Cultural policy and cultural diversity in the Nordic countries

My speech given at the Nordic cultural policy event discussing inclusion and integration (Nordisk kulturpolitisk dag om inkludering och integration) on 29 januari 2018 in Stockholm can be found below. Before that, there are a some words about the event and its background in Finnish.

Tukholmassa järjestettiin vastikään (29.1.) konferenssi, jonka aiheena olivat yhdenvertaisuus, tasa-arvo, inkluusio ja kotoutuminen taiteen ja kulttuurin kentällä. Tilaisuuden taustalla oli Myndigheten för kulturanalysin sekä Kulturanalys Nordenin näitä aiheita koskevat tuoreet raportit. Julkaisut ovat ladattavissa mainittujen tahojen kotisivuilta.

Oma puheeni perustui kulttuuripolitiikasta ja monikulttuurisuudesta neljässä Pohjoismaassa kirjoittamaani artikkeliin, joka ilmestyi ruotsin kielellä Kulturanalys Nordenin kokoomajulkaisussa Vem får vara med? Perspektiv på inkludering och integration i kulturlivet i de nordiska länderna.

Cultural policy and cultural diversity in four Nordic countries

The most important message of this anthology Vem får vara med? – about integration and inclusion in the Nordic cultural life – might go without due or sufficient attention. We definitely need more research-based knowledge about, firstly, ethnic and cultural diversity in and the impact of immigration to our societies; secondly, about the reflection and consequences of these circumstances and developments in the artistic and cultural life; and thirdly, about the response of public cultural policies to what is actually taking place. In particular, there is a severe shortage of analyses based on quantitative data, but rigorous qualitative studies and close-to-action explorations are also needed in order to understand better.

The most important explicit messages brought to light in this edited volume tell an unpleasant story. There is no way to escape the fact that, generally speaking, arts and culture in the Nordic countries have not at all been that open and accessible we would probably all like them to be. People belonging to minorities, immigrants, and natives with a foreign background are mostly underrepresented both as artists, as people employed by arts institutions and organizations, and as public or audience. More important and more serious, it seems that in recent years, there has been little positive development taking place, if none.

When immigration started to change the ethnic and cultural landscape of the Nordic countries, cultural policy and arts policy were not the most eager policy sectors to accommodate policy principles and practices according to new realities. After a certain delay a need to adapt was recognized in some countries, such as Sweden and Finland. However, much of what has been done has rather been lip service than concrete action. Furthermore, little of that action has been institutionalized and properly financed. Many, if not most, activities have been based on small-scale, short-lived project funding. The diversity policy landscape looks as a whole very fragmented.

The perhaps most bizarre observation is that even though mainstreaming, the incorporation of new elements in society to the normal functioning of established cultural institutions and organizations, has been the explicit goal, much of what has been accomplished has rather been special arrangements, meant for people and cultural expressions somehow deemed to be deviant from the regular or traditional. Instead of inclusion, the method used has rather produced marginalization and even isolation.

In terms of policy principles, and with regard to the basic approach to diversity and immigrant inclusion, there is a huge difference between the multiculturalist Sweden (or Finland, later on also Norway) and the resolutely nationalist Denmark. In real life, however, the difference between these countries is much smaller than how it appears in policy documents because of the modest implementation of cultural policy multiculturalism. One can also add that despite of the Danish state-level nationalism and assimilation policy, there have been many interesting initiatives and successful practices at the local level.

During the last few years, our knowledge about the integration of newcomers and about the position and prospects of their offspring in Nordic societies have been greatly increased. Full incorporation of immigrants to different areas of life and the acceptance as an equal member of the society has turned out to be a time-consuming process, often especially for those that come from non-western countries, seeking international protection, and/or with low level of education.

What we yet do not know far enough precisely is why things are as they are? This is also the question those responsible for planning and deciding on arts policies and cultural policies should address. What are the concrete obstacles that hinder participation in equal terms as artists and other producers of culture and as audience, the consumers of culture? In my opinion, we should especially know more about the recruitment and enrolment to arts education, to those institutions that produce cultural professionals, in particular. Is it there where we could trace the roots of the participation bias? Also, why is it that some fields of arts, areas of cultural activities and even between some genres within specific sectors seem to be more inclusive than others? We should also know more about the wishes and expectations of those belonging to different kinds of minorities towards arts as a profession and towards cultural services.

If we know the obstacles, it gets a lot easier to remove them. But there is also a much broader topic that should be profoundly discussed. It concerns the nature of our societies, and how public policies, such as arts policy and cultural policy, should position themselves vis-à-vis the societal development.

Half a century ago, when more liberal minority policies, and also modern cultural policies, were drafted, the issue of ethnic and cultural diversity was actually quite simple. There were not that many minorities and there was a mutual assumption that these minorities can be easily defined as a kind of a small boxes within the large power-container of the nation-state.

During the last 25 years or so, however, the situation has grown increasingly complicated. Instead of a handful of minorities, we now have tens or even hundreds of different kinds of ethnic, linguistic, religious and/or otherwise cultural groups and communities. This ethno-cultural diversity also has become more and more fluid and complex. It is also getting increasingly difficult to be certain which institutions or organizations represent which people to what extent and for how long.

Many chapters in the anthology also point out that the change around the turn of the Millennium to make diversity a comprehensive concept that comprises the whole society and practically all possible manifestations of difference or deviations from the rule, has produced much confusion. This scope enlargement has been a right move in principle but, in practice, it has caused much trouble. People usually do not act when they are uncertain about what they actually should be doing.

All this already made responding to ethnic and cultural diversity in cultural policy more difficult. More recently, the situation has been rendered more problematic by the increasing popularity of neo-nationalist ideas and opinions, longing nostalgically to a culturally homogeneous society that actually never was there. Celebration of diversity started waning already some time ago, now we can see forces overtly hostile to pluralism and tolerance in powerful positions. It might be unfounded optimism to think that these forces are going to disappear soon.

What also needs to be mentioned is that the times were better before also in financial terms. During the first decades of modern cultural policy, public funding on culture also increased significantly. Towards the end of the 20th century growth started slowing down, and the global financial crisis that started in 2008 put additional pressure on the funding of public services, including culture and the arts. In many countries, cultural policies and arts policies have suffered from severe austerity measures. In times of affluence and growth, it is easier to allocate resources to new initiatives in general, and probably be to those initiatives that meet the needs of minorities and other deviations from mainstream culture in particular.

The nations-states of yesterday, and Nordic national identities, were to a significant part constructed with the help of arts and artists, cultural institutions and early cultural policies. It is my sincere conviction that the cultural sector also today can play, and should play, an important role in the regeneration of our societies to meet contemporary circumstances and future challenges. In addition to providing us high-quality aesthetic experiences, arts and culture can provide valuable contributions to the reflection of diversity in the public sphere(s), to the realization of equality between individuals, groups and communities, and to the development and maintenance of a sufficient sense of unity among all members of the society irrespective of their identity or background. However, to meet these expectations, and to make full use of possibilities, there is a lot of work to be done.

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