In the months leading up to the 2013 election, the right-wing parties of Norway campaigned for “a wider distribution of power” and a “freedom reform” within the field of culture. Many stakeholders feared that these concepts were, like elsewhere in Europe, euphemisms for more explicitly populist cultural policy-making; that the “wider distribution of power” would in fact wreak havoc on existing institutions, attack critical thinking and be detrimental to non-marketoriented art, and that the “freedom reform” would effectively mean freedom from state funding, equating cuts in public funding and greater exposure to market-based competition.
During her first two years in office, 2014 and 2015, Norway’s Minister for Culture, Thorhild Widvey, made attempts at turning this scenario into reality. She suggested cuts to Statens Kunstnerstipend (the national grants for artists), but this proposal met with massive opposition, and the cuts were never carried out. In fact, the art scene has seen few very visible changes, apart from the fact that budgets have generally grown at slower rates than under the previous Labour-led government. Some changes have been subtle, but important, such as the re-orientation of the funding offered via the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, which has seen a shift away from funding schemes aimed at artists and curators towards schemes that are more adapted to gallery needs.
Apart from these slight changes, Widvey has largely kept her hand out of the existing funding schemes for culture, focusing on subjects that are particularly close to her own heart instead: Gaveforsterkningsordningen (the “gift enhancement scheme”, where private-sector donations of more than three million NOK will be augmented by state funding corresponding to 25% of the total donation), Talent Norway, and more support for volunteer work. She has also talked a great deal about artists as entrepreneurs – a concept that has prompted everything from shrugs to overbearing smiles to pure disgust on the art scene. However, no major changes or radical new measures have emerged as a result.
So what are the reasons for such passive cultural policymaking on the part of the right-wing government? Everything points to the huge resistance to the 2013 proposals for cuts, and perhaps there is also greater understanding and appreciation of the fact that large fields within culture and the arts remain underfunded, and of how there is a need to strengthen the centres of learning, not to dissolve them in order to “redistribute power”. Now, the only institution that is due to be split up is the Arts Council Norway, which has itself been charged with deciding how this should be done. It seems reasonable to guess that some of the arts council’s functions will have been relocated to Bergen in a couple of years’ time, but it is far from certain that this will in fact strengthen the council.
Apart from this one issue, the budget presented today is almost entirely devoid of structural changes within the field of art. Instead, the government focuses on small, but positive measures:
Art centres and art unions are given an additional NOK 5.5 million in funding. Of course this is just petty cash within the overall budget, but the money can nevertheless have a significant impact on an important part of the art scene. A pilot project on paying fees for contributing to exhibitions is awarded an additional 2 million NOK, bringing the total up to 6 million. This point is also important, and it sends the message that more support for artists will now be channeled via the institutions. Audiences derive more benefit from this kind of funding than from funding given directly to artists.
As far as Kunstkritikk is concerned, it is very exciting to note that art criticism gets its own specific mention in the budget, and that an additional NOK 1 million will be funneled to the “communicative function of art criticism” through Arts Council Norway. The decision to not only support art producers and exhibitors/curators, but also art criticism, is an example of excellent cultural policymaking. We do not know yet whether these additional funds will benefit Kunstkritikk in any way, but we regard the initiative as highly positive in any case.
The museums will also receive additional funding. Punkt Ø (which runs Momentum and Galleri F15) will receive an additional 1.2 million NOK, and – even more strikingly – the Astrup Fearnley Museum will receive 1 million. The KODE art museums in Bergen will also receive additional funding.
Funding for the Gaveforsterkningsordningen (“Gift enhancement scheme”) is also expanded, and it will now not only apply to museums, but also to music, literature, the performing arts, visual art and cultural centres. There is little reason to take a negative view of such incentives for additional private funding as longs as the public-sector support schemes are also strengthened.
The budget proposal also includes a “statsstipend” for the photographic artist Mette Tronvoll, i.e. a lifelong honorary grant of the kind given to “persons working within interdisciplinary or unusual fields of work of significant importance to the greater society”, as it is defined on Wikipedia.
Commenting on the budget proposal, the Minister for Culture says:
– Our cultural policy takes its starting point in the unique value that culture has for each individual citizen. Having a rich cultural life infused by diversity, freedom and integrity is an important objective. The government is aware that civil society and market forces cannot ensure that this objective is reached without state assistance. For this reason we continue to aim for strong state funding for culture and the arts in future, says Widvey.
It feels only proper to say this out straight: this is a very different kind of right-wing policymaking compared to what we are witnessing in other parts of Europe. We should be very pleased with that indeed.