 2002. Taking its name from Greek mythology, it is the one which has gone furthest in creating tools and databases for culture and business, and ministries corresponding to its Norwegian counterpart subsidize it.
11 Program director, Finnish Swedish language TV.
12 Dokument 21 fra arbeidsgruppens forslag (Document no. 21 from the proposals of the work group). June 3 2005
13 Siri Elisabeth Siger: "Nedleggelse av NIFCA – ett steg frem, kanskje to tilbake?" ("The NIFCA Shutdown – One Step Forward, and Maybe Two Steps Back?") Kunstkritikk, December 17 2004.
15 2005 is election year, and several parties have stated a need for a status report on the economical situation of artists and cultural workers. But lately a representative of the SV said that a report might make artists conscious of the need for private insurance, statements of a kind only expected from the right. Reports like this can quickly turn to be used against artists and for a closer collaboration with the business world.
16 IKK (Institute for Artists and Cultural Workers) is an organization based in Malmö working with issues concerning economic and social conditions for artists, curators and other professionals in the art field. Branches of IKK are about to start up in Stockholm and Gothenburg as well.